by Joseph Linaschke
As I mentioned in the very first post here, I had just finished prepping a series of files for large gallery prints, and questioned the necessity of upscaling the files before printing. Well, I just got the prints back, and while I didn't run a comparison test of the same files not scaled, let me say that the scaled prints look AMAZING.
Here's the basic workflow of what I did. I work in Aperture, but that's mostly irrelevant here.
- Talk to your print lab. I can't stress the importance of this step enough. Before embarking on a $1,000 printing job, talk to your lab! They've printed thousands and thousands of files, and know what works and what doesn't. I asked what optimal resolution was for the type of print I was doing, and was told 240dpi to 300dpi. I also ran test prints before running the big job to determine what surface I really wanted. Talk and test; you gotta do it.
- Basic image correction on the RAW file. This included any cropping or straightening, levels/curves adjusting (I wanted to ensure I was sending the maximum data possible to the next steps, so stretching or compressing the histogram to get it in full range), and retouching, including removing sensor spots, blemishes, etc. that was needed.
- Upscale using onOne Perfect Resize. I sized up to 20" × 30" @ 300dpi. If you watch the videos on onOne's website, they will tell you that it's usually best to resize as the last step before printing. But because I knew I'd be adding grain to the B&W file, I didn't want to have that scaled up. So I opted to do the scaling before the B&W conversion. I converted my RAW file to 16-bit TIF files for this step, to ensure that even if there was detail in the highlights that I might have missed in the RAW file, I'd not lose it. A good B&W conversion can reveal details you may have otherwise missed, and I didn't want to risk that.
- Convert to B&W using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2. This is by far my favorite B&W conversion tool. I'll absolutely spend lots of time going through that plug-in on this site in future posts. I just love it!
- Export as JPEG quality 12 and send to BayPhoto for printing on metal. I have run tests on JPEG quality 10 vs 12, and there is definitely a difference. Would that difference show up in printing? Heck I dunno, but why take any chances! The prints that I ordered were 20" × 30" metal prints, with the "sheer matte" surface. The "sheer" surface means that where your image is white, no ink is applied, just like printing on paper — except that the paper is metal (aluminum). So you see the metal color and texture coming through the image. If you print on their "high gloss" or "satin" finishes, then there's actually a layer of white between the metal and the print. This means you don't see the metal at all; it's simply a very effective (and light weight) mounting system. I printed a series of 30" × 45" color prints for a client recently on metal, with the white background, and they look like normal prints — but weigh next to nothing and are extremely durable (easy to hang and clean in the butcher shop they went into!)
Here's some idea of file sizes I was dealing with. And yes, this got slow at times!
- Original RAW files: Canon 1Ds Mk III, 5D Mk II, and 5D (original) photos. The smallest file I printed started life at only 12.7 Megapixles — keep that in mind as we get to the end! And actually once it was straightened and cropped (very wide), it was only 4342 × 2912 pixels; that's 6.6 MP. The biggest starting point files were un-cropped 5616 × 3744, 21 MP images. The biggest file as a RAW is only about 23 MB. I'll just talk about those files for the rest of this.
- Sending the file to upscale means converting it to a TIF file first, and I went 16-bit, so that meant the files were quite large. This conversion and upscaling all happens at once, so the resulting 20" × 30" 300 dpi file is a whopping 54.0 MP, and at 16-bit was a massive 824 MB file. Yozwers! Yet I have to say that Silver Efex Pro handled it beautifully. Sure it slowed down when I was in at 100% (as you have to do constantly) but it handled the job just fine.
- Finally, the export as full-size JPEGs at quality 12 were between 33 MB and 45 MB each. All told, nearly 300 MB to upload to the printer, but so what — I'd rather be dealing with huge files than risk getting sub-par prints!
To me the most interesting part of this process was that I chose to upscale before converting to B&W. The results, I have to say, are absolutely stellar. I tried photographing the prints but it's really hard to represent what they actually look like. I hang these tomorrow, and will photograph them in place to post here. I'm very excited; it's my first gallery show! OK it's not much of a gallery… it's a wine bar in downtown Ashland, Oregon, but they always have a showing on the wall, and this is my first!