Tips to Maximize the Quality of Your Printed Artwork

During my visit to this year’s WPPI Conference + Expo in Las Vegas I had an opportunity to briefly visit with WhiteWall, a professional photo lab based in Cologne, Germany. I was blown away by the image quality and unique substrates on display and wanted to learn a bit more about how they handle orders from other countries.

Later that month I also printed one of my images on an Aluminum ArtBox, which is a direct print on aluminum backing, and when I received it, I was once again struck by the quality and the detail of the print. I instantly wanted to know more about the company and showered them with questions that I myself and the RA team came up with to learn more about the printing process and how to get the best out of our printed images.

Being a photographer who started in the digital photography era, I have only dealt with printing labs during my Commercial Photography course in Australia, but considering how fast the technology progress is, I knew there’s a lot to learn now.

As I discovered, WhiteWall produces all orders by hand in their Cologne lab and ships to anywhere in the world. The substrates they had on display that I visited at WPPI 2015 were quite impressive – from original prints under acrylic glass and prints on aluminum to custom framing and HD Metal Print.

WhiteWall Lab + WhiteWall.com

WhiteWall Lab

I connected with WhiteWall again, and told them I wanted to learn more about the important elements photographers should keep in mind when ordering high quality prints online.

We spoke with Marieke Goethe, Director of Public Relations at WhiteWall, who provided some helpful tips about paper selection, calibration, and other ways, in which one can maximize the quality of every print they order online.

Check out this brief video that provides an inside look at the facility and how every step of the production process is carefully managed the old fashioned way… by hand.

Retouching Academy (RA): What is the best way to prepare your digital image for print?

WhiteWall (WW): As long as the resolution is high enough for the desired dimensions, the file doesn’t need to be prepared in any special way. At WhiteWall, we make it easy for our customer. We can even produce any image in exact custom sizes. This means that, unlike with other services, you don’t have to crop your images into standard formats. That’s a huge advantage because you can use the whole photo as is without trying to fit it into the usual pre-determined formats.

RA: What color space, file format and resolution are the best for modern printers, and specifically for the WhiteWall processes?

WW: We can work with JPGs and TIFFs. Ideally, they should be 300 DPI and 8-bit, either RGB or CMYK. If there’s no attached color profile, we assume the files are in the sRGB profile. For grayscale images, we use GrayGamma2.2.

We base the maximum print size on the number of megapixels. In general, the more megapixels, the bigger you can have it printed. All files must be at least 4 megapixels and no more than 250 megapixels.

acrylic glass overview + WhiteWall.com

Acrylic Glass

RA: What printing process is best to use?

WW: In addition to the image itself, personal taste plays a large role when selecting a printing process. As in all aspects of photography, there are common practices, but no set rules!

At WhiteWall, all of our printing processes are designed to deliver the best quality results. We always use high-end Inkjet printers or top of the line, roll-to-roll laser exposure systems. Prints on Fuji Crystal DP II, for example, are traditionally developed, resulting in extremely brilliant colors that last for at least 75 years, making that a great option for your most colorful shots.

We use this photo paper for our premium product, the original photo print under acrylic glass, which creates an impressive sense of depth.

No matter if they’re on Hahnemühle paper or one of our other premium papers, our Fine Art Prints are made using a 6-color UltraChrome K3 pigment print process, in which the inks are dried 6 times with UV light. This ensures really fine color gradation that lasts for 100 years and is resistant to external influences.

Another thing to consider is your intended use for the photo.

If you want a really vivid look, you might want to try our HD Metal Print, which is renowned for its metallic sheen and brilliant colors. To make it, we use a thermal sublimation printing process that basically puts the image into the coated aluminum. Like our direct print on aluminum backing, it’s very durable and great for indoor or sheltered outdoor areas.

Our canvas and textile prints can give your landscapes and portraits a really artistic and sophisticated look.

HD Metal Print, glossy, brushed and smooth

HD Metal Print, glossy, brushed and smooth

RA: What kind of paper is commonly used and why?

WW:  We offer a large selection of very different photo papers to suit the needs of different photographers and images. Our standard paper for photo prints is Fuji Crystal DP II, which is extremely versatile and really brings the most diverse images to life. We use it for our premium products, the photo print under acrylic glass and the photo print under special resin.

Kodak Metallic really creates an eye-catching effect, as its surface has a metallic sheen. Fans of black-and-white photography love our prints on Ilford B/W, which really makes greyscale images pop.

 Ilford Baryta Paper


Ilford Baryta Paper

RA: What is the best way to test your prints on a budget? Make test strips with company professionals or check with their color profile?

WW: If you’re not sure what look you want for your pictures, you can order a free sample pack right from the WhiteWall homepage. It offers a great overview of most of our products using the same image, giving customers a chance to compare the prints and materials and experience the look and feel of the different options. For those who really want to play it safe, we recommend ordering a test version in the smallest possible size.

For professionals, color management plays an important role in ensuring that the print comes out exactly as it does on the screen. For this reason, we offer downloadable ICC profiles, so that the monitor can be calibrated for the respective product.

WhiteWall-Debuts-at-PPE-201

WhiteWall Debut at PPE

RA: What is the difference between monitor profiles and paper profiles for print and how should a customer use each?

WW: Every monitor shows certain color information in its own way (RA note: read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Getting Accurate Color on Your Monitor by Stephen Vosloo). A certain red tone may look a bit more yellow or blue, brighter or darker on different screens. What your monitor shows is, essentially, its own interpretation of a photo. Monitor profiles are used to avoid these differences and to adjust the colors and brightness to a standard. This way, any monitor will show certain colors in exactly the same way.

This is done through software combined with a measuring tool that analyzes the way a monitor “interprets” a color. It’s called color calibration and is required to use paper profiles. Paper profiles are a simulation of how certain papers will affect the colors during the printing process. For example, papers that are not bright white, but “natural white” are going to result in prints with slightly more yellow in them.

The paper profile will simulate this effect on the screen to allow photographers to adjust/correct the color in the image to get the look they want.

Various products offered by WhiteWall

Various products offered by WhiteWall

RA: Are there specific steps that should be taken to create the best possible black-and-white print from a finished digital image? In other words, can I simply convert the image to black and white and submit it for printing along with my color images, or is there a better way?

WW: Black-and-white conversion is a special kind of image editing. There are lots of ways to do it and tons of options that will result in different looks. Thus a “simple” conversion to black and white (a complete desaturation of all colors) might not lead to the best print quality, whatever paper you may choose.

You’ll also want to choose the kind of print that’s right for your image. WhiteWall offers two different kinds of prints:

  1. Photo Prints (Photo chemical development): We offer special papers for pure black-and-white pictures, such as the LightJet print on Ilford B/W Paper and the LightJet print on baryta paper. These papers will lead to the best black-and-white print quality. We would always recommend ordering black-and-white pictures on a photo paper specifically made for them. However, there are also reasons to order black-and-white pictures on a photo paper that’s normally used for color prints, such as wanting a sepia tint or using filters that make images look “older” even though they are not purely black-and-white.
  2. Prints” (inkjet prints): The printers and papers we use meet gallery standards both for color and black-and-white prints. If you opt for inkjet prints, you can easily order your color and black-and-white images on the same paper.
Acrylic Block

Acrylic Block

RA: Are there special procedures that are required when an artist is printing a very low key image; a very high key image; on a specific type of print (Aluminum, HD metal print, Thermal sublimation textile print, and so on)?

WW: No special procedures are ever necessary for printing on WhiteWall.com. All you really need to do is select the options you want. Of course, with so many options to choose from, that can be a challenge, so we do have some recommendations.

High key images should be printed on a substrate that is as neutral white as possible, such as the Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl paper, the Fuji Crystal DP II photo paper for color pictures, or Ilford B/W paper for black-and-white images.

Canvas or photo prints mounted on aluminum or under acrylic glass can really serve a lot of purposes. With the direct print on aluminum backing, the white portions of the image have a faint shimmer, which is great for photographers looking for something special, something slightly different than just an ordinary print.

Low key images really shine on substrates that produce deep black tones in great detail. For example, Hahnemühle Fine Art Premium K3 Epson, LighJet prints on baryta paper, and glossy photo papers are ideal. Other great options include the HD Metal Print or the original photo print under acrylic glass or special resin.

Shadow Box Frame

Shadow Box Frame

RA: What printing process is best for large scale prints?

WW: No matter which printing option you choose, you can feel safe ordering a large scale print from WhiteWall. With us, your personal preference is an important factor in choosing a printing process. For example, you can order a photo print under acrylic glass up to 114″ x 70″ or a direct print on aluminum backing up to 75″ x 57″ and both will look great and distinctive.

When a photo is uploaded to WhiteWall.com, our system displays the maximum size, in which it can be reproduced. If the resolution is too small for certain dimensions, the customer sees that right away. That way, we automatically avoid course and disturbing printing patterns.

Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that it’s best to view pictures from a certain distance. People very rarely stand right next to a really large print, because they want to take in the whole image. WhiteWall also calculates the optimal viewing distance from which printing patterns, which can be potentially recognizable up close, are no longer noticeable.

RA: What types of after care would you recommend for prints?

WW: With every order, we include an informational sheet that contains instructions for caring for the picture. We recommend that you only dust the pictures with a soft and dry lint-free cloth (such as a microfiber cloth). Glass cleaning solutions should be avoided for photos mounted on aluminum or under acrylic glass, and it’s important to not apply too much pressure to the surface.

In general, it is important to note that mounted photos should not be hung over heaters or in direct sunlight.

Special thanks to Lou Desiderio of Synergy Communications, Inc. for helping me reach out to the WhiteWall team, as well as the Retouching Academy and [RE]TOUCHED Magazine teams for their help in coming up with valuable questions.
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