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Five Thoughts on Printing Bigger

16th September 2015 Printing

Printing bigger is challenging, but increasingly popular. You're a visual artist, you want your work to be seen. Printing bigger is one way to make sure it gets more attention.

Here are 5 things to think about when 'super-sizing' your print.

Shadows Open up - Print Down a Little

One of the least known tricks for effective large prints is to take note of the behaviour of shadows in larger prints. When you print low key detail across a large area, the perceptual effect is that the shadow lightens considerably. This means that if you want to match the feel of your smaller prints in contrast terms, you need to take care to print your images down slightly when you go up in size.

People - even experienced printers - often look at me like I am crazy when I tell them this but trust me, it's true and quite logical when you think about it - the eye finds it easier to pick up the detail in the shadows if they are spread over a larger area. Try it and you'll soon see that this is one of the real tricks of people who have mastered printing bigger!

Hahnemühle Torchon 285gsm
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Textured Papers Work Better With Bigger Prints

Heavily textured papers tend to overwhelm small prints. Art papers are popular at the moment and people tend to start using them for everything and pay little attention to the visual result. However, the reverse is also true - subtly textured papers get lost with larger prints. This is where the more textured papers really come into their own. Something like Torchon is perfect for bigger prints, especially if you're leaving a white paper border around your images.

Resolution Required Depends Greatly on Expected Viewing Distance

There's an obsession with 300 PPI in this industry. And in many contexts, it's a reasonable rule of thumb. The reality is, when printing bigger, the source materials very rarely have 300PPI available at the print size. So the question becomes - how low can you go? We've up-sized files from an original canon 5D to over 1.5m and they have held up remarkably well. Low ISO files have very little noise and while of course it won't be sharp at the full size in the same sense as a smaller print would be, from a sensible viewing distance for such a large print, which is generallly a few metres away, it will appear sharp.

Modern up-sizing algorithms are very very good - the one we use here in our RIP is quite frankly outstanding and capable of taking very small, good quality files to very large sizes indeed, without odd artefacts. Our RIP does a far better job in fact than the various other methods out there such as genuine fractals, stairstep in PS with sharpening etc. It's almost magic!

You can read more about PPI/DPI and Resolution Requirements.

Original File Quality

Good, sharp larger prints come from good, sharp originals, so taking real care as to your focussing, camera support and shooting at a low ISO is important, and if scanning film/artwork, getting a high resolution sharp scan. A low noise, very sharp file is the best thing for re-sizing - no post processing finesse can make up for poor technique in the field.

Hand holding the camera at 1/60th of a second is fine when printing a small print, but the bigger you print, the sharper your image needs to be. You will not receive an extremely sharp image at this low shutter speed when printing big. You get impressive gains in sharpness with every increment, 1/60th to 1/125th, 1/125th to 1/250th, so shooting at a higher speed will be substantially better for getting a super large print very sharp.

Handling and Framing Considerations

Big prints can be great, but if you go too big and things downstream can get very difficult. Think about the final finished size - e.g. a poster sized print (60 by 80cm or 24 by 35 inches), will be a solid 80 by 100cm at least when framed with a bit of breathing room. That's quite substantial on a wall and remember real walls are much smaller than those lovely white expanses of wall they have at galleries!

At that size, you can still use standard sized mate boards and framing materials. Once you go significantly over a metre in size, the framing becomes a lot more difficult, and therefore expensive. For example, over about a metre, perspex is usually used instead of glass. It's a lot lighter - but it's also a lot more expensive, and scratchable. Have a chat with your framer to make sure your sizes will not prohibit a really high quality finished result.

Final Thought

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.

Ansel Adams

Big prints show off flaws in your source material, but keep this in perspective. You will always be the fiercest critic of your own work. Remember that others are generally much more forgiving of things like a little softness or imperfect depth of field. If your image works as an image in that raw, basic sense - then it will work big too. It's far more important that the concept and visual idea/result is interesting than technically perfect. Ansel Adams said it best - "There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept."