Largest size print from D3/D700? (high quality)

Started Nov 6, 2008 | Discussions thread
Hocus Pocus Senior Member • Posts: 1,712
How did it turn out?

Since this is an old thread, you've probably already had it done one way or another. But this information might help someone else in your shoes in the future.

I would suggest starting with a 20x30 poster special print from El-Co; they charge only $9.95 ($3 extra for metallic paper) per 20x30 print. Shipping is in bulletproof hard tubes and well packed. Speedy service with reasonable turnaround times. They usually start on a job within about 1-2 business days, assuming normal circumstances. You can find their website by doing a Google search if interested.

I'm a very satisfied customer of theirs with no other connection. The last large job I had El-Co do, a veteran professional framer said the print looked to be on par with some of the art gallery work he frames. Lots of people here likes MPix for doing large prints. Probably hard to go wrong with just about any professional print lab.

The process is pretty painless. Roughly goes like this:

  • Use Capture NX/NX2 or your favorite tool to extract shadow details and fix exposure

  • Ensure your monitor is calibrated (this is a MUST!)

  • Download the ICC color profile for the Durst Theta 76 HS printer (what they use for the poster special prints); they provide it at a link on their poster special page

  • Install it [instructions provided for Windows and MacOS X]

  • Use the profile to soft proof ONLY (no colorspace conversion!). This is a MUST! Or else the final print won't look anything like what it looks like on the monitor

  • Set the canvas in your editing software (e.g. Photoshop) to the desired output size

  • Load the image

  • Make sure you fix any underexposure and other usual tweaks

  • Apply sharpening

  • Save as a sRGB 8-bit JPEG at 100% quality (Level 12)

  • Upload the file via their Java-based ROES software (runs on Linux, MacOS X, Windows) which is where you also specify quantity, type of special, size, billing and shipping data, etc

  • Wait a few days to receive it in the mail, depending on your chosen shipping option

  • Enjoy the work or enjoy the reaction of people who sees the work

It sounds like a lot of steps, but not really. It's something you get used to doing with little thought after doing it once.

They provide an extensive FAQ that answers all sorts of imaginable questions, and for questions not listed, the owner responds to emails very quickly. Been in business for over 35 years so they know what they're doing, and who butters their bread. They will ship the prints to any address you specify, so doesn't have to be to you. I use this arrangement to drop-ship it directly to the frame shop that I use. No problem there.

They do not do color correction by default, but will do so for an extra $1 per image file. I prefer they don't color-correct so that I know I'm getting exactly what I saw when I soft-proofed on my calibrated monitor. Their color correction service is more geared towards people who just wants to print something large but aren't versed in photographic post-processing or doesn't have the time or tools -- say, a history teacher at a school wanting to print a Rosie the Riveter poster for the classroom, for example.

They use archival photo paper which should last about 60-80 years before fading if not exposed to direct sunlight or directed lighting (but normal room lighting is OK). Uses RA-4 chemicals, which I think looks great on photo paper.

The Theta 76 HS is a monster; it can print up to 2.5 feet by 13 feet for a single print! It's also very fast (HS = high speed) and uses different color LEDs with fiber optics to excite the RA-4 chemicals to imprint an image on the paper. Pretty cool stuff. (Durst has a 10-ish page product brochure that you can download if you're curious about that printer.)

I rarely like to waste money on large prints on personal inkjets since you can get clogged inkjet heads, ink costs a fortune, can't print at the sizes that I really want, don't have temperature/humidity controlled storage for paper and inks, etc.

Ultimately, I think $9.95/print using a professional printer on archival photo paper is one of the best deals around. So I have to wait a few days for it to arrive, but time (and patience), I have. For up to a couple of prints in a single tube, UPS Ground shipping is about $11. UPS 2 day shipping for about 25 prints to a destination about 2,000 miles away is roughly $33. For printing price comparison purposes, most major places around charges $20-$30 per 20x30 print.

I only use a personal inkjet printer to get a quick-and-dirty idea of how an image might approximately look or to look for flaws that I missed during editing. Or I might do a few 4x6s if it's for one-off personal use (e.g. DVD cover for family) where I don't really want to bother with the expense or time of having it professionally printed.

20x30 will print nicely for just about any DSLR and is easy to frame -- whether done yourself or done professionally. If you liked how the print looked, you could always go for an even larger size if desired. Costs more, but still relatively cheap. Doing 30x48 prints are fun, though you have to give greater consideration to framing issues: glass vs. acrylic, glass weight, UV filtration rating of glass, iron content of glass, weight of stronger frame for the heavier glass/metal, beefier wall mounting, etc. At 20x30, you don't need to do anything special, framing-wise.

Having the work professionally framed is the greatest single expense by far! Printing via a lab is the cheapest aspect, with shipping a close second. Even if you frame the print yourself, raw framing materials for 20x30 or bigger will generally exceed $9.95.

Anyway, no matter who you use (whether a lab or your own printer), I'm sure you'll enjoy seeing the final result on a wall. Have fun!

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