The act of printing

When you choose to sell your work almost exclusively in the form of physical prints you need someone reliable to do the printing. I found solid looking candidates on the web, each with their own basic options, special features, services and price tags. Opposite their shopping windows on art-works-drive was a vacant lot, elidgable for setting up a diy-printing shack. Rent was okay- one printer, and all those things to do and to consider when you go doing it yourself. {I should put a link here to a good post that explains why prints rule},

Making a satisfying decision took more time than I thought. Thinking about the economics of both time and money requires a good read of the fine print concerning the other areas that will be affected by my choices.

My relationship with my clients was a factor, as was my business reputation -and peace of mind- regarding consistent product quality and aspects of it’s handling. And what about -last but not least- the matter of my actual, true involvement with all of the steps that create the final product. How far do I think I want to take that?

Finding, sorting and comparing options of printing-houses against the detailed pros and cons of doing my own printing was like trying to keep track of multi colored fish while they race through stained glass tunnels. I needed to simplify the thinking here. I took a step back by just comparing the advantages of outsourcing-in-general -like no initial investments- against benefits of private printing. Those things that no printing-house can ever deliver. This worked well, the decision came easy: I decided to do my printing myself.

An initial reason for getting my own printer was that it would give me the space to test and experiment as much as -and whenever- I may want to. With independent access to a printer, other important advantages fall into place as well. It keeps whatever happens to the physical print close by for instance (assuring me of careful handling) but it also minimizes the time to get things done.
If I only need to make one print and I do the printing myself, I need at least one day to go from soft proofing to reviewing a dried print. If I outsource, I will have a result within a week and that would be fine too. But I often need to complete an unknown number of these cycles and when my actual printing would then depend on an outside party, the required time span would be counted in any possible number of weeks and that is way too much time. Whether I try out and develop ideas or whether I’m busy turning a new image into a print for the first time, I am more effective when I can see results straight away. If a print requires any changes, I know better what to do and how to do to it when my memories of decisions in both soft-proofing and printing are relatively fresh.

There is another factor too.
In my set up, the final print is the original intention, the goal that comes into view at point of capture.
To me it makes no sense to pour all my care and attention into every step on the way, only to have someone else decide how everything should come together.
The act of creating the actual print turns everything that leads up to it, into an independent form; something tangible that communicates my artistic perception to the outer world.
I feel that a print is good when it is that perception, not a translation of it. The route to get there is -in my opinion- to do every step yourself.
Yes- a good file and a good set of instructions for a printing house will reproduce equal copies, but in my experience they become representations that lack the individuality that comes through the handling and the personal attention that make every single print itself a unique gesture; by you and nobody else but you.

This also means that I can not routinely reproduce a print-ready digital file any number of times through automated batches.
Perhaps it seems impractical but if I want a print to have its own character, the consequence is to approach it like a potter that can only throw one cup at the time.

Although it makes each print somewhat time consuming it is an intensive play that I actually enjoy a lot.
It is amazing to be immersed in a quiet and deliberate process where every move seems slowed down as if you are wading through water.

It pays well off too and every time I get to take a fresh print out of the machine, I am stunned.
I feel the care that was taken to create it but I also get the sensation that I do not know what kind of product I am looking at; it is difficult to find proof for what you know in your head about what are actually seeing and somehow I don’t want to put it down either. Just to hold it and to look at it while you can’t understand that you are looking at a photo is an experience in itself.

So if you would ask me who should do your printing for you I would say that you should too.
Because, especially in this particular game I believe that you are the only who can.

There must be plenty of cases where the opposite is the right way to go.
If you feel you can totally rely on your printinghouse to do what you want them to do for you; by all means let them get their hands moving. It would be the right thing to do because (soft proofing excluded) you skip a lot of effort, you omit an ongoing learning curve, it saves you storage and working space, you only have to pay per print and you don’t have to commit to being wed to a machine that becomes a pain when you neglect her.

No exceptions? Well, yes. I would try to find a printing house that has a welcome to my personal on-the-floor-involvement if I wanted to go larger than what I can do in my print shed.
(My prints can have a maximum width of 17 inches.)
When I can involve a party that brings me close to prints-done-by-me I will embrace the opportunity and broadcast the welcome addition to the repertoire.