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Displaying Your Work

Images Like this look their best printed, matted and framed. Copyright 2011  Andy Richards

Images Like this look their best printed, matted and framed.
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

These days, displaying digitally captured images has unfortunately become posting a cell-phone snapshot to Facebook, or similar “social networks.” While there is little doubt that the quality of the cameras which are built into today’s smart phones are awfully good (indeed, better than the early, $10,000 digital cameras that first made the scene), there is something almost regrettable in the ubiquitous sunset over the lake or on the beach that has become the staple of social network walls (is it just me, or have other photographers noticed that the vast, vast majority of ocean beaches and inland lakes appear to slant remarkably to the right?).

These days, displaying digitally captured images has unfortunately become posting a cell-phone snapshot to Facebook

I “display” my work here, and on my LightCentric Photography website, as well as on Flickr, Facebook, FineArtAmerica and Google+. I do it in hopes that others will enjoy and appreciate it, and perhaps as importantly want to have a print to hang on their wall. Because in the end, for many of us die-hard, traditionalist photographers, it is that “wall-hanger” print that is what we ultimately seek. And as photographers, we know that there is a vast difference between a “thumbnail” sized screen print on a personal computer, ipad, ipod or smartphone, and a large, photographic quality print. I have prints ranging from 5 x 7 images up to 24 x 36 images hanging in various places. It generally takes something a bit more than a smart phone snapshot to produce prints like these (although I am impressed by the quality of the images made on my iPhone 5).

Another Image that looks immeasurably better in pint Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Another Image that looks immeasurably better in pint
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

As a much younger person, I had the good fortune to be a staff member of my College Newspaper and Yearbook, and was exposed to the mystery and delight of the photographic darkroom. I am not sure I’ll ever miss that acetic acid smell, or the wet chemicals and drying and spotting of prints. But the allure of bringing the photographic image into a presentation format was there, and sparked the fire. Fortunately, in my view, digital photography and high quality inkjet printing has become available to everyman at affordable prices — replacing the wet darkroom or yore. I currently have the capability to print my own images on pre-cut paper up to 13 x 19 inches and roll paper 13 inches wide by theoretically unlimited lengths. These printers are very affordable. If you want to go larger yet (up to 24 inches wide), printers are available, but cost begins to factor in pretty significantly. Today, Epson (my printer of choice), Canon and HP all offer affordable 13 inch models. Making a traditional darkroom print look the way I want it to used to be a bit of a “crapshoot,” working with the third party film processor and trying to get it “right.” With the inkjet printers of today, and some calibration software, you should be able to produce prints that match your own expectations at least as well as a commercial printer would be able to, provided that those expectations are realistic.  There significant “physical” differences between an electronic “pixel” display, and traditional paper, canvas, and other “substrate” displays.  Perhaps the most significant difference is between electrons and ink.  Trying to explain this is way outside my “wheelhouse,” so I’ll leave that to the experts.

Black, in most cases, “pulls” colors in a color image better than any other color, including colors complimentary to the image itself.

Which (finally – 🙂 ) brings us to the topic of the blog. Once you have captured, and printed that special image, what do you do to display it? There are numerous methods for mounting and hanging a print. Many photographers today mount on canvas or suspend the image in a Plexiglas or framed type mount.

Logan Mat Cutting Guide

Logan Mat Cutting Guide

My own rather traditional preference is to display the print with in a traditional wood or metal frame, behind glass, with an “overmat.” For a modest investment, you can purchase a mat cutting jig. I have a medium sized rig, with a bevel cutting blade and track, manufactured by Logan. With a few necessary tools and a setup like mine, it is easily possible to cut and assemble your own mats for a substantial savings. After some trial and error, I have learned to keep it simple. 99% of my mats are cut from an off-white material, with a second layer of black used to create a small, 1/8th inch border around the image. My research and reading indicates that black, in most cases, “pulls” colors in a color image better than any other color, including colors complimentary to the image itself. This keeps things simple. I purchase off white and black (black core) mat board from my local hobby shop (Hobby Lobby seems to have the best prices and sales in my community). I use a drywall hanger’s T-square and a Dexter straight cutter to make rough cuts of the board to size. Another necessary tool is double sided tape. There is a “trick” to cutting a double mat, but once you get it, it is really easy, especially with the mat cutting guide.

Some Tools for DIY Matting and Framing

Some Tools for DIY Matting and Framing

For years, I have used the “archival” hinge-tape method of securing my prints to the mat board. I used a piece of foamcore as backing and tape the print to it with archival tape. Serious artists and archivists will caution you to only use acid-free, archival materials. Without meaning to deprecate their advice, here is my take on that. In days past, a 13 x 19 print from Kodak would set you back a few dollars, and often, getting it right was a matter of trial and error. So when you got a print made, it was fairly important that they be cared for in an archival manner. Today, it takes me a matter of about 5 minutes to reproduce an exact replica image with my inkjet printer. So, at least for my own purposes, I don’t worry about archival materials or methods. Besides, it seems to me that in many cases, by the time an image has faded noticeably, its probably time to hang a new and different one, anyway. If you are selling images, then it is a different story. Customers have a right to expect a certain archival quality. For the most part, my prints are sold through SmugMug and FineArtAmerica, and they provide the prints, matting and framing, so I don’t concern myself much about that. My own prints are going to last longer than most buyer’s lifetimes today (assuming they use some caution in display methods). So, archival issues are not huge to me.

For my own purposes, I don’t worry about archival materials or methods

This is a good thing, because I have recently moved away from the hinge-tape method of mounting prints. Once of my peeves has been the inability in most cases to achieve a nice, flat, print, when hung. Particularly in landscape format, the images invariable develop “waves” (due to changes in humidity and temperature, and to the overall structure of the print paper), which are visible (and just ugly) at certain viewing angles. I have tried the sticky-backed foamcore and it is very difficult to use without developing bubbles and wrinkles (even more ugly than the waves). It is very unforgiving. I have also tried the spray adhesive. It is messy and generally the results are inconsistent. I have long known that “dry mounting” would be my preferred method of affixing prints to the backing board. However, finding a shop that will do this has become almost impossible. I began to do some research about the process and ran across an old Blog Post by my good friend, Mark Graf about this very topic. About 5 years ago, he came to the same epiphany as me, and went through the same analysis. He suggested looking for a used press (they are quite expensive new – in the thousands of dollars) on eBay or Craig’s List. Following his lead, I found a reasonably inexpensive used Seal 2000 press (capable of handling my 13 x 19 images with ease) and bought it on eBay. After some “elbow grease” cleaning of the platen, I had a working dry mount press. A few more tools and supplies later, I am now in business.

Used Seal 2000 Dry Mount Presses can be found on eBay and Craig's List

Used Seal 2000 Dry Mount Presses can be found on eBay and Craig’s List

I have been fortunate to have the advice of others to follow and started out with the correct tools and the benefit of others’ experience. I mounted my first two prints this afternoon, and had great success. I wonder now, why I waited so long to take this step.

For my own purposes, I have the following “process” for displaying prints. I post-process mainly in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop (liberally using the Nik Software Plugins I have written about here). I make (usually 13 x 19) prints with my Epson R1900 Inkjet Printer. I have a Huey Pro calibration tool and software to keep my monitor and printer calibrated. I have found that with Epson, my best results are to use Epson paper (I prefer the traditional photographic look of their Premium Lustre Paper) and let the Epson printer driver manage the color process through printing.

Rotary Paper Trimmer For Trimming Dry Mount Tissue and Print

Rotary Paper Trimmer For Trimming Dry Mount Tissue and Print

Once I have an acceptable print, I cut a mat for it and use the dry mount press to permanently mount the print and then put it in a frame. While I have tried making my own frames, most of the time, I have the best luck finding ready made, pre-cut frames on sale at places like Hobby Lobby and Michaels. I generally tape kraft paper onto the back to keep dust out and hang my images with picture wire and mirror hangers screwed to the back of the frames.


8 Responses

  1. The difference between the quality of an image that you see on a screen as opposed to one you see printed is simple. Projection v reflectance. Simple.

  2. Andy, you seem to be suggesting that dry mounting isn’t among the “archival” mounting options. I thought, with the right materials, it was archival. Another question is how dry (heat) mounting works with Foamcore. Any issues? Or are you using mat board?

    • Hi Stewart. Thanks for commenting. I probably am not using the terminology precisely. The way I think of it, there are 2 concepts here: “archival” and permanence or longevity. My concept of archival is that the print is not displayed in a way that will harm it or allow it to deteriorate in any way. This means it is not permanently affixed to the mount and all materials are acid free. This generally means a hinged tape mount (or some other non-permanent mounting technique) with acid free mat board and acid free tape. It may be that some dry mount methods fit that criteria, but I doubt it. I do know that the materials with my current tissue say that it can be “un-mounted” by reversing the heat press process. I suspect that the process wpuld be tough on the print. I use temperatures of 180 degrees for a minute to activate the adhesive. I don’t know how long the reverse process will take, but it cannot help but have deteriorating effects on the print, in my view.

      I suppose it is possible to dry mount using all acid free materials. I have dry mounted to foam core. It works. It is possible to “imprint” onto either the surface or the back of the print. From what I see, mounting directly to foam core creates a “surface” on the print. It is not unpleasant looking, but it is there. I am currently using a smooth mat board as my backing board of choice. I also use a “sandwich” of mat boards on top and bottom of the print, so the press platen does not touch the surface of the print.

      • It occurred to me later that I never finished my thought about “permanence.” Early onset dementia will do that to you :-).

        Sometimes I see this idea being referred to as “archival,” and in a broad sense it fits. My first inkjet printers used ink formulations that were not very good in the longevity department. It was not at all unusual to see obvious fading and dulling within periods as short as on year. When exposed to sunlight, the problem was exacerbated. I remember taking a matted image apart some years back that had been hanging in my office for several yeats and was obviously faded. I was amazed at how different the edge which had been protected was.

        Obviously, from the standpoint of selling an image, or even displaying it yourself, this is a negative. The good news is that today’s pigment based inks are much longer lasting (particularly with printers that have addition coating capability – the Epson R-1900, for example, has a clearcoat “gloss optimizer” that get applied).

        That having been said, ANY printed media will fade over time, particularly when exposed to light.

        So, in the broader, “archival” sense, I think the dry mount process actually enhances the permanence of a matted and framed display (I know this parly from experience — it is common for the hinge tape to fatigue and slip over time, in my experience, causing the print to slip out from under the overmat and I have had to take them apart and re-tape them a few times).

  3. Andy, I used to take my photos to a frame shop where I would choose mats, frame and glass but that got to be very expensive. Then I just had the shop mount and matte them and I would purchase frames on-line and frame them. Then I started buying matted and framed artwork at garage sales and I’d take out that art and replace it with my photos.

    All of this was just too much hassle so now I have a new process that works great for me. I print my image, also on an Epson printer, then I take it to Albinson Reprographics where they trim it and mount it for me on foam board. I hang those photos in my personal gallery, afixing them to the wall using velcro.

    You can see what I did here: http://www.goldimagesphoto.com/Gallery.jpg

    • Al, thanks for the comment and the link to your impressive studio gallery. With my press, I could do mounts the way you do. There are many ways to display prints. Another is suspended in acrylic. I am just stodgy enough to prefer an overmat with frame and glass :-). I am, however, finding it harder and harder to find acceptablee, reasonably priced open backed, pre-made frames. Custom is just too expensive. Who knows. Maybe making my own frames will be in my future.

  4. Hi Andy. A couple of points to a reasonably good primer you’ve written on basic presentation methods. First, Ray L. is absolutely correct regarding the simple difference between electronic and printed images. It’s all in the illumination source. Screen images are very similar to slides or positives on a light table that projects the illumination through the image resulting in much brighter and vibrant colors. In contrast, the usual subtle luminosity and brilliance of colors and tones of a print are a result of illumination source reflected off of the pigment within the paper.

    I may be a committed old school photographer using current cutting edge tools and processes, but the end result of the photographic process is and always has been the printed image of the exposure. New and exciting electronic and laser projection, backlit, and other innovative presentation techniques expand the boundaries of the traditional print. But their technologies, cost and size usually delegate them to exhibition display and not routine residential or commercial purposes. However, I sense that as large electronic display frames > 18″x24″ are introduced and decrease in price, they too will become a counterpoint to the traditional framed print.

    Moreover, the tooth or surface texture of a paper determines the degree of its reflectance. In other words, the smoother the tooth, the greater the reflectance and resulting luminosity & color brilliance or density of blacks for B/W images. For example, a high gloss paper has a much smoother surface than a luster finish paper with its nearly microscopic dimpled surface. Likewise, a matte type fine art or watercolor paper reflects even less light (but some matte surface etching papers are so smooth that they can be astounding with their replication of color brilliance and dMax). Further, the newer baryta fibre based papers present the best of both types as a true fine art paper with varying degrees of surface texture and reflectance duplicating the same characteristics and attributes of the prized exhibition papers used during in the wet lab. Adding more complexity and confusion is the use of OBA’s (optical brightening agents) by paper mills to create a brighter white substrate for some of their papers that can also contribute to increasing the reflectivity of the cured pigment inks bonded within the substrate. I won’t bother describing how RC type photographic papers differ from fine art or watercolor type papers.

    Second, as one who sells my work as fine art–which is more of a photographic ‘process’ than self-ascribed declaration of aesthetic–I am committed to using only 100% conservation (archival) methods and materials. At one time I too used a dry mount process; however, as I learned how to produce a higher quality print I learned that the deflection/bubbling/rippling of finished prints is usually due to too much ink in specific areas of a print resulting in substrate ‘overload.’ In other words, over-saturation of colors.

    Thus, I use rice paper or self-adhesive hinging tape to create “T” or “V” hinges for mounting my fine prints destined for customer or exhibition display. The reason is that I have no control over the humidity of the display environment: prints do expand and contract and the only methods that allow for movement are “T”, “V” hinges. When I need to create a float mounted print I will use my dry mount press, but those works are never sold a ‘fine art’ because the dry mount is not an archival or reversable process.

    Another point I would suggest is the use of a high quailty Anti-UV framing glazing whether glass or acryllic; e.g., >97% UV filtration. Display area illumination, whether ambient sunlight, table lamps, overhead fluorescent fixtures, frame, or dedicated track lighting contributes more to the premature fading of a print than anything else. Moreover, frame glazing is crystal clear whereas standard wndow glazing has a high lead content producing a green tint that does impart a slight green color cast to a print.

    Last and a most overlooked finishing touch to framing is the application of a dust paper backing. It seals the frame contents, encapsulatng them when archival materials are used exclusively. Bottom line–it keeps insects, dust, large pollutant molecules, and mold spores out of your artwork which greatly extends its life exxpectancy.

    • See, thats what I meant about leaving it to the experts :-). Pesonally, I have done my homework. Read a lot about the topic of “reflectance” vs “projection.” Indeed anyone who has thoght about (or, better, done) calibration of monitoe, printer, etc., probably has, as I think I do, a pretty good fundamental understanding of the concepts. But what I wasn’t going to attempt was an explanation for the layperson who hadn’t ever thought about it, knowing pros like Ray and Jim could do it much better than I.

      Thanks for the detailed replay and great information, Jim. Again, while not necessarily well-articulated, my blog was meant to address displaying for personal pleasure, in my own space. I couldn’t agree with you more about sales of your work. I don’t have the energy or inclination, personally, to properly produce “archival” quality prints for sale and shift that responsibility gladly to those who do. :-).

      Thanks, as always, for reading and contributing here. Great insights and information from a couple really knowledgeable and talented pro photographers!

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