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Digital Art Printing Tips

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Many people have questions about printing, especially when working with Mobile apps that produce relatively smaller canvas sizes.  Susan Murtaugh has curated and hung at multiple exhibits and has gained a lot of experience in this area.  In this post, Susan shares some of her tips and tricks with respect to printing.

It all started with a painting I made in SketchBook Mobile on my iPod Touch back in 2009. The landscape looked great on screen but could I get a nice print to show and hopefully sell in a gallery? I have an Epson Stylus Photo R1900 ink jet printer which makes glorious glossy photos from my camera. I wanted to make archival prints of my artwork as well.

You can print directly from the iPhone or iPad, but I don’t have one of the supported printers so I haven’t tried this option. I think it’s better to tweak your work a bit before printing. There’s quite a difference looking at all those pixels on a backlit screen as opposed to ink drops on a white sheet of paper.

I upload my work via iTunes or Dropbox to my desktop iMac and print via Photoshop. You can also print directly from SketchBook Pro desktop, Photoshop Elements, the free Gimp, Pixlr or any other photo editor. Usually a slight boost in contrast does the trick, and if my painting is a bit on the dark side I lighten the mid-tones slightly. When printing anything letter size or smaller I rarely adjust dpi. I have honestly found that it’s not necessary with home ink jet equipment.

I’ve successfully printed up to 13” x 19” using the 72 dpi file but I take that on a piece by piece basis. Where things get dicey is if you want an outside service to print your artwork, say on canvas, metal or another substrate. They usually prefer the file to be 300 dpi at actual size. You can interpolate up easily if you are within 4 times of the actual size.

SketchBook Pro for Mac & Win

Using SketchBook Pro go to Image > Size, check boxes: Keep Proportions and Resample Image and enter your dimensions.

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Photoshop

In Photoshop use Image > Image Size, check boxes: Constrain Proportions and Resample Image, then select Bicubic, which seems to work best for me. Other editors will be similar.

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When you tweak your art you may also want to consider sharpening a bit. Ink droplets are absorbed by your paper and can have the effect of softening the art. Photoshop and other editors offer the easy to use Smart Sharpen which usually works very well, in small doses, you don’t want your art to get that crunchy look. Fellow artist, Matt Connors offers another way using Photoshop’s high pass filter. Which I have adopted myself as it avoids the white or black line that can occur in areas of great contrast or if your image has a lot of noise.

On the Layer palette select your Art Layer and right click, select duplicate layer. With this new layer highlighted select Filter > Other > High Pass. Set the Radius to about 3 and click OK. Zoom into your image to actual pixels level so you can better see what you’re going to do next. Go back to the Layer Palette and select Overlay or Soft Light from the left drop down. You may use hard light as well but the effect may be too “crispy”.

Next go to the Opacity Slider and select a level of sharpening that seems best to you. Usually something between 10% and 70% will be best. That’s all there is to it. What I particularly like about this method of sharpening is that it can be undone even after the file has been saved. This is because the sharpening is done on a separate layer not on the original background layer. You can also click the eye beside this layer on and off to see the result of the effect.

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Extreme Resizing

For extreme resizing I resort to professional plug ins. There are two that work very well;
Blow Up and Perfect Resize. The links are at the end of this article and having used both I can recommend either one. They are pricey,Perfect Resize starts at $159. Blow up at $249. They help handle the sharpening issues at very large sizes. Note that each has a free triall to see which works best for your workflow.

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It should be mentioned that with the release of iPad 2, it’s increase in speed and capabilities have allowed some art apps the option of using higher resolution canvasses. More pixels on the canvas means more pixels for your art. The beauty of this is a fine 3B pencil in SketchBook Pro will look perfect in any size print because it has more information in the art to begin with. If you know your art will have fine details and you want to print it large it is best to use the larger canvas.

Tips and Links

Be sure to buy proper paper and ink for your printer. I really like the look of high quality, heavy weight matte paper for my prints, I save the glossy for photos.

Don’t be afraid of experimenting. Ignoring the first tip, good quality watercolor paper and canvas are fun if you can get them through the printer. I’ve also used thin aluminum sheets that have 3M mounting adhesive on the back that I apply to hardboard mounts. These prints I spray with either gloss or satin varnish for the best presentation and protection. Note that you should have white areas on your art, so that the metal texture shines through. Full ink coverage defeats the purpose unless you leave a large wide boarder around the art.

Great sites for more detailed information