The importance of printing and its advancement
Printing is not just a means to an end. It is the essential and concluding part of a process that begins with the creativity of the photographer or book author or designer - using talent, enthusiasm, hard work and modern equipment to capture the perfect image and the latest creative software to design the perfect page.
For many photographers, post-processing plays a critical role in reaching perfection. For designers, the book is the final, physical manifestation of an intense design effort. For many creatives, it isn’t about the pursuit of perfection but the preservation of memories, the chance capturing of special moments. For others still, a print or book may be about sharing, giving or even persuading.
None of that is achieved with hard disc storage, photo-sharing sites or even social media. So many beautiful images remain trapped - on devices, in the Cloud - never to be held or seen in physical form, too many scrolls down the page, lost in the noise. Where is the joy in that?
Digital capture, and then digital printing, promised to change photography. Inkjet and toner got better and better - and, at the top end, inkjet became ‘giclée’. These technologies have revolutionised photography and enabled anyone, from the most advanced pro to the most casual home user, to print ‘pretty good’ images with ease, even at home. It takes very little skill to operate a modern printer (certainly nothing comparable to the old arts of the darkroom) and there are many thousands of each type of printer in existence.
The most important side effect of the introduction of digital printers has therefore been the commoditisation of the product. The scope for any print service company to offer anything different today is virtually nil. Nothing better illustrates that, in our view, than the fact that the biggest source of differentiation at the top end nowadays seems to lie in the paper on which people are printing their images. Ever more expensive ‘fine art’ papers have been developed and marketed to try to add feel, and a perception of value, to the finished product. As a result, many people take printing for granted - which is, if you think about it, simply wrong.
Books are different. Book-making requires skills and printing equipment that hardly any individual has. In recent years, many companies have made it possible, for the first time, for anyone to take their images and put them in book form, with ever more sophisticated design. And digital printing enabled single-copy or short-run printing to be economically viable for all. As systems and services improved, the trend to self-publishing has exploded.
However, whether for books or photographs, the quality of the printed image seems itself to be almost secondary, and we believe that is damaging to our industry. And why should any discerning person wish to pay for a physical copy of their creative work or memories that is uninspiring, or no better than they can print at home?
Everybody talks about quality, but what they are really talking about is trying to make digital quality feel as good as analogue technology used to be.
We want to go much better - to take the fundamental beauty of analogue, but add to it all the advantages of digital, without taking anything away.