Fine art printing can be a tricky process at the best of times. It's not simply a case of hitting the print button and waiting for the print to emerge from your printer. There are many steps that are involved before you have a beautiful print to hold in your hands. In order to facilitate the process to be as smooth as possible, there are a number of different ways in which you can make life much easier for yourself. I'm about to talk you through one particular problem and a solution that I've found that will make the printing workflow 100% easier, will save you potentially hours of pain and also help to save you a lot of money in the long run.
Printing can be an expensive process. You need a printer, you need ink, you need a form of print media and then some way to display and protect your print. It's very easy to have a hard drive full of images that you can flick through at your own convenience but honestly I believe that you can't beat having a beautiful print of your favourite photographs. To me it completes the process from travelling to a location, making a photograph, editing the photograph and then making the print. Having something physical, something tangible right there in your hands is a feeling that every photographer should experience.
ROLL PAPER AND PROBLEM OF PAPER CURLING
One of the most popular ways of cutting your costs when printing is to buy paper in rolls. It's much more cost effective per metre and you can cut it to whatever size you wish to make a print on. It sounds great doesn't it? Well it is, but you just have to add one extra step into the process and that is finding a way to remove the curl from the paper that you've just cut.
Roll paper is bound very tight in order to protect and preserve the face of the paper, so as you unwind and cut your chosen section, it will curl back on itself. This is not ideal for printing as with most printers, paper needs to enter the printing feed completely flat. If it is not completely flat then the print head, which zips back and forth spraying the ink onto the paper, can sometimes strike the paper (known as head strike). Head strike produces smears or blobs of ink in the middle of your print and often on the very edges of the paper as it curves upwards in the feed mechanism. Some of the more expensive large format printers contain a vacuum which holds the paper in place allowing you to print directly from a roll without roll curl being an issue, but it's not a cost effective printer for many photographers to own unless of course you’re printing on a commercial scale.
For anyone who has ever chosen the roll paper route, you will know that trying to take the curl out of roll paper is not fun. When I first started printing roll paper I trawled the internet forums, sent emails and made phone calls, looking for tips from the old masters of printing. Most of these tips involved elastic bands and old roll tubes or toilet rolls and then usually a period of time to wait for the curl to come out of the paper. Even after waiting for the recommended times (anywhere from 3 minutes to 24 hours) I still couldn't get the paper to lie flat for long enough to make a print. This would result in sometimes having to make multiple attempts to make the print, costing me time and money. Additionally, sometimes the rubber bands would damage the face of the paper, rendering it completely useless. Another factor being that the cost of ink is pretty expensive, so to lose precious ink on wasted sheets is frustrating.
Following on from the previous efforts, I later discovered a tool which looked to be a potential life saver - The Permajet Anti-Roll Curler. I first saw this device online, midway through last year and I was pretty impressed with what I saw. Permajet has a video on youtube where you can see it in action. I've embedded it below for your convenience.
At the time I thought I’d pass on it as I didn’t really believe that it would be that cost effective. But as time went on and my printing output increased, I was becoming more and more frustrated with my rubber band solution. So I decided to place an order for the 24” version and see how it performs. I ordered it through Adeal in Melbourne, the supplier of Permajet products in Australia. It arrived in the early part of the new year. After a busy start to the year I finally got to play with it properly about a month ago. My first impressions after I unwrapped it were that it's a very solid, well-constructed product. The roller is composed of a steel inner tube running through the centre, wrapped by a strong carrier film with rubber guide strips that run along the top and bottom of the film all the way into where the sheet meets the inner tube.
The general principle of operation is that you find a hard surface (e.g. a table) and unroll the tube as far as it goes. The paper is then placed between the rubber strips with the curl in the middle of the paper facing up. You then roll the tub back towards the end of the carrier film, rolling against the curl of the paper. When you reach the end you hold it for a few seconds and then unroll the tube again revealing the now de-curled paper. It's very simple in its idea and very easy to use.
USING THE ROLLER
I tested it with a couple of different grades of paper in order to get a good idea of performance. One of my favourite papers in Permajet’s range is FB Distinction. This is a really heavy stock paper (360GSM) so it’s hard to get the curl out, believe me, I’ve tried! My normal process with the rubber bands takes around 2 and a half days to get the curl out to a level that I can print on with no problems, so I was really keen to get to grips with this paper first.
I cut a 17” long sheet from a 24” wide roll of FB Distinction. 17” is the maximum width I can print on with my trusty Epson 3880 printer but I often buy 24” rolls and cut and rotate the paper to fit my setup. I cleared a space on the end my counter for the roller and proceeded to unravel it to the end, where I was standing. It rolls very easily and smoothly with the added bonus of the outer face of the film gripping the counter top as I rolled it out. This made it very stable and easy to guide the roll as it unraveled.
Next up I placed the paper in-between the rubber guides with the face of the paper towards me, curling upwards and back downwards the counter. I set the paper just slightly into the edge of the roller to hold it in place and then began to roll it at a fairly steady pace, much like the demonstration on the video. It’s very easy to roll with no resistance, even with the thick stock paper inside the roller. As I reached the end, I paused for a few seconds before rolling it back open towards myself. On reaching the end where I was stood, the paper was now pretty much flat, with a slight curve upwards at the end of the paper. The edges of the paper were gradually moving back down towards the counter top so it wasn’t a concern that I’d curled the paper back the other way. I checked the face of the paper to make sure it was fine and it was, perfect and ready to print on.
I also rolled some Titanium Lustre (280gsm) to see how that fared and had exactly the same experience, no problems and the curl taken out with ease.
I’m really impressed with how quickly and easy the Anti-Curl Roller took out the curl of a heavy stock paper like FB Distinction. It took a total of 5 minutes to perform, most of which was me clearing space to use the roller. So from 2 and a half days before to 5 minutes now, you can see the value in purchasing this product, especially, if like me, you mainly print roll paper on a printer without a roll paper feed. That is a phenomenal time saving and also makes my printing workflow vastly more efficient.
I cannot emphasise enough how this roller has made my life easier. It appears costly at first (currently retailing at £159.95/$305.76AUD) but factor in the time savings alone and it pays for itself with a single use, that’s not to mention any costs associated with damaging your print paper/ ink wastage.
If you buy roll paper to cut and print from then this really needs to be a part of your workflow.
Thanks to both John at Adeal and the guys at Permajet UK for helping me to get hold of the Anti-Curl Roller. You’ve made me a very happy man!