Printing: A Growing Market

I just received my 24′ x 30″ print of the above image and am I blown away by the quality, depth and richness.  I get so excited to see my photographic art in print, but for a long time I thought I was crazy.  Almost no one I knew was printing their work.  Then I noticed recently an exciting, but counter-intuitive trend.  The fine art photography print is back!  It is a growing market.  Just consider the rise of Shutterfly’s popularity and digital print labs in Walgreen’s and Costco.  Yes, printing photos is back and growing.  Below are a couple of sources to substantiate this market trend.


From cell phones to fine art printing

But the data represented in these articles is really a reflection of the rise of cell phone cameras.  More photos equals more printing.  Yet, there is an undeniable increase in quality of ink jet printing, desktop printers, a broader range of archival museum quality papers and reduction in cost.  As a result, we are witnessing a re-emergence of printing fine art photography. I’ve been speaking with and judging for camera clubs in Minnesota for years.  My anecdotal experience says that print salons have come back in frequency on par with digital salons.  

Printing Options

Today, fine art photographers shooting with digital cameras can get stunning, rich archival quality prints and a great price.  And if you’re already printing your work, then you are using one of several options.  You either use a powerful desktop printing system, a local small custom digital print shop (First Edition Print), or someone like White House Custom Color. I use WHCC and am blown away by the quality, price and customer service. 

Because of these options, I’m printing my favorite photos for placement in a physical portfolio.  Yes, a traditional art portfolio.  You know what I’m talking about.  The fairly large bifold case in which an artist places large samples of artwork. I bought mine from Blick’s, but there are many choices out there.  Nonetheless, I still know too many photographers who never print any of their work.  Here are 3 reasons you should be printing all your best photography and carrying a portfolio.

1. Bigger Is Better

It is about viewer experience.  Our digital cameras are amazing at capturing detail, but a monitor is not as good as showing it as a photographic print.  And the larger the print, the better the experience with detail.  I don’t print anything for my portfolio smaller than 20″ x 24″.  I just love seeing the images in large print this way.  The emotional and physical experience with the image only increases in size, from an iPhone screen to a 30″ x 45″ print on a wall.  There are no amount of Facebook likes that every give you the same feeling as that large print. 

2. Its Your Art

More importantly, you’ll grow as an artist.  Its much easier to get critical feedback of your from a large physical print.  No one can argue with the print quality.  Its there or its not.  If there are problems with your technique, a monitor may hide them, but a print will reveal them.  Likewise, problems with resolution and tonal transition that are problematic on a monitor, may very well disappear in a print.  To become a better artist print your work and share it.  Your art is not finished until it is an acceptable quality large print.

3. Nostalgia

Nostalgia.  A yearning for the past.  Pre-Social Media.  Pre-Digital.  When all you had was a tiny negative or a print.  A time when critics were more likely to ask why an image was made, not how it was made.  Culturally, we yearn for a connection to the past.  For example, consider your cell phone photo app that has a plethora of filters to apply some nostalgic, print look and quality.  Therefore,  I’m right.  You want that connection.  So print those photos.  It gives you an important connection to the past, to your craft and art, and to your journey as an artist.