Musings on Photography

Print Sizes/Printer sizes

Posted in digital printing by Paul Butzi on March 6, 2008


When I was printing in the wet darkroom, and I was really trying to simplify things so that I could focus on stuff that really mattered, I settled on a single print size – roughly 10″x12.5″ on 11″x14″ paper. The aspect ratio changed slightly if I did minor cropping, but it ended up that essentially 100% of the prints I made were on 11″x14″ paper. That made life easy, because the single standard for paper size meant that I also had a single standard for mat board size, frame size, storage box size, and I only needed to stock those sizes.

Then I started printing digitally, and it suddenly became trivially easy for me to print pretty much any size I wanted. I had a 44″ wide printer, so I could (and did) print really big prints. That was an interesting exercise, but it turns out that there are very few places in the world where you can hang really large prints, so I didn’t make a lot. The next printer I got was only 24″ wide, and it seems to be plenty.

So I now stock paper for the printer in rolls, in two widths: 17″ and 24″. I don’t find myself making small prints very often. The most common print size, far and away, is a 10″x15″ print on 14″x17″ paper. I make larger prints, too – 15″x22″ prints, and 20″x30″, and very occasionally 22″x33″. So those two roll widths really cover things. I can print virtually any size I want, but the reality is that if the print is going to be framed, you’re right back to either the inefficiency of framing in a non-standard size, or else you’re framing the print out to one of the standardized photo sizes: 11×14, 16×20, 20×24, 22×28, 32×40.

As I go through revising my website, I’m trying hard to really simplify and cut things back to the essentials. Rather than sell prints at a lot of different sizes, I think I’ll just sell them in a few, standardized sizes. If I never sell anything smaller than 10×15 (which frames out to 16×20), that limits me to stocking foamcore and matboard and frames and glazing in just those four standard sizes. I don’t like selling smaller prints, because I think the smaller prints always lack something.

That pretty much reduces things to selling prints in those four sizes: say, 10×15 (which frames out to 16×20), 12×18 (frames out to 20×24), 14×21 (frames out to 22×28) and 20×30 (frames out to 32×40). 12×18 is an interesting size to me, primarily because I haven’t really framed things out to 20×24 very often, so it’s a new size to me.

Anyway, as I was pondering on all this, it occurred to me that all of these print sizes except the largest (20×30) could be printed on a printer that has a 17″ wide carriage and handles roll paper. Printing 14×21 (or even 15×22 if you frame a little tighter) on a 17″ wide roll still leaves room for acceptably wide margins – at least one inch all the way ’round.

It’s a shame that in order to get the great features that come with the larger printers (like the auto-profiling of the z3100, use of cheaper big capacity ink cartridges, and so on) you have to get a carriage that’s wider than you probably need. I’m betting the vast majority of photographers have only occasional need for prints they can’t make on a 17″ printer.

There’s no great insight, here. I’m just amused that it took this long for me to come around to seeing that the whole ‘standard size’ issue hasn’t gone away just because I have a printer than can make sheets of arbitrary length and will print images of arbitrary size. In the end the print probably gets put in one of a few standard size frames with standard size mat board, and the push to a few standard size prints is still there.

7 Responses

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  1. Paul said, on March 7, 2008 at 3:27 am

    Great post, Paul. It seems, at least to me, that the more choices that I have, the more that I start to get a bit overwhelmed. This feeling causes me to want to simplify again. I think that’s why, in general, we have standardized. Of course, there is the cost factor, as well.

    Interesting thought about the wall space. In looking around the house, I can see that there’s not a lot of wall space that could accommodate such a large print. A few, but not many.

  2. Ed Richards said, on March 7, 2008 at 5:48 am

    If you are matting the prints, you can print 16″ wide and still have a little (1/8) of the print showing behind the mat. What never made sense to the 17″ width. At least HP did them in 18″ so you can make a 16×20 easily.

    Given that most of the cost and size of the Z3100 is in the electronics, do you think they could make much smaller or cheaper if it was 17? With Epson, the 3800 is sweet because it really is cheaper and smaller than their bigger printers.

  3. David Saffir said, on March 7, 2008 at 7:54 am

    what about those of us who print on canvas or fabric, that need a wider border (2-3+ inches) for the stretcher bars? or if we want a wider border and deckled edges on fine art paper? both very popular in my market (calif, oregon, colorado, w wash state)

  4. Paul Butzi said, on March 7, 2008 at 8:56 am

    what about those of us who print on canvas or fabric, that need a wider border (2-3+ inches) for the stretcher bars? or if we want a wider border and deckled edges on fine art paper?

    Folks printing on canvas and then stretching the prints don’t have to frame the print (at least, the ones I’ve seen are unframed) so none of this applies. I’m sure that canvas prints are common in certain markets but I still think the vast majority (and I mean 99.999%) of photographers are printing on paper.

    If you want wider borders, or you want deckle edges, it’s likely that your framing treatment doesn’t include matting and probably doesn’t include the usual matting dimensional restrictions. But again, I think only a small minority of photographers are doing these things.

  5. David Kwett said, on March 7, 2008 at 9:39 am

    I’m curious what sizes you mostly sell/show?

    I suggest standardization works from an aesthetic standpoint as well as for economic and processing reasons. If you’re displaying a series of prints, standard format provides cohesiveness.

    Personally, I really like 13×19; 10mp images fit nicely in that space at 100% and reasonable resolution, it works well with 18×24 frames, larger sizes would need larger display spaces than I typically use, (and it happens to just be what I have).

  6. Olli Wendelin said, on March 7, 2008 at 10:07 am

    I am preparing for a show where most of my prints will be 16×24. Without custom framing I either 1) crop to 16×22 in a 24×30 frame or 2) print 16×24 in a 24×36 frame and spend more time cutting irregular matt borders.

    The lack of roll feed on my 3800 is much more of an aggrevation than I would have imagined. Cutting roll paper or shipping cut paper is much more of a hassle. And lack of suction in the printer makes paper flatness very critical. My next printer will be a 24 inch with roll feed.

  7. […] print sizes and framing Filed under: framing, printing — ejeschke @ 12:51 am Paul Butzi got me thinking about print sizes with a recent series of posts on the topic.  Over the years […]

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