Musings on Photography

I like big prints, I cannot lie…

Posted in materials by Paul Butzi on November 25, 2009


(with sincere apologies to Sir Mix-a-Lot)

I confess, I am a big print fan. I like big prints. When I was a kid, made 8″x10″ prints, and I always lamented that the Speed-EzEl had fixed 1/4″ borders, so that I couldn’t eke out a slightly larger image. And then years later, I printed routinely on 11″x14″ paper, and then on 16″x20″ paper. Only the cost of paper larger than that, and the hassles of either running prints in drums or setting up a larger tray line restrained by desire to make prints bigger than that.

And when I plunged into digital printing, naturally I got a 40″ wide printer, and I made some truly large prints. It was relatively easy, and a lot of fun. Sadly, it turns out that there are not very many places I can hang a 36″ x 45″ print, so I didn’t make too many. And now I have only a 24″ wide printer, so the largest print I can make is something like 22″ on the short side. Still pretty big, that is.

But my trend seems to be heading smaller. Having made a number of Blurb books (in the roughly 8×10 landscape size), and done a bunch of online PDF portfolios (limited to the size of the screen, which might be small but might be large), I find myself thinking about both books and portfolios of loose prints.

If you haven’t seen them, you might look at what Brooks Jensen has done with what he calls ‘Folios’:

I think these folios are interesting, because they seem to offer an interesting sort of blend between book-ness and print-ness. So I’m thinking of making a few of these. Naturally the next question is “What size?”

I have, essentially, two sizes of paper for my printer – 17″ wide rolls and 24″ wide rolls. In my imagination, I’d mark the images I want in the print portfolio in Bridge, apply an automated photoshop action, and go for a walk with the dog. When we returned we’d find a bunch of prints in the printer basket, cut to the right size, and I’d just gather them up, pop them in the cool paper cover, and I’d be done. Whoot! Of course, in reality, I’d need to flatten the prints, which means another step.

But a portfolio of 14″x17″ prints would be pretty big. You probably wouldn’t sit down in your comfy chair next to the crackling fire, glass of wine close at hand, and go through a folio of 14″x17″ prints. You might do that with prints sized around 11×14. Jensen makes his prints 8″ x 10.5″.

My fondness for big prints rebels at the idea of making prints that small. My desire to make something that can be held in the lap and enjoyed that way insists they must be that small.

There’s this outfit: that sells pre-cut folio covers. They make them 8.5″x11″. It would seem sensible to make a few at that size, as an experiment. 8.5″x11″ is a convenient size for me, since I can print two up on 17″ wide paper and then cut the prints apart with minimal hassle. So I’ve gone ahead and ordered a few of the folios; I’ll report back on this when I have them in hand.

Comments/suggestions/insights on appropriate size for folios from readers would be most welcome.

13 Responses

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  1. Markus said, on November 25, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    This for shure looks interesting. Whilst I am fascinated with big prints (I have some 70x100cm² ones) it is less the shere size that kills my interest in photobooks of blurb et al, but the lack of print quality. The difference between a nice 8x10in² print and the same size in a photobook is big, at least in the samples I have seen. And those folios would offer the the best of two worlds, best print qualities as well as a compact and consistent format that encloses a certain sequence.
    I will have a look for suppliers here in Europe – the example from danecreek for sure looks inviting.

  2. Patrick said, on November 25, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Sorry Paul – no advice on print size from me. What I would say, OTOH, is that in my (admittedly limited) experience, popping out for a walk whilst leaving a task to run automatically would result in my returning to either (a) forty “finished” prints with one of the edges cut off; or (b) one print half-finished and a flashing light on the printer with an error message on my computer saying the equivalent of “ha, leave ME to do all the work would you?”.
    Me and printers? We just don’t get on- to my mind they are more evil than fax machines.

  3. Patrick said, on November 25, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Oh, and I love the Brooks Jensen portfolio ideas.

  4. sojournerphoto said, on November 25, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    I have a box of my prints all at 13 by 9.5 – i.e. an A3+ sheet cut in half. That works as a box of pictures you can sit down with and look through. It still works slightly bigger, but by the time you get to 13 by 19 it’s too big for that.


  5. Dave Kosiur said, on November 25, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    I have a few of the Lensworks folios and they are a bit on the small size, although I don’t think I’d make them larger if I was making one on my own.

    You have to consider what you want to do with a particular image, or set of images. Do you want the viewer to carefully look at all the details of an image, or is the image something that exemplifies broader “brush strokes”, as it were.

    11×17 or 13×19 is a size that I’d still hold in my hand and look at, but anything larger seems destined for viewing on an easel on a wall.


  6. Martin Doonan said, on November 25, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    I bought a couple of folios, one small (8×10 ish, I forget the exact size), one large (12x16ish). My take is that, indeed, the smaller size is more suited to “sit by the fire, pictures in hand” however I find neither size entirely conducive to this. The main problem is in packaging – opening up the folio in a way that makes flipping the photos easy still leaves a large expanse to carry in ones lap. A more traditional box is better, but the rigid sides make it hard to handle the edges of the prints.
    That is the beauty of a book: handy size for even relatively large page size.

  7. Neil said, on November 25, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    What a strange, small, world 🙂 One of my co-workers at my day job sent me mail and said “hey, isn’t this blog entry writing about your folio covers”? Sure enough!

    It’s great to see people interested in the smaller print sizes. I have to agree with Paul’s comment that big is fun but a bit unwieldly. I couldn’t even find room for a 40″ printer, let alone prints that big, so I make do with a 17″. And there’s only so much wall space to go around.

    The folios make a nice way to package up smaller prints for a more personal, intimate, presentation and they’re great for gifts. I made the covers 8.5×11″ precisely because you can cut them out of a 17″ wide roll, or get four out of a 17×22″ piece of paper, or go with straight 8.5×11″ sheets. With a good quality paper cutter (such as a Rotatrim) getting them sliced to size is a snap. The covers are slightly larger than the ones Brooks uses (he does 8×10″).

    @Markus, I’m happy to ship to Europe, but I’m the first to admit that the shipping charges are very, very, expensive. I’m not aware of anyone on that side of the pond that has done a manufacturing run of them yet.

    Neil Enns
    Dane Creek Photography

  8. Hugh Alison said, on November 26, 2009 at 3:50 am

    I always printed 35mm to 12″ x 18″ full frame on 16″ x 20″ paper, so it was a natural transition to go to 12″ x 18″ prints on A3+ (13″ x 19″) paper.

    My workprints are that size on Epson Archival Matte (cheap) – possibly has a different name in the US. I pin those up on the wall and look at them for a while.

    I print most of my final prints the same size on 308GSM Hahnemuhle Photo Rag – stiff enough to hold and look at in a loose-leaf portfolio. I do a few at A2 (17″ x 22″), but they really need to be on a wall.

  9. Ed Richards said, on November 26, 2009 at 8:48 am

    It is strange how 8×10 went from being a big print to being a small print over the past 40 years. A couple of mechnical observations. I have a lot of 8.5×11 prints because I like to have a print of all my major images. I have also made quite a few 17×22/25 prints, and some in between. At letter size, with a relatively heavy paper, it is easy to handle the prints, i.e., if grab one by the cover to pick it up, you do no damage. Bigger than that, and the need for really careful handling goes up, fast, because there is no scaling up the thickness and rigidity of the paper. 11×14 on really stiff paper is still OK, but you need to be pay attention. On less stiff paper, it is a problem. Bigger than 11×14 and the probablity of screwing up a print by handling it is high.

    Now that does not matter to the printer, we can just make another one. But think about the purchaser of the portfolio. They are going to be unhappy when they screw up a print, and if you expect them to look at the portfolio more than once, this is a big issue. Would not surprise me to find that Brooks spent some time thinking about this, he has been pretty savvy in this print sales decisions.

  10. John said, on November 26, 2009 at 9:47 am

    This is where I’m heading, too. I considered fancy post binders, but I think the loose print package approach is better. I envision me (or a purchaser) sitting around a coffee table with friends sharing the prints. Pina Zingaro has some nice portfolio boxes. Anyone know of other sources for quality containers? I am concerned about so much handling of prints. For that reason I’m thinking a non-fiber paper might be better a better choice. Any thoughts on this point?

  11. Oren Grad said, on November 26, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    A vote for 8.5×11. Thinking in terms of convenient cuts from your available paper rolls, something like 10×12 should also work well. Much beyond that and it gets unwieldy for me.

  12. Peter Szawlowski said, on November 27, 2009 at 6:54 am

    Have done several 8.5×11 folios based on Brooks Jensen’s concept, and had excellent responses, people like the idea and enjoy holding a print on good paper in their hand – The hard part is getting a reasonable return in this endeavor – Small print runs on “Good” paper are very expensive, and there seems to be a limited audience for this sort of work. I have since resorted to do only one-of-kind folios, and become interested in entirely handmade books of photographs and accompanying text.

  13. Peter Mellis said, on November 28, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    I print at all different sizes ranging from around 5X7 to 16X24; most of my prints end up being 8X12 and 10X15. After recently printing a series of ten prints at 16X24 for my daughter (sold to a restaurant), I watched Brooks Jensen’s folio tutorial and started thinking about trying my hand at one. The idea was dormant until I read your post and saw the link for the folios. I’ve ordered a bunch and we’ll see what comes of it. Perfect timing!

    My first job after college/service (around 1965)was selling fine printing papers, mostly to ad agencies. One of the things that I used to do, was to make up handmade samples of envelopes so that the art directors could see what they would look like. That process was exactly like making a folio;gave me a shudder watching it. Probably would never have moved forward on doing a folio myself, if I had to start out by making it.

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