Printing for Profit: Photographer Tim Graham Adds Inkjet to the Mix

Printing award winning photography on satin surface photo paperUp until just a few weeks ago, photographer Tim Graham was outsourcing all of his portrait photography printing. Then, Graham bought a Canon iPF8300 inkjet printer from LexJet and quickly reaped the benefits of doing his own printing.

“I wanted to update the gallery wraps in my studio, so I outsourced that work and it cost me $1,800 to do two displays on my studio walls. In hindsight I could have printed them here for a lot less. My studio walls are dead; they’ve had the same portraits on them for five to six years and if you’re asking me to update my studio walls for $4,000-$5,000 each year, I’m not going to do it. I even gave up a mall display space because the cost of keeping it fresh was too expensive,” explains Graham. “I went to Travis Guggelman’s in-studio training session and saw what he was doing with inkjet printing and the cost of it. I also found that it would bring me back into the craft of photography.”

Part of that craft is color management, which was one of Graham’s biggest roadblocks to in-studio printing. That roadblock was more easily hurdled than he expected. Though he needed to invest in a better monitor and re-print a few jobs as he worked through the process, the learning curve was relatively quick and painless.

“For me, it’s been putting on the big boy pants and getting the job done, and I’ve loved it so far. I love LexJet’s website, because it walks me through a lot of the steps that would otherwise be intimidating, and I don’t feel like I’m intruding on someone’s time. When I do need to intrude, Justin Craft is there and has been perfectly patient and willing to help when needed,” says Graham.

Graham has enjoyed the ability to print everything from wallet-sized photos to 40×60 enlargements, as well as the versatility of the materials at his disposal, like Sunset Photo eSatin Paper, Sunset Select Matte Canvas and LexJet Water-Resistant Satin Cloth. Graham plans to use the canvas for gallery wraps, coated with Sunset Gloss Coating and Sunset Satin Coating, and stretched on do-it-yourself-and-do-it-professionally Sunset HD Pro Stretcher Kits.

In the photo that accompanies this post, Graham is shown holding to prints that merited at the Twin Cities PPA competition. Graham says that photographers in line with him at the competition as he unpacked the photos asked, “Where did you get that color?” Graham says, “All I did was print them on Sunset eSatin and mounted them unfinished.”

Graham’s studio, officially known as Graham Photography, is located off the beaten path in Wanamingo, Minn. Located in a picturesque river valley on five acres, it’s a destination studio. Most clients have to drive at least 30 minutes to get there, but it’s worth it.

Graham has been in photography for the past 19 years, and is also a Baptist pastor. To say he’s busy is an understatement, but taking on inkjet printing at his studio has brought an extra dimension to his work that ultimately brings satisfaction to himself and his clients.

Printing Photos: When Should I Start Printing My Own Work?

In-house inkjet printingDo you remember the first time you jumped off the high dive as a kid? I do, and boy was I scared. But that anxiety was soon replaced by exhilaration once I came out of the water. After taking the plunge, all my fears washed away, and I said to myself, “Gee, I had myself all worked up over nothing; I wish I would have done that sooner!”

In 21 years of running my own portrait studio I have had similar moments of clarity. Like the time I began to learn Photoshop, or when I switched from film to digital. Each time there has been a great deal of worry, questioning, and research that eventually led me into taking the plunge. And, once committed, I later wondered why it took me so long to do it!

For almost two years we have been printing our portrait work in-house, and I have to say it really is not that hard, especially with LexJet’s awesome support team led by my personal customer specialist, Justin Craft. After buying the Epson 4800 and the ImagePrint RIP it took me just a few phone calls and I was up and running (now I have an Epson 9900). And, except for ordering more rolls of Sunset Photo eSatin Paper, which I love, I haven’t made a single call for more technical help. 

Yet when I speak to photographers at seminars and conventions, many of them have a hard time climbing up the proverbial ladder to take the in-house printing plunge. Here are their concerns and my responses to those concerns:

Concern: You don’t really save that much money going in-house.
Response: In one year we printed about 11,000 units with only $6,000 in ink, paper, and shipping costs. That’s only 55 cents per unit and $2.20 for a 16×20. With my old lab, printing costs would have been over $22,000. Plus, there are more opportunities when you can print for yourself. We were able to say yes to a job that needed 20 16×20 prints in four days. That alone added an extra $2,000 to our bottom line.

Concern: It will take too much time or manpower to do it myself.
Response: With the ImagePrint RIP it takes the same amount of time to send it to my printer as it does using the Web-based software most labs use. Yes, it takes time to trim prints, but not much more than it does to unwrap boxes and sort through things sent back from your supplier. We use a part-time high school student to help as needed. At $8 per hour she loves it more than a fast food job and we are still way ahead financially. Plus, she helps with other tasks as needed.

Concern: Inkjet photo papers have issues with curling, scratching, and gloss differential.
Response: The older Epson printers had those issues, but scratching and gloss differential is just not a problem with the new stuff. For me, paper curl is much less a factor with Sunset Photo eSatin. Even at the end of the roll, where it’s wound tight, the paper is so heavy and thick it only takes laying it out overnight before gravity flattens it out, eliminating any curl.

Concern: Inkjet is just not as good a product.
Response: I want to be able to look my customers straight in the eye and tell them this is the very best I can offer. Once I saw test prints from a homemade direct light test, I knew the only way I could maintain my integrity was to go in-house. Epson’s new ink technology lasts about four times longer, and Canon and HP are now producing similar results with their printers. Inkjet is just plain better.

Concern: Color management is too difficult.
Response: When it comes to color, I’m not the most focused lens on the camera, so to speak. I know good and bad color when I see it, but I could not tell you how to mix things correctly to achieve it. So, at the risk of sounding like a commercial for ImagePrint and LexJet, I will tell you that those are the names and products which ensure I get awesome color every time. They just set me up and the rest takes care of itself. I run a few simple head alignment tests every so often, and that’s it. ImagePrint seems to take the “governor” off the printer, creating delicious color. I like to use the phrase High Definition Color because my in-house printing provides a larger color gamut than anything else I have seen.

I hope this article helps some studio owners to consider taking the in-house printing plunge. If I can do it, you can do it. It’s really not that hard.

The Right Ingredients for a Star Sales Rep

Darcie Siiteri nominated Sean McGettigan for National Business Media's Star Rep of the month award. McGettigan was selected by NBM for going above and beyond to help the studio grow and realize greater profits. Darcie and husband Chris own and operate Innovative Photography in Austin.

Nominated by Darcie Siiteri, owner of Innovative Photography, Austin, Texas, LexJet’s Sean McGettigan was chosen by National Business Media (NBM) as its Star Rep of the month. Based on nominations from sign and graphics companies across the U.S., throughout the coming year National Business Media is looking for supplier sales reps that exemplify customer service.

According to NBM, “The most distinguished sales reps have standards for service above what even their employers’ demand and beyond the expectations of their customers. The best reps see excellent service as normal and don’t expect any special reward. But still, once in a while a reminder of what genuine customer service really looks like is in order.”