Sunset Bright Velvet Rag for Perfectly Distressed Edges

For Oklahoma photographer Kimberly Smith, 2017 was quite the year; not only did she take home a Sunset Print Award for her entry “The Beauty of Innocence” in the Southwest PPA regionals, but in February, she was presented with the 1st Place prize for the 2017 National Sunset Print Award at Imaging USA.

To create her signature style in these winning images, Smith uses LexJet Sunset Bright Velvet Rag 315g with distressed edges that create a fine art finish to her work.

In quite the follow-up to 2017, Smith won another Sunset Print Award in the 2018 Southwest PPA District, and she stepped to the head of the class for the first time to teach a group of students about the art of black-and-white photography … as well as her favorite deckled-edge finishing technique.

While preparing her curriculum, Smith wanted to include the distressed technique for her students. “I want to print out a few different images for them to practice tearing the edges,” she said. Of Sunset Bright Velvet Rag, she says “the thickness (of the paper) means the tears on the edges are perfect for a soft, multi-layered look.”

Sunset Bright Velvet Rag is a 20-mil thick (315g) 100% rag paper with a velvet surface. The bright white finish is the perfect complement to Smith’s preference for high-key black-and-white printing. “The cottony feel and thickness is what caught my attention and it prints beautifully,” she says.

With all the print competitions she does, it’s important that her prints stand up to being held, shipped and displayed all over the country. “Several of my images have been handled a lot, packed in print cases and shipped several times,” she says. “They come back looking the same.”

Bright Velvet Rag will continue to be part of Smith’s award-winning formula for a while. “It’s a beautiful product that I will continue using myself and highly recommend for others.”

If you are looking to give your photographs a fine-art finish, call your sales representative at 800-453-9538 to discuss LexJet Sunset Bright Velvet Rag 315g or visit us at

2017 National Sunset Print Award Winners Announced

Congratulations to the winners of the 2017 National Sunset Print Awards. They will be presented with their awards at Imaging USA in Nashville, next month:

1st Place: The Beauty of Innocence – Kimberly J. Smith

2nd Place: Classic – Randy McNeilly

3rd Place: In Flight with Twigs – Uldis Ilvess

There were a total of 31 prints that included a junk boat on a cool and Misty Morning, a celebratory Alabaster Aster, the majesty of a Departing Flight, and even a pack of lawmen in Prepare There’s Trouble. With such a vast array of creativity and artistry displayed by the 2017 Sunset Print Awards around the country, it’s no wonder the judges had a difficult time narrowing the field down to the final three.

Discussing her Southwest PPA win earlier in the year with The Beauty of Innocence, Smith reflected on the photo shoot where she captured the innocence and serenity of a 1-year old, not an easy thing to do! “I could see the artistry in the shot and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to capture the image,” Smith said of the winning image, pictured above.

“Classic” by Randy McNeilly

Photography veteran Randy McNeilly had a total of three wins out of the PPA Southeast district, but it was his wedding portrait “Classic” – a piece that truly captures the elegance and beauty of a bride on her wedding day – that garnered a 2nd place win in the National awards. McNeilly stressed that spending time with each client is an important part of capturing their personality and learning what story is inside, begging to be told.

“In Flight with Twigs” by Uldis Ilvess

For Uldis Ilvess, a fortuitous road trip helped him score his winning shot for Professional Photographers of Iowa. While driving through the country, he spotted a few homes and decided to see if there was anything interesting. Ilvess recalls, “[there] was this fenced-in area with a pond, and in the shrubs, were these birds nesting.” Watching the birds mesmerized him, but he had to get some pictures which enabled him to capture the grace and beauty of the scene.

Along with an engraved crystal trophy, the winners will also receive cash prizes totaling $1,500 for First Place, $500 for Second Place and $300 for Third Place. We want to thank all the participants in the 2017 Sunset Awards and look forward to seeing this year’s winners in Nashville.

Prints That Win: The Beauty of Innocence

For photographic craftsman Kimberly Smith of Muskogee, Okla., a hobby that started as a way to document the growth of her family through scrapbooking turned into a full-blown career. “I really was looking for a better camera to take better pictures of my kids. It turns out, not only did I find a better camera, I also found my passion,” she says.

Once Smith decided to pursue photography, she began looking for classes or other educational opportunities. A friend of hers suggested she reach out to Shannon Ledford of Broken Arrow, so that’s just what she did. “When I showed her my work, she said she could tell that I had a good eye,” Smith says. “She was so encouraging to me and my craft.” The two women bonded over photography and became fast friends, with Ledford inviting her to conventions, to her studio and into the lab for experience and training.

Prints that Win: Kung POW Chicken!

Tracye Gibson Sunset Print Award

For the second year in a row, Tracye Gibson, M. Photog., won a Sunset Print Award for her artistic flair and masterful use of Photoshop and Corel Painter.

Last year’s winner, Little Miss Muffet, combined Gibson’s portrait photography with digital paint. This time around Gibson had an idea featuring fighting roosters, but didn’t have any roosters nearby to photograph.

“For the Master Artist competition category at the Southwest PPA you don’t have to take the photo yourself; you just need to show how you put the elements together,” explains Gibson. “I usually shoot my own photography for that category, but I don’t have any roosters in my backyard here in Fort Worth. I know I’m from Texas, but… I’ve been obsessed with roosters and chickens lately because I like trying to figure out how to paint all the different feather textures.”

Gibson bought stock rooster illustrations (the four images at the bottom of the panel) as the basis for the image she had in mind and went to work with Photoshop and Painter.

“I composited different parts of the roosters together and positioned them in Photoshop. Then I took it into Corel Painter and painted in multiple layers. I like to add colors with pencil on the print, but I didn’t have time for that,” says Gibson. “For the background I went in and grabbed some colors from the roosters, drew some oval squiggles and overlaid them over each other. I took that into Photoshop and put a motion filter on it – zoom, I think – so that it gives it that center pow look. I did some cloning with different brushes, did a lot of dodging and burning, and always take it into Photoshop and apply other filters and layers as well.”

Gibson framed the final print with two layers of plain white mat. Though Gibson says she normally uses Sunset inkjet paper for her competition prints, she used Hahnemuhle Torchon for this image because she thought the texture of the paper complemented the image. Gibson floated the mats a bit, added a bevel to the outer mat and colored the bevel with a burnt-orange pencil.

“Presentation is very important, especially in the Master Artist category, because they want to see the before images, and sometimes it’s hard to get them on there without being distracting,” says Gibson. “I laid the before images on top of the top mat, backed everything up, photographed it, and sent the file in digitally just in time for the deadline.”

The Difference a Print Makes with Randy McNeilly at Upcoming Photo Conferences

Fine art photography studio decor

In a presentation entitled A Renaissance in Portrait Photography, Randy McNeilly will provide photographers with his keys to differentiation in the photography market at the Southwest PPA Regional Convention and the Virginia Professional Photographers Association annual convention.

Photography studio layoutThe Southwest PPA Regional Convention will be held in Irving, Texas (near Dallas) Sept. 28 through Oct. 1, and the Virginia convention will likely be held in late January (the exact dates and venue have not been announced).

McNeilly is working on the content for his presentation and the dates and times have not been scheduled yet. Check back here at the LexJet Blog for updates on those events and McNeilly’s seminar dates and times.

Photo studio and printingAn important facet of his presentation, says McNeilly, will be how printing differentiates and adds value to photography. As a 30-year veteran with 27 years of those 30 printing his own work McNeilly has honed his craft and solidified his approach to the market.

“The program is really about how to differentiate yourself in this market, and it’s built around being a print maker. For instance, we go out and take a light meter and color meter reading where a customer will be hanging the print and make a big production out of hand making a print,” says McNeilly. “We use the options we have available to us now with all the different inkjet print materials, and it’s about making print making part of the craft and the product. It really separates me from everyone else because no one else has those conversations.”

McNeilly has an Epson Stylus Pro 9900 and an Epson Stylus Pro 4880. The print quality and overall production capability of each are maximized with the ImagePrint RIP. McNeilly says he prefers LexJet’s Sunset Photo eSatin Paper for day-to-day print work and Sunset Select Matte Canvas for larger display prints. He sells the prints unfinished, allowing the opportunity for value-added options like coatings (Sunset Gloss Coating) and framing.

Printing fine art portrait photography“Digital photography is the best thing that’s happened to photography but the worst thing to happen to professional photographers,” says McNeilly. “That’s why print making is such an important component to our business. It’s about providing a custom product to my clients.”

McNeilly has earned the equivalent of six Master of Photography degrees, a PPA Imaging Excellence Award, became an affiliate juror and is currently a jury chairman in training. In 2009 Randy became the 100th photographer in the world to receive the Fellowship from the American Society of Photographers.

For more information about McNeilly Photography, go to, and stay tuned here for the latest information about McNeilly’s presentations at the Southwest PPA and Virginia conferences.

A Perfect Blend: Award Winning Fine Art and Portrait Photography by Paul Ernest

Award winning photography

Paul Ernest, an award-winning photographer based in Dallas, says, “If you give me a tank of gas, no schedule and a camera I’ll find somewhere to go that doesn’t have pavement.” This seemingly aimless wandering is not so aimless. Ernest is looking for the perfect landscape setting to create an evocative composition.

“I’m big into allegory and realism, specifically the work of painters like Andrew Wyeth,” he says. “It’s like Wyeth starts a sentence for the viewer to finish, so I look for things that are thought-provoking.”

Ernest explains that when he found a picture-perfect landscape off the beaten path on a rural dirt road near Dallas he wasn’t sure where the scene would take him. Ultimately it brought him a Best Color Image and the LexJet Sunset Award at the Southwest PPA print competition.

The final image, entitled The Recital, was inspired by a dog named Charlie. Charlie is owned by Ernest’s mentor, David Edmonson, and seemed the perfect audience for a backwoods retro recital along a country dirt road.

So, Ernest shot some photos of Charlie then turned to the head of the local historical society who had just the look Ernest was after as the cello player. The first trick in composing a scene like this, says Ernest, is to shoot in similar lighting so that the reflective surfaces match the broad plane of the landscape scene.

Paul Ernest PhotographyErnest uses a variety of different processes and filters in Photoshop, plus homemade recipes with onOne Software to create his painterly effects.

“Once I’ve blended the images I use a propriety texturing effect I’ve come up with, detail the signature elements, dodge and burn and then it’s pretty much complete,” says Ernest. “The shadow of the chair on the ground was actually the most challenging element in The Recital.”

Ernest says his compositions have opened up additional opportunities with his portrait clientele who want something totally unique they can’t get elsewhere. “A lot of people didn’t get into photography in the past because of the chemical element and having to wait for that image to develop. The technology has made it more accessible and leveled the playing field. What we’re seeing now is that in order to set yourself apart, you have to create extraordinary images and include a fine-art aspect to your work to maximize its appeal,” says Ernest.

Ernest is scheduled to present at WPPI 2012 in Las Vegas, Feb. 16-17, so if you’re there you’ll want to check out his seminar. For more information about his work, go to