The first time I ever heard of GTI Graphic Technology, Inc. was when I was in San Diego this past May at the Nik Summit. My favorite fashion photographer, Douglas Dubler, had an amazing GTI VPI 52 print inspection station to hold his massive 44x60” print of Avatar Beauty shown below:
Copyright © Douglas Dubler – ALL Rights Reserved
I was impressed with how the GTI print inspection station lit the photo and made the colors pop, but at $3000 USD (as of the time of this writing) that was way out of my budget. Of course, I am not printing from a Epson Stylus® Pro 9900 like Douglas Dubler either, so it’d be overkill anyway. On a recommendation from Douglas, I talked to the nice folks at GTI who told me about the GTI PDV-2020EX Desktop Viewer - 23.5 x 25.3" with Lower Luminaire and Side Walls which would be big enough for my 17x22 prints from my Epson Stylus® Pro 3880 as well as the 24” wide prints of my Canon imagePROGRAF6300 (or a iPF6350) – up to about 22 inches tall. The best part is that this solution is less than half the price of the big boy GTI VPI 52 that Douglas uses.
How does it work?
In my PDV-2020EX there is an overhead light as well as a light from the bottom that fill the entire back wall with a consistent amount of light at D50 (5000k). The sidewalls help to avoid light spillage but restrict the width to 25 inches. The inside walls are a neutral gray (not 18% gray, but a Munsell N8/ neutral gray with 60% reflectance as specified by ISO 3664:2009) and feature a long magnetic strip that is movable to grab your image into at the top and two additional magnets for securing it at the bottom corners. With this design I can view 17x22” prints in either portrait or landscape orientation, so if I’m printing on Epson paper then anything that comes out of my 3880 works great with this light box.
These boxes are designed to be set adjacent to your monitor so that you can compare your soft proof results with your actual print when determining if you need to make image adjustments to the print. I found this to be super useful because I was able to clearly see all the details (and flaws) in the image with my naked eye and look at my monitor to make corrections (usually selective brightness and fixing sloppy Photoshop work that was “good enough” on the computer. It also makes detecting banding, swirls in the paper (i.e., polished and glossy papers), scuffs, scratches, dust and fingerprints a breeze to find too. If you are going to be framing your work, this is a nice tool to do your final inspection before you put under glass.
Once you use one you get addicted to it very quickly because the light is so good and comparisons are so easy that you wonder how you ever lived without it! Greg Gorman, Douglas Dubler, Randy Hufford, Vincent Versace and many more all swear by these viewing stations (and most have one about the same size as mine).
Will it fit on my desk?
It depends on what model you get and the size of your desk. As you can see from the picture above my desk is pretty crowded and it’s about 6 feet wide by 4 feet deep. You’ll want a sturdy and wide desk because if it is balancing at the edge then it would be easy to knock it over. Ideally you want to have it on your desk too if possible, but if you can’t then it isn’t the end of the world – you can still take advantage of it – but soft proofing next to it becomes more complex (unless you are using a photography class laptop like the Lenovo W700ds or W701ds).
Can I transport this device?
Yes, these boxes are designed to be taken apart fairly easily with only a few screws (no tools required) so that you can collapse them and bring them to another location. it’s much easier if you leave the sidewalls at home, but they can transport too.
Do I really need this?
If you sell more than $3000 worth of prints per year, then I believe you do because it allows you to ensure that you are delivering the best product possible to your customer when you sign your name to it. If you are selling prints for over $500 each, then you are definitely doing your customers a disservice if you aren’t using one because you should be making sure that you have created the best result possible before signing your name to a print.
Another point worth making is that this device is ISO 3664 compliant which means that it is guaranteed that when you view color prints, you are seeing the same color that your clients (if they are publishers or advertisers or printers or brand owners) see since there is only one worldwide standard for critical color viewing in the graphic arts.
If you are like many of my readers who are just enthusiasts then no, you don’t need this product. You’d love it if you had it (assuming you are doing your own printing), but you can live without it. In addition, if printing or print sales are just your side business and not a profit maker for you then it makes little sense to make an investment on one of these boxes unless you have money to burn. At this point in time I fall into this camp, so I really can’t justify purchasing one but I REALLY, REALLY want to!
Is there something cheaper?
Prices start at around $400 USD (as of 8/19/10) for the PDV-1E, and go up from there depending on the box size and options (i.e., sidewalls, lower luminaire, dimmer, etc…). So the short answer is yes, there’s a solution available that is cheaper and may meet your needs (especially if you are printing with a 2880 instead of a 3880). Of course the more options you have the more you will enjoy it, but I’d say the one that is probably the most important are the sidewalls (with the lower luminaire being a close second). You should also consider what size prints you are doing the most too because that will dictate what size you need (and don’t forget about both portrait and landscape orientation size requirements).
One thing my unit doesn’t have, but I wish it did, is the dimming feature. For critical soft-proofing comparisons between the copy print and the monitor, the dimming feature allows the user to adjust the brightness of the viewer to match the brightness of the monitor. If you have the money to add this feature, I highly recommend it.
I love, love, love this product! It has helped me SO much in my printing series because I am able to carefully inspect and evaluate my prints. I has also greatly assisted in helping me to fine tune my images that I’m printing so that I get the best result possible. If you do your own print and you can afford it, then I highly recommend it as I’m 100% confident that you’ll not regret your decision to own one (but you may regret not getting a bigger one with more options <g>). If you can’t afford one then do yourself a favor and never use one because you’ll be green with envy for not having one!
How to Purchase
You can purchase a GTI PDV-2020EX Desktop Viewer - 23.5 x 25.3" with Lower Luminaire and Side Walls that is exactly like mine (despite the fact that B&H’s photo is wrong, it’s the right product) or you can consider any of their other options. Contact me if you are looking for a larger size or something that isn’t shown on B&H and I can help you out.
I was provided a loaner PDV-2020EX for review purposes and I may get a commission if you use the sponsored links to purchase something. Thanks for supporting the blog by returning here and using the links to make your purchases!