Thursday, August 19, 2010

REVIEW: The PERFECT Print DVD Series by Randy Hufford


I’m very skeptical of videos as many end up being a photographer showing off their images and talking about how great they are, but they rarely offer much instruction. However, when I talked to Randy Hufford on the phone I quickly realized this was a guy who knew his stuff! He also seemed to have an obvious passion for printing and framing, so I felt like I hit the jackpot when I got in touch with him. Despite that, I still was a little weary of his DVD series. Would they suck like many I’ve seen from others in the past? Would they be so shallow that nothing really actionable was possible from them? Would they really just be infomercials?

I’m happy to report that Randy’s DVD series, “The Perfect Print” is extremely good! In fact, I started to wonder why I’m even bothering with my printing series when Randy covers so many of the things I wanted to cover with more detail (in some cases) than I’ll ever have time to write about. Each of the disks are available separately or as a collection for a discount, but I found useful information in all of them. In the sections below I’ll discuss each disc and a little bit about what you can expect to learn from the sections on the discs. Check out the end of this article for a special offer on this series which can save you a few bucks…

Disk 1: Calibration (Steps to Soft Proofing)


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This should be required viewing of everyone who owns a DSLR before they are allowed to copy their first images off their cameras memory card. Calibration is a crucial part of the editing and printing process, yet most never do it. This disc does a great job of showing how it works and why you should care. If you follow the guidance of this disc, you’ll improve the quality of your image output substantially! Here’s my walkthrough of the chapters:

Determining Delta E Tolerance – Also known as Color Tolerance, this section describes the lingo that will be used later in the series to determine how tolerant you or your client is on shifts of color between what is on the display and the final print. Knowing this information allows you to determine how precise you need to be for your target customer (you or a paying client). I thought this was a useful chapter because I’ve heard this term thrown out a lot, but I’ve never had it explained as well as Randy does here.

Setting Up Viewing Conditions – Here Randy talks about controlled viewing conditions and the pitfalls of using ambient light with different conditions throughout the day. He has a great example that shows different light conditions for the same print so you can see how drastically different each print looks under different conditions. This is a good chapter for everyone as most of us will have horribly uncontrolled viewing conditions. Randy’s advice here is golden as to how to get things under control.

Choosing Equipment & Software – This is an important discussion that I dive into during my printing series as to what calibration system and software are really right for you. I like how Randy quantifies this by tying back to your or your clients Delta E tolerance as I think that’s an excellent decision point for understanding what is right for you. He demonstrates the X-Rite i1iO Automated Scan Table and Profile Maker for one of the more useful and “to the point” explanations I've seen to date.

Calibrating Monitor & Workflow – Here Randy walks through the calibration process as I’ve done in my ColorMunki article, but this is the video equivalent using an i1 device. For those of you with i1 calibration devices, you’ll definitely appreciate the video seen here if you aren’t already getting the most out of your i1. 

Optimizing Soft Proof Setup – If you don’t understood soft proofing, this is a must watch chapter. He does a fantastic job of showing how it is done and how useful a GTI light box (review coming soon) is in getting the best results. The tips at the end are golden even for those who think they are soft proofing gurus.

Reproduction of Original Artwork – Unless you are going to be taking photos of prints, you can easily skip this chapter. If you will be photographing prints – especially for the purpose of reproducing or restoring them, then you’ll love the tips and gadgets discussed in this chapter.

Look, listen and learn from a master. This is knowledge everyone in photography should learn from some source, and here it is presented quickly, efficiently in an easy to understand manner. You’ll never learn this stuff faster than this, and its value to you as a photographer is invaluable.

RECOMMENDATION: BUY - If you only get one disc in this set, this is the one! Even if you aren’t doing your own printing, there’s stuff here you need to know – especially if you ever have your work printed.

Disk 2: Ink & Media


Like the first disk, this is a good DVD for beginners, but this one is geared for those who will be doing their own printing. I really enjoyed this DVD as I am still new to printing, so there were lots of cool things that I learned. Here’s my walkthrough of the chapters:

Printer Technologies – This is a great chapter where Randy gives the best discussion of head technology I’ve seen to date. He has a nice discussion where he talks about piezo crystal (Epson/HP) and thermal (Canon) print heads. He explains how piezo can clear out a clog easily, but thermal is harder but they address this to add a bunch more nozzles so they can drop one and replace it with another. He also explains that piezo are designed to last for 3 – 5 years and are not user replaceable but thermal print heads are as they are more likely to wear out due to the extreme heat conditions they work under. This is pretty cool stuff that isn’t explained anywhere as well, so this is a must watch for sure!

Driver vs RIP – Here Randy explains how you can get great prints with the manufacture driver, but he also explains why he prefers to use ColorByte ImagePrint RIP. He also has a great video tutorial of ImagePrint which gives you a good example of its use as a image layout tool.

ICC Printer Profiles – This is a step up from the previous disc because Randy demonstrates the basics of X-Rite Profile Maker (a tool which most pros recommend) to create a new custom profile.

Engineered Solutions – Here Randy discusses engineered solutions for long term archival solutions. He mentions Wilhelm Image Research’s Certification of products by Premier Art as well as Epson products for the full solution of paper, ink and finishing. If you care about the long-term life of your images, then this is important stuff.

Optical Brighteners – This chapter is really more about media selections. Here Randy recommends that you know the manufacturer (Epson, HP, & Premier all use High End OBA’s that disappear). Some use cheap OBA’s that yellow over time. Photographers prefer OBA’s for white and black pop.

Canvas Media – Here is a high-level overview of the types of canvases (100% cotton & cotton/poly blend) and pros & cons of both. He covers the Importance of humidity when stretching (something I’ve never seen mentioned once in the dozen+ videos I’ve seen on the subject). He also dives into topics such as Single & Double weaves, and MicroCeramic Porous water-resistant technology. Finally, he discusses the media finishes - Matte (economical), Satin (his preference) and Gloss (difficult in some viewing situations).

Fine Art & Art (Watercolor) Medias – Here Randy describes what makes a Fine Art and Art (aka Watercolor) paper. His discussion includes 100% cotton, hot (smooth) & cold (textured) press methods (with manufacturing videos) as well as the Library of Congress rules for “buffered” paper.

Photographic & Specialty Medias – This is a great discussion of the differences between plain, coated, cast coated, swelling type and microporus papers. He mentions that Enhanced Matte (now known as Epson Ultra Premium Presentation Paper – Matte) has a good coating and cheap. He also talks about new advanced papers that use Microporous with Ceramic Cups & Resin Coated (RC) and the benefits of them. Randy also discusses specialty medias such as banners, poster boards, backlit film (ads, slot machines, etc…), clear film (CAD/Silk Screening), adhesive backed, metal, Plexiglas, foam core and more.

This is another great DVD. While there is enough info to create a disc for each of the subjects featured on this disc, I think Randy strikes the right balance of important content that people new to printing really must know.

RECOMMENDATION: BUY - If you will be doing your own printing, then this is a no-brainer “must own” recommendation. It’s just a easy way to get up to speed super fast and it covers topics which will take you a long time to learn by groveling the Internet.

Disk 3: Digital Enhancements


There is an entire industry built around digital enhancement, so this disc starts to enter the domain that many will have already covered. However, it is well done and has some good examples that dispel some of the myths that engineers on photography forums seem to promote. Here’s my walkthrough of the chapters:

Adobe Bridge – A nice chunk of this disc is given to Adobe Bridge, which is somewhat uncommon these days. However, Bridge gets better and better with each release, so those who already own it and aren’t looking to get Lightroom may find this part to be very useful. He runs through some Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) edits as well as some common Photoshop edits to show how to get anyone’s image ready for print.  He also demonstrates opening JPEG images in ACR, plus all of the new feature in the CS4 version of ACR. He even demonstrates the use Nik Software’s Color Efex’s filters (i.e., Brilliance/Warmth filter, Glamour Glow, Soft Focus & Dynamic Skin Softener). There was one minor error in his Dynamic Skin Softener demo because that filter requires that you use the eye dropper and sample some skin for the best results, and he didn’t do that. He also didn’t take advantage of the U-Point controls and the Brush feature of Color Efex to create complex masks with a simple click before returning to Photoshop. In the end this section ended up being more about ACR than Bridge, but for many that’s still a good thing.

16-vs-8 bit – In Randy’s tests he can’t see 16-bit advantage (except some banding in the sky in rare cases), so he usually does 8-bit. His advice stick with 8-bit unless you find a scenario that requires it.

Adobe Lightroom – Here Randy recommends using Bridge if a customer only has a couple files customer files, but if it grows beyond that then Adobe Lightroom (LR) becomes more important. He uses LR for personal stuff for a lot of his images. In this chapter Randy covers some real-world edits with lots of useful tips using features found in Adobe Lightroom. He also shows pick/reject workflow as well as how to do quick edits using white balance picker tool. Some parts are similar to the Bridge section where he was showing how to use Adjustment brush, Spot removal brush, etc…. He does some really good editing examples as well as showing the value of  selective sharpening. He ends up with some pratical examples of how to add a border on a card or use Photoshop's Liquify tool to open eyes.

Working with JPEG files – Here Randy points out that brightness is in the midtones  when fixing customers jpeg’s using ACR. A cool thing about this section and really the whole disc is that he’s not pixel peeping and recognizing that you have to live with some things when shooting in jpeg.

Many people will love this disc. However, for me it was my least favorite disc because this was a lot of redundancy for me. I already have advanced Photoshop and Lightorom skills, so much of what was shown was old news for me, but it won’t be for you. However, if you are new to Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, this will be one that you enjoy quite a bit. There’s also some neat tips and trick for Photoshop users as well.

RECOMMENDATION: MAYBE - If you can afford it, then get it. There’s enough content here that you might pick up a thing or two as I did.

Disk 4: Finishing Techniques


So you’ve printed your canvas, now what? This is what many people ask ask the thing that comes out the printer doesn’t look like that nice canvas hanging on your buddies wall. This is what this disc is really about – taking that canvas and turning it into something your customers will want to hang in the finest of homes. It’s also about making sure they’ll last and look nice for a long time, something that isn’t so obvious when you watch stretching videos on YouTube. Here’s my walkthrough of the chapters:

The Gallery Wrap – I enjoyed this chapter because Randy does something that all the Canvas printing services I’ve used thus far haven’t offered, but I believe should have – a mirrored gallery wrap. He does a step-by-step demonstration including one common mistake demo, which is very handy. This technique works well for most images, and for those images where it doesn’t he shows alternate techniques. Since the time this DVD was made, Genuine Fractals has added some support for doing a variety of gallery wraps and it does a great job.

Finishing Canvas – Here Randy discusses how to prepare and apply Eco Print Shield to protect your canvas wrap. This is a fantastic and detailed demo that will really help those who are afraid to do their own coatings (or who have tried and failed). This is real visual training where you will feel confident that you can do it yourself after watching the video. I loved it! He also shows how to do it using a sprayer with great detailed examples of too little, too much and just the right amount of spray. This is priceless if you are going to do spraying yourself! Finally, Randy demonstrates embellishment (using ECO Elegance) to add a third dimension to the canvas image for that “oil painting” look. Just to make sure no topic is missed, he also shows art embellishments using acrylic paints.

Stretching Canvas – Ironically I was just about to do a canvas wrap and was searching around YouTube for examples on how to do it. However, now that I’ve watch Randy’s disc I feel much more confident! Of course with more information comes buyers remorse as I now wish I would have bought a different stretcher bars.

This is the most brilliant and well described lesson I've seen with lots of practical tips that all of the others I’ve seen have lacked. I had a lot more confidence after watching this video! One word of warning – the section on the machine stretching recycles some of the video from the hand stretching, so you’ll have this sense of déjà vu and wonder if you are watching previous section over again. Randy is releasing a video update for this on the web (link coming soon) based on my comments, so it should be a little easier to understand that part now.

Finishing Fine Art Prints – In this chapter Randy shows how to apply Premier Art Print Shield Spray to protect your prints from handling. This product protects without changing the surface quality. Demonstrates how to do a Deckle (hand torn) edges. DualEdgeRipper.com (see special offer below). He also talks about mounting to a matte board using techniques like Japanese hinge technique and more. It was a little weak since I think many people reading my printing series are going to be more interested in framing their fine art prints than they will be doing canvas gallery wraps.

Packaging Canvas and Fine Art Prints – Covers with white “astro” foam that comes in rolls with perforated sections (like paper towels). This is some handy stuff here for those who will be shipping their canvases or framed prints to customers.

Framing Ideas – I was disappointed with this one because it felt rushed. There was too much information  presented too quickly to be useful to me. I didn’t understand what tool he was using and felt it wasn’t described very well.

This is an excellent disc if you are in to canvas. If not, or if you were hoping for more on fine art prints then this isn’t the right product for you.

RECOMMENDATION: MAYBE - If you are going to be printing canvas, then this is a must own disc and a fantastic bargain. If you have no desire to use canvas, then you can skip this disc. However I will point out that in my future interview article of Randy Hufford, I’ll mention that Randy feels that he profits the most from his Canvas over anything else (despite his passion for cotton based papers).

Disk 5: Marketing Giclée


If you are like me, you look at the title and say “what the f**K does gilcée mean?” If you look at my Dano's Dictionary article you’ll see that Dano basically says its a marketing term with little meaning. If you look at Wikipedia, you’ll see that it basically means “high quality ink-jet fine art prints used in galleries”. With that in mind, what this disc is really about is making money with your work by getting it in front of people (via galleries).  Here’s my notes as I did a walkthrough of the chapters:

Marketing to Galleries – Here Randy recommends that you have a portfolio of prints as well as a finished print to take with you to the contact director & owner to try to get your foot in the door at a gallery. He also discusses  negotiating with galleries, consignment, increasing your influence, and how to go about choosing a gallery. Next up he discusses a few types of galleries and how to work with them:

Peter Lik – Randy discusses Peter Lik (an Australian Photographer) who is a text book great example of how to market your work. Peter has 19 galleries in the USA, and Peter seems to have figured out how to move prints even in this depressed economy.

Gallery Commissions – Randy answers the million dollar question – what should I expect to get when I get my stuff into a gallery. He explains how 30%-60% is a reasonable expected target. The average is 50/50 overall but only 30% at some of the more popular galleries. Some galleries want exclusive rights with no internet sales. However Randy points out how you can negotiate with galleries.

Internet – This is a brief section included for completeness with little data. He does offers some basic tips (i.e., focus on SEO), but there’s not enough info in this section in my opinion. For those who are interested in this, check out my article on Smugmug or one of the sites in my web hosting series.

Marketing to Gift Stores & Adding Perceived Value – In this section it is really about finding and negotiating a place that is right for you.

Licensing rights – Here Randy touches on stock photos and mentions a useful resource i hadn’t heard for before - Licensing magazine.

Adding Perceived Value – This is about how you can do framing, Limited Editions & embellishing to increase the value of your work. He mentions that it isn’t a fine arts unless you have < 100 editions (prints).

Circle of Influence – This is about getting exposure and increasing the number of people that see your art.

SpecialtySoft – This a POS (point of sale, not piece of s**t) product that looks pretty cool. It can handle things like framing, selling limited edition art (along with generating a Cert of Authenticity) and consignment tracking (very cool).

Marketing Applications – This section is about how to get people to notice your stuff at various venues so that you can increase your sales.

Example #1 - Randy Jay Braun GalleryRandy Jay Braun is a master printer of Epson products. He likes to hang his work in restaurants. Uses internet newsletter with a photo of the month. Wholesales to other stores (small matted prints).

Example #2 - Images Inc. Gallery – Here Randy is talking about what it takes to make it in a gallery like the one shown. Photography is outpacing other fine art (like paintings)in galleries so the demand is there. This gallery started off as a frame shop, but putting a frame on an image made a big difference to increase sales.

Example #3 - Maui Giclee Gallery –This is a company that is a printing company first, a framing company second, and a gallery last The gallery is for customers who have work they wish to display.

Example #4 - Open Houses – Use open houses with real estate agents – encourages clients to stay longer and look at the house and the art.

RECOMMENDATION: BUY - If you want to try to make money off your prints (printed by you or a third party), then this is an important disc to watch. There’s lots of useful stuff here that isn’t discussed elsewhere and there’s some great antidotal stories to inspire you. If you sell one print then you’ve paid for this disc, so it’s a no brainer.

Conclusion

I was very happy with what I learned in this series and felt it was a great use of my time. If you are new to photography then you’ve gotta get the first disc. If you are new to printing then you also need the second disc. If you intend to do canvas work then then you’ve gotta have the fourth disc. Lastly, if you plan to sell your work then don’t hesitate to get the fifth disc.

The only disc that was a let down for me in this series was third disc, but that’s only because I’ve done a lot of Photoshop work and know the products discussed. Given what I’ve learned about the average consumer from my teaching, blogging and photography club, I’d say that most would get a lot out of the contents in the third disc so don’t interpret this to mean I don’t recommend it. I’m just saying that for me and other advanced Photoshop users that it is one you could skip if you were short on time. 

Overall this is a great series and much cheaper than going to a class to learn this stuff (and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knows this stuff as well as Randy).

Special Offer

These discs sell for $69 USD each, so if you bought them all individually that’s $345 USD. If you buy the whole set at once then it’s only $295 USD which is almost as good as getting one disc free. The special offer on my blog is 10% off the retail price of any individual disc or the entire set for a total of $265.50 USD for the entire set (nearly $80 off) or $62.10 USD per disc. All you have to do to take advantage of this offer is use the Add to Cart links in this article.

In addition to the above offer, one of the products featured in Randy’s videos is called the Dual Edge Ripper which is used to create a deckle edge (see Dano’s Dictionary and the image above)  which is a cool way to appreciate the thick cotton papers you print with even after they’ve been framed. I love this look on certain prints, so I’m excited that he’s offering you and me a discount on this really cool product. Click here to learn more about how dual edge rippers work!

Dual Edge Ripper Extreme

Dual Edge Ripper Classic

See Randy in Washington State in November

One of the proud sponsors of this series, JVH Tech, is bringing Randy from Hawaii to to Bellevue, WA for a workshop on Friday November 12th. Learn more and sign up here.

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3 comments:

Matt Heltsley said...

I want to just correct some math. If you buy the set, with the discount, the cost per disk is $53.10 not $62.10. $62.10 per disk is not really much of a deal, but $53.10 is. That is (69-53.10=) $15.90 savings per disk, or (1-(53.10/69)=)~23% discount per disk. Not bad. I for one will be taking advantage of this deal, but I thought I should just correct your math first. Hope you don't mind.

David Taylor said...

Be careful WHICH 'ADD TO CART' button you push! And verify that the Paypal receipt matches the order you desired...
I THOUGHT I purchased DVD #5 (Marketing Giclee), so when it arrived and I realized that I had received DVD #4 (Finishing Techniques) - I was disappointed.
The link for DVD #5 is wrong, and puts in DVD #4 instead. So now, I get to re-order DVD #5 and am probably stuck with DVD #4, which I didn't need. At $75 (with shipping) - it's not a trivial purchase.

Ron Martinsen said...

David,

Just contact customer support and they should help resolve this problem for you. If not, then send me an email and I'll work directly with Randy to get you fixed up.

Ron