Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Tour of Neil’s Print Studio

Words and images by guest blogger, Neil Enns.

A few weeks ago Ron wrote the following in his second article in the Printing 101 series:

“[…] you might want to sketch out what your long-term goals are to ensure that you’ll have the space to accommodate it all. After all you’ll have an unhappy significant other when your studio becomes like mine where it is more of a mine field than a place of work due to all of the gear scattered around it!”

I laughed when I read that, because for the last year or so that’s been my print studio. Printing and photography gear was strewn everywhere, I could barely move to get to my workstation, and storage (despite the walls being lined with bookshelves) was non-existent. I was certainly able to make high quality prints for customers, but I wasn’t as productive as I could be and I certainly didn’t enjoy being in my office when I was printing.

In the fall of 2010 my wife and I embarked on a project to completely remodel our 23-year-old house. As part of that project I vowed that I would have a proper print studio when everything was over.

I’m happy to say that the remodel’s complete, I have a print studio, and I love it.

At Ron’s suggestion I thought I’d take everyone on a tour of the new space, and more importantly explain the design decisions I made and parts I used so you can incorporate some of the ideas into your own workspace.

The completed studio
The completed studio

Finding The Space

Even though we were remodeling the whole house my goal was to keep the expense of the studio part to a minimum. An addition just for a studio was out of the question so like many people I decided to convert one of the bedrooms over to a dedicated workspace.

Actual construction work was minimal: we removed the bedroom closet. That gave an additional 2 feet of depth to the room, for a total of 125 square feet to make my own. The carpet was removed and replaced with hardwood to make it easier to deal with dust. On the electrical side I had a dedicated 20 amp circuit installed along with a whole-house surge protector, and the ceiling lights were replaced with a square of Juno track (more on that later). I personally pulled Cat 6 and RG6 to multiple locations in the room for connectivity.

Keeping the construction costs low meant I could dump money into other things like storage, lighting, and of course more paper to print on!

The Printers

When the remodel started I only had one printer to worry about for the space: a Canon iPF5100. Of course that was before Canon started their big rebate program, and midway through the construction I became the proud owner of a new Canon iPF8300. It’s a little big. Actually, it’s a lot big.

The two printers live on opposite sides of the room. The 5100 is on some Ikea kitchen cabinets, and the 8300 is on its own stand.

The 8300 along the long wall of the room
The 8300 along the long wall of the room

The 5100 on the Ikea cabinets
The 5100 on the Ikea cabinets


My biggest pain in my old workspace was the complete lack of purpose-designed storage. I had walls of bookshelves which are great for books, but they’re rotten for camera gear and printing supplies. I knew from multiple discussions with Andy Biggs that proper paper storage and LOTS of flat workspace was critical to a successful print studio.

All of the storage in the studio is put together from Ikea’s Akrum line of kitchen cabinets. They’re (relatively) inexpensive and can be configured to give pretty much whatever storage you need. I designed the layout using Ikea’s Kitchen Planner software, many, many, many, times (I spent more than three months getting it perfect).

LayoutAn almost-perfect layout for the studio. The big box in the top right is the Canon iPF8300.
During install I made a few tweaks to the order of the cabinets along the bottom.

Even with the printers and such in the room I have over four feet of uninterrupted counter space for work. It’s already been hugely helpful when I’m packing up folio orders for shipping.

I’m still in the process of loading everything into the office and figuring out the best places to put things, but roughly speaking the drawers are for storing camera and framing gear, and the floor cabinets are for storing printing and packing supplies. Wall cabinets are for storing folio covers prior to shipping and the books I decide to keep in the studio instead of elsewhere in the house. Boxes of 17” wide roll paper go on top of the wall cabinets. Boxes of 24” and 40” rolls go on the floor under the window. Camera bags, tripods, and lighting gear go in the cabinet that sticks out under the iPF5100.

Total cost for all the cabinets was right around $1500.

Inside the primary paper storage cabinet
Inside the primary paper storage cabinet. Yes, that’s B&W darkroom paper at the bottom!

Inside one of my lens drawers
Inside one of my lens drawers
Most of my gear is still in storage from the remodel


In my old office I’d personally replaced the lights with some basic track lighting and fixtures from Solux. In the new studio I wanted to make sure it was done right. I had an electrician come in and put a grid of Juno track around the entire room, 3’ off the wall. With Juno fixtures and 4700K 50w 36 degree bulbs from Solux I’ve got consistent and colour accurate lights in the whole space.

Of course putting light into the room is just one aspect of lighting a studio. Keeping light out is another. The only window in the office is covered with a custom top-down/bottom-up (TDBU) light-blocking cellular shade. With the TDBU design I can open the top of it a bit to let some natural light in while maintaining privacy, and when I need to do colour-accurate print work I can close the shade and keep all the stray light out. The shade cost $230 and was worth every penny.

Custom light-blocking window shade on the studio’s only window
Custom light-blocking window shade on the studio’s only window

Print Viewing

Another irritation in my old office was the complete lack of print viewing facilities. I basically had a folding table from Costco with a Solux fixture pointed straight down at it. Not exactly useful.

Conveniently, my friend Rob down in Berkeley, CA (owner of the mighty fine The Lightroom print studio) solved this problem for me when he figured out a way to display my folio covers prospective clients. By hanging a big piece of galvanized sheet metal on the wall you can make an instant print viewing booth.

My print viewing facilities
My print viewing facilities

The metal is a 4x8’ piece of 24ga. galvanized steel from Metal Supermarkets, and only cost $55. The hanging system is Click Rail manufactured by AS Hanging Systems, using two pieces of wall track and four secure self-gripping hooks for earthquake protection. I purchased the rail and hooks from Frame Central locally, but if necessary the parts can be ordered directly from AS Hanging. Prints are attached to the board using pin magnets from Super Magnet Man. All told the setup cost less than $200 and can hold prints as tall as my iPF8300 can produce.

Lighting on the board is provided by four Solux fixtures, and I still have to dig out the light meter to do some fine-tuning for even coverage (ah, memories of Black and White 3!).

Yes, I’m Happy!

So there you have it! A quick tour through my new print studio. I’ve had it up and running for a little over three weeks now and am very happy with the result. I still need to load a lot more stuff in, but so far I’ve barely made a dent in my total storage capacity. Print viewing is vastly improved over my old configuration. And, most importantly, I feel productive.

Hopefully you found the tour through the studio informative. If you have any questions or comments please post them using the comment form below and I’ll do my best to respond.

Neil Enns is the owner of Dane Creek Folio Covers, which provides beautiful packaging for fine art prints. He also runs a custom fine-art printing business, and occasionally finds time to do some photography on the side.

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Gavin Gear said...

Wow, that's a nice print studio! I wish I was Neil's neighbor :)

laserist said...

elegant and practical. I'm jealous!

Neil said...

Gavin, you can be my virtual neighbour :) I do custom printing for other people all the time!