A Linux-Based Photography Workflow (Part 6: Printing)
This is part of a series of posts on Linux-based software tools for a photography workflow. Please read that first if you are coming to this series fresh–it will provide the necessary background information to explain the purpose of this series. In this particular post I’ll talk about image printing.
If all you wanted to do was put your photographs online, there would be less doubt about Linux as a platform for doing serious photography. But most photographers, sooner or later, will want to make prints. Of course, this can be outsourced to an online or local printing service, which is a very interesting and reasonable proposition for some folks, especially if you do not print frequently. Running even a small photo quality printer adds a level of complexity and cost to the workflow that is usually disproportionate to it’s contribution to the whole. For some photographers, however, just being able to produce a print instantly and to have the ultimate control over the printing, justifies the expense and trouble.
Although digital photo printing has come a long way, it is still a bit of a black art on any OS. There are just so many variables to control, including paper types, printer drivers, color management, profiles, application settings, etc. For many years I did all my workflow on Linux except for printing: when it came time to print I would copy the finished files over to my Mac, fire up Photoshop, open the image and invoke a special plug in to handle the printing. I can remember how much work it was just to get that working (on a Mac no less, where color management is built into everything) and how many test prints I made and different profiles downloaded and tried. In 2011, as I write this, it is still the case that you cannot really get away from putting in the time making a bunch of test prints to really figure out the process, no matter what the platform.
It always bugged me a bit to have to go through the final step with the Mac, and Photoshop was just so big and bloated that I often wished I could just print somehow directly from Linux. Unfortunately, in those days color management was not as solid in the different apps on Linux and printer drivers also were not always up to the quality of the manufacturer supplied ones for Mac or Windows. But these last barriers have been falling like dominoes, and I’m pleased to report that recently my workflow went all Linux–printing being the final piece to fall in to place. And I’m going to tell you how I did it.
If you own one of the more popular Epson or Canon photo printers out there, you should likely look to gutenprint for your photo printing needs. This is a solid driver with great community support and a good integration with the gimp as well as various other applications. Unfortunately, my printer, the HP 9180, is not supported by gutenprint or even by HP with open-source Linux drivers (even though they are pretty good at supporting most of their other printers under Linux), so I was forced to go looking elsewhere for a solution.
The solution that I found was turboprint. Turboprint is a commercial product for Linux-based systems that provides printer drivers for hundreds of printers, GUI based dialogs for configuration, monitoring and maintenance, and a GIMP plug in for printing. The package can be downloaded and tried out for 30 days with full functionality to see if it works for your system. I found that it installed quickly and painlessly on Ubuntu 10.04. Once installed, a GUI configuration walks you through setting up the printer, and after that it just appears as a printer like any other on your system. You can then print to it from any application that supports printing. The install also includes a plug-in for the GIMP that provides some convenient features for tweaking print settings directly from inside the plug-in GUI. Although I still had to make a handful of test prints to figure out the proper settings, it was pretty easy for me this time around, perhaps because I’ve been down that road before on the Mac and worked out the strategy there. That is too long a story to go into here, but might be the topic of another post sometime. For now, I’ll just say that the main thing is to get the correct ICC profiles in the right places and then experiment with the settings between the application and the printer driver, changing only one variable at a time. Once I was satisfied that I was getting prints that matched what I saw onscreen in the GIMP and geeqie, I felt that the price of around $82 USD (studio version) was not too bad for being able to work comfortably under Linux. Not only that, but the quality of the prints seems every bit as good as I was getting from the Photoshop plugin on the Mac.
I want to mention one more application that I use for printing, but to do so I have to digress just a bit to talk about printing in the way old days. Back before I did printing on the Mac, I did printing under Windows, using a program called Qimage Pro. This was a splendid little program that excelled at one thing: printing multiple photographs on a sheet of inkjet paper. When I switched to the Mac for printing I sorely missed this little gem of a program. The good news is that I’ve found the near equivalent now that I’m printing under Linux: it’s called photoprint, and it’s classic GPL open source goodness! The author’s web site has lots of really useful information and it’s clear he has some good experience doing high quality imaging under Linux. photoprint has many really useful features, including full support for color management, various layout options, drag and drop and high quality downsampling. You can set up custom presets, which makes it a breeze to change print sizes. By default photoprint seems set up to print via gutenprint. To use it with turboprint I simply made a preset to turn off any color correction, set a correct monitor profile and NO printer profile (turboprint applies the profile in the driver). This is really a splendid little app and the main way I now print under Linux. Highly recommended.