If you’ve visited an art museum lately, you probably noticed that contemporary artists have been creating photographic works on an increasingly large scale. With advancements in digital printing, the ability to create massive photographs on practically any surface has become much easier than in the darkroom days. This has led to an explosion of creativity and larger-than-life photographs appearing in myriad forms. For the purpose of this article, “fine art” is used to designate photographs created on unconventional media at a large scale. While you can achieve excellent-quality prints using consumer photo printers, the discussion that follows is geared toward artists desiring the level of creative control a professional print lab would offer.
Before jumping into this topic, it is worth asking: Do the ends justify the means? Custom printing can quickly become quite costly no matter how you do it. For example, a single 44 x 72″ print may cost upward of $500 to have made in a professional lab. While printers capable of 44″ wide prints start around $3,000, they also require ink, paper, and maintenance—not to mention a reliable monitor and calibration tools. If you only plan to make a few prints, it probably makes more sense to go to a lab. However, if you intend to produce a large volume of prints, there comes a point where it is more cost-efficient to do it yourself.
Aside from cost, another consideration is space. The ability to create mammoth, 60″ wide prints at home sounds glamorous until you (or your housemates) realize that your new printer will take up as much space as a couch—while providing minimal cushioning. The best way to print on a large scale is by having a dedicated printing room in your home or space in your studio.