Fine Art Inkjet Printing

By Jim Nickelson–

I’m often asked from friends, family, and even other photographers about why I bother printing my work when the whole world seems to be moving digital. For me, the reason is simple: creating a fine art print is my primary purpose in making photographs.

Moon When Eyes Are Sore From Bright Snow © Jim Nickelson

As is likely becoming obvious, I am a strong proponent and champion of the fine print. If you are a photographer, I think it is essential to eventually print your work.

You can do it yourself or have someone else do it, you can create a fine digital print or something equally and differently wondrous like a silver gelatin or platinum print, and you can print at whatever size that makes you happy.

The exercise of selecting a photograph for print, performing any necessary preparation, and seeing how it actually looks once off the screen can be extremely valuable.


While I love how the Internet has made it possible to disseminate images electronically, I do believe that there is something special about an actual physical print. Perhaps it is the presence of a fine print as an object.

Megunticook Morning © Jim Nickelson

Perhaps it is the implication that you care enough about the photograph to actually create a physical print, or perhaps it is the fact that so many photographs just look different (some better, some worse) on paper rather than on a backlit LCD monitor or iPad screen. Whatever the reason, I find that nothing in the world of photography compares with seeing a wonderful print of a photograph.

Making a print of your photograph, and putting care into doing so, is putting a stake in the sand for your artwork, a way of saying “this is important” and “this is what I’m trying to say.”

Printing your work has numerous advantages over a digital-only existence for your photographs, such as:

  • Creating a final art object that can be displayed, shared, or sold. You can also create exclusivity by limiting how many prints you make of a particular image. For the fine art gallery world, physical prints are still a necessity.
  • For many, a photograph is not a completed work of art until it is embodied in a physical print.
  • Owning a physical object that provides security in case of loss of digital files without having to worry about backing up, file formats, and migrating to new media.
  • This is vital also for any considering your legacy. Physical prints and portfolios are much more likely to be saved and treasured, held or donated to collections, or sold to collectors than digital files.

    Illuminations #68 © Jim Nickelson

  • Facilitating more careful study of the image by being firmly fixed in a physical object and also by providing more detail and substance. Digital images are often viewed very quickly, and a physical print is more often enjoyed at leisure.
  • Allowing the artist to more precisely control the final look and feel of the their work without having to worry about what phone the viewer is using or whether their display is too bright or not calibrated. You can choose the precise paper that best matches your artistic intent. Printing gives you control over scale and lets you present your work large, two things that are almost impossible to accomplish with digital display with current technology.
  • A carefully displayed print, with great presentation and lighting, can be a much more significant and powerful experience than viewing the same image digitally. A fine print can be almost sensual and careful viewing of a physical print is more likely to evoke an emotional response in viewers.
  • Prints subjectively look better. A backlit display has drama, but a print is more beautiful. Subtlety is much easier to achieve than in print than in a digital image.

    Virgin River, Reflection © Jim Nickelson

  • Learning to print your photographs, spending more time with them during editing, and learning what works best (and what doesn’t work at all), will make you a better photographer as you internalize these lessons.
  • Deciding what to print will help you learn to edit your photographs, something I find to be among the most difficult and elusive of skills for all of us creating photographs.
  • Some photographs work far better in print than they do on the screen, and you won’t know this about a particular photograph until you try.
  • Zigging when everybody else is zagging. There are millions of photographers out there seeking attention on digital platforms, and one way of distinguishing yourself from the others is to create fine prints of your photographs.


Jim Nickelson is a photographer, master printer and educator whose work resides in museum, public, corporate, and private collections across the United States and Canada. This excerpt from his new book “Fine Art Inkjet Printing, The Craft and Art of the Fine Digital Print” © 2017, has been reprinted by permission of the publisher, Rocky Nook, Inc. It is currently available from Amazon (about $30,00) and from the publisher as well as other booksellers. If purchasing from Rocky Nook use the code FINE40 for a 40% discount for Red River Paper Blog readers. The book’s Table of Contents and first three chapters are displayed at the Amazon site.


Learn about Red River Paper’s line of Fine Art Printing Papers used by some of the world’s finest photographers and master printers.



Author: editor

Share This Post On


  1. I agree completely- the photograph is not real until it is a print.

    Of 36,000 images in Lightroom I have made 550 13×19 prints. Some of mine and others’ are framed and on the wall and now I’m out of wall space. To solve that issue, I have several mats with mounting corners that permit an ever-changing display.

    My paper of choice is Polar Matte Magna. These prints are gorgeous and can withstand a lot of handling. They don’t mind being exposed to the air. They are printed with at least a 1 inch border and some friends tack them up on a wall, no mat or frame needed.

    I also write a haiku for an image and print it and the image on a 5×7 card that goes in a rotating display.

    Prints Live!

    Post a Reply
  2. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to title this, “why I print”? The headline was fairly deceptive.

    Post a Reply
    • Fake News, huh?:-) You have a point but when publishers give us permission to do book excerpts we have to march to their drummers and that usually means featuring the title of the book in the headline. Hope you enjoyed it, though.

      Post a Reply
  3. Printing to me is like giving birth to an Idea. Every photograph starts out in our mind, we pick up our camera and with any luck, we are able to capture on camera what starts as the Idea.

    For some people viewing their work on a computer is enough for them, they can share the photograph with any one they choose to online. For myself printing my work and being able share prints has opened a door that I thought I would not walk through when I started with my first DSLR ten years ago.

    I have photographed the Memorial Day event at the correctional facility that I work at for the past 5 years and have been asked to photograph the outdoor weddings of a few of my co-workers. I have two projects that I am now working on at work.

    I buy frames online for my prints and the home that I share with my wife is full of wedding, vacation and photos that I have taken from Maine to Florida and Aruba. Each day I get to enjoy my work as I go through my home with out having to turn on my computer.

    Post a Reply
  4. I notice that nothing is mentioned about the fact that most physical prints are framed with mats and glass/acrylic. This makes viewing them difficult unless the lighting is ideally set at a high angle in a gallery setting. However, there are ways to mount the prints and use protective sprays that eliminate the need for glazing. It also allows the print to be the same size as the frame. That seems to be against the principles for fine art archival framing but it is just as archival as the old way if done properly. It would be nice if this were given some coverage.

    Post a Reply
    • EDITOR’S NOTE: After receiving this comment I asked Al if he would share his methods with our readers and he has graciously consented to do so. Keep tuned for an article by him in a future blog post.

      Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *