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Roll paper printing tips

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Using roll paper for your printing

Some tips if you’re new to roll media

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Keith has been using printers with roll paper for nearly 20 years, and and a wide range of printer reviews on this site.

Some of the printers let you use roll media and some don’t.

This article looks at some things Keith has learnt over the years which may be of interest to those looking at getting a printer with roll media support.

The picture to the left is Keith over 15 years ago with one of his first large prints.

It’s a B&W print from a scanned 35mm negative. Printed on a heavy cotton rag paper using an Epson SP9600 44″ width large format printer.

Please do feel free to add comments, if you think we’ve missed anything important

Keith Cooper and large print

Moving to roll media

I’ve been recently testing a couple of new printers that both offer support for roll media. Looking at using roll paper with them I realised just how familiar I was with the process and that quite a bit of what I was doing was based on years of using such media. This short note looks at some aspects which I hope might be of use to people just considering using such paper. I’ve included some links to related articles.

Roll, sheet or cutting rolls?

At A4 or A3 print sizes, sheet paper would be my clear choice for making prints. The paper is flat, comes in standard sizes. (I’m using ‘A sizes’ here because they are what I get in the UK).  There is also a huge range of papers to choose from.

Roll paper at smaller sizes, such as 13″ (A3+ is 13″ x 19″) tends to come in a limited range of papers and can show a strong curl after printing.

So, if you’re just printing smaller prints there’s probably not much benefit to roll media. You may well get various borderless print options with sheets as well.

What about other sizes? Well, I like to do panoramic prints, ranging from slightly wider than will fit a sheet (12″ x 24″ for example) to big wide pano prints at much more extreme aspect ratios (12″ x 40″).

print-trimmed

Panoramic print on the P900 – note wallpaper scissors for cutting.

These aspect ratios waste a lot of paper if you try and print on normal paper and then crop.

One other option for using roll paper is to externally cut sections of roll paper and treat them as custom sized sheets – this is what I’d do with printers without roll support, such as the Canon PRO-300 and PRO-1000 I’ve reviewed. Note that these will have a maximum page length you can specify.

If you do cut sections of roll paper, get a good roller cutter and treat the paper with care. Light cotton gloves will protect the surface. Do leave it to lay flat for a bit, both to make it easier to feed through the printer, and handle after printing. Watch out for damage to corners, since this is a great way to get paper load problems and possible head strikes.

There are commercial paper de-curlers available if you’re regularly cutting from rolls. A search will find plenty of home-brew solutions too.

Cost

Think carefully about actual use and waste when comparing prices.  All that sheet paper you buy came off a roll, it’s just someone else cut it and flattened it for the box.

If you’re cutting your own, then some form of stand/spindle will help when unrolling for cutting – that and a large clean tabletop.

Driver settings

Roll media support varies a lot more in printer drivers than you might be used to for sheet media.

Borderless may or may not be an option – without an inbuilt cutter, you will need to trim the leading/trailing edges.

For most of my longer prints I create a custom media size large enough to contain the image and then print to that. The printer may add some extra paper to the front of your image for trimming, or it may not. Unfortunately this is something you need to check in your printer manual. I end up looking whenever I get a new printer, since although drivers have improved, there are still quirks to catch you out. Oh, and I only test on Macs – we don’t have any PCs, so it will be different there once again.

Image layout

In most examples I show in my reviews, and in most of my printing, I’m printing a single image and trimming any excess paper.

However one use for wide format printers is to print multiple images laid out in an area of paper and trim them afterwards. This usually needs specific layout software which is generally an additional cost. I’ve used the Mac ImageNest software for a while [review notes], which does an excellent job in handling image tiling, whilst printing with the printer driver software.

image layout

In the past, I’ve used Imageprint software – a complete print package, excellent results and probably worth it for my old Epson 9600 15 years ago, but despite it’s vociferous fanbase I simply wouldn’t buy it these days. Another option I looked at with the Canon PRO-2000 was Mirage.

Before you get too carried away nesting prints on roll paper, remember that they will need cutting.

Media sizes

Roll paper is wound on a core. These cardboard tube come in 2″ diameter and much more commonly 3″ diameter.

I’ve loads of papers, and some canvas types on 17″ width 3″ core rolls. If you decide to go wider, then papers are commonly available in 24″, 44″ and 60″ widths, with some on 36″.  Mind you, the larger format printers are often mainly designed for use with roll media and not something you’d want to do A4 prints on.

There are smaller sizes of paper available too. I have some 6″ and 8″ width rolls left over from my review of the Epson SureLab DL700

If you’re looking at making -lots- of prints, then a printer like this (with a built-in cutter) is a vastly better option than using paper like this on a normal photo printer and getting the scissors out. There is a good range of basic photo papers available (gloss/lustre/matte).

rolls-of-paper

6″ paper is good for 6″ x 4″ prints – 8″ paper is great for making lots of 8″ x 10″ prints or 12″ x 8″ if you wanted.

Canvas

I don’t use canvas a lot, but do remember that if you want to stretch it, you lose quite a bit of canvas in the wrap.

Printers and Rolls

The Epson P700 has a built in paper unit that takes paper up to 13″ width, whilst the P900 has an optional roll unit that takes rolls of up to 17″ width.

The P700 roll support is a much more robust option than the simple clips previously offered with some 13″ printers

feed-in-roll-paper

Compare this (13″ roll of Epson Premium Gloss [2″ core]) with the simpler clip-on attachment for the older P600

roll-paper-holders P600

It’s seen here on the R3000 and is not much changed from the SP1290 I had nearly 20 years ago.

roll-paper R3000

Handling

Rolls of paper can be heavier than you think. The roll of Epson Premium Luster I’ve used for some testing of the P900 is 100 feet of paper at 17″ width. That weight means carefully getting it out of the box and keeping the protective brown paper on it until needed.

paper-removed

Those plastic end caps are really useful. Load the paper when you need it and remove it when done.

Even with larger format printers, leaving paper loaded can result in roller marks and potential paper damage, so I unload paper after use.

Loading paper

With any new printer, don’t start with your highest quality expensive paper. They all have their own quirks and foibles with respect to paper handling.

I’ve paper loading sections in all my printer reviews which discuss this in more detail – you can safely assume that I messed things up a few times with most of them.

It’s always the leading edge of the paper that is most likely to cause problems. Too much curl can make it tricky to get the paper fed into the printer, whilst bent corners have a nasty habit of generating head collisions – at best leaving blackish marks on the corners of your print.

Remember too that you need space to load the paper easily.

Whilst it wasn’t too bad to place this 17″ roll (on a 24″ spindle) in the back of this Canon iPF6300, loading can easily be awkward and need the printer moving away from a wall.

17_inch_roll

Cutting

Long prints will almost certainly want trimming to size at either end. If your printer cuts then that’s good, but if doing it manually it’s both to get a clean edge and to get the right size. I print very long prints at custom paper sizes a bit too long to allow for this.

Whilst I use scissors for some cutting, I’ve a rotary trimmer that gives a clean properly square cut for finishing.

When cutting longer prints, watch that the print doesn’t fall on the floor, or tear as you get to the end of cutting.

When looking at making lots of prints, consider the gap between them. Even the specialist DL700 shown earlier produces very thin offcuts when printing borderless.

How much is left?

Some larger printers can print a barcode on paper that is recorded so as to know how much of a roll is left. If you don’t have this, a note on the box is useful to keep track of what’s left.

Making a 3 metre print and finding that there was only 2 metres left on the roll is irksome…

Waste paper

You will generate waste from cutting. Even it it’s thin strips between prints or unused space when laying out multiple photos, it happens. In our house some gets repurposed for shopping lists and notes, but it’s just a feature of using roll media.

The ends of paper on rolls is often best avoided. The end of the paper on the core can make a dent in the paper in the next layer (or two) over it. In the notes for Epson Premium Lustre Photo Paper (260) it specifically warns to avoid the last 50cm or so. There is extra paper on the roll in addition to the stated 100 feet (30.5m)

One last thought – Showing your prints

Making prints at just the precise size and aspect ratio you want is a wonderful creative option. However there is the matter of just what you are going to do with them.

Custom framing can be expensive – just consider what you want from your prints…

This one was never getting a frame (the original full size print is over 14 metres long on 44″ canvas)

two-metre-printKeith Cooper and 14 metre print of Leicester

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Site Notice: Thanks to everyone who has offered support - we're starting to see some work again, but I'm still at home a lot. At least I've lots of videos, articles and reviews to write - if you've any suggestions or questions, please do let me know - Keith & Karen
...Sign up for our (ad free) Newsletter to hear about new articles and subscribe to my YouTube Channel
...My book about how to use tilt/shift lenses is now available for pre-order.

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