Why We Insist on Test Prints

This is the story of how making a children's book turned me into a professional printer. 

In 2016, my Kickstarter book project about a giant dachshund in Brooklyn went semi-viral. I had worked as a photographer and special effects artist for years but had very little writing experience. Because of the quirky premise and professional Photoshop work, the book attracted several major publishers. Before I knew it, I was thrust into the world of top-tier children's book publishing. 

The editor and team at the publisher turned an okay manuscript into a solid book, but the images were rushed because I was desperate to deliver to my original Kickstarter backers as soon as possible. 

When I received the final proofs, I was devastated by the print quality. The color was off by a mile and everything was too dark. That's when I made the biggest mistake of my career. Instead of hitting pause and working with the publisher and printers to refine the images, I made a few quick adjustments and sent the whole thing off to final print. 

As you've probably inferred, the images were still subpar when the book hit the shelves. If my varied career has been centered around anything, it's professional-quality image-making. A book that should have been the pinnacle of my career up to that point became a personal embarrassment and blot on my reputation. The project fell well below projected expectations and the second book, in what was to be a series, was indefinitely shelved by the publisher. The project barely broke even and left me without any real income for almost a year and a half. I hastily delivered all of the Kickstarter books and ran off to lick my wounds. 

I wish I could say that I quickly learned from my mistakes and bounced back right away. But the truth is, things got pretty dark for me. Several years prior, I had gone through a divorce and lost the community I grew up in as I exited the religion of my youth. This silly little book failure felt just as painful. It was probably the moment everything sunk in and I accepted where I was at in my life.

Lucky for me, kids are pretty forgiving critics. Stories of children who begged their parents to read my book at bedtime trickled in—mostly from friends and family—remember, this was not a commercial success. Those messages kept me sane while I tediously rebuilt my confidence as an image-maker. After briefly regressing to the world of startup design, I was soon back to retouching imagery for major brands like Target, Kellogg's, and PepsiCo. Still, the print quality of my book haunted me. It was time to confront it head-on.

With a little money I had saved up, I purchased a big 'ole professional printer and a little rental space to house it—there's no way it could fit inside my small Brooklyn apartment. 

Years ago, when I first moved to New York, I became a motion graphics artist by spending every waking moment studying and practicing Adobe After Effects. Within months, I was in Times Square looking up at my first major project as it danced across a giant screen I front of me. I had worked my ass off and it felt good to see the results. That was nothing compared to the work I was about to put into printing. 

I'll save the stories and dramas of learning to print at a professional level for another time. And please don't for a moment think I've stopped learning! My life will probably forever be devoted to squeezing every last drop of quality into the images I work on. But, I am happy to say that I've learned how to translate what's on the screen into beautiful, museum-quality prints. I even printed out a few of the pages of my book the way they were supposed to be made. It was cathartic. 

All of this is to say, don't do what I did. Do not rush your images. That's why I insist on test prints for every image. If they don't look the way you want them to, let's talk about it! We can work together and get your print to where it deserves to be. Because we're not printing snapshots here. We're making fine art prints. These things last a long time. They're gonna stick around, and it's important to give them time and respect. If you do, instead of creating embarrassment, they'll become a point of pride—something to look back on and help you keep going when things get tough. Cause let's be honest, making pictures is never easy! But it sure is rewarding. And what better way to celebrate your work than by immortalizing it in a professional print?