Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Talking about the Weather!

Here we are towards the end of August, and I am finding it hard to decide if I should talk about my pottery, or the weather! The inclination to talk about the weather is probably hard wired into me, I am by birth an Englishman! In my head are little quaint snatches of conversation that have sat there since childhood, such as, "Eeeh Lad, it's nice weather for the dooks!" ("dooks", ducks... get it!), and "It's nice weather for this time of the year!" (usually said after a week of bitter cold wind blowing rain horizontally!)

The thing is that we have had it all in August, real winter with snow followed by delightful spring days that would cause even the most dour temperament to contemplate a shy little dance of appreciation, a furtive skip, and a happy sigh! And there have been dramatic skies full of towering grey clouds with just the odd patch of blue peeping out near the horizon, or through a fleece-lined gap. Blue of the most tender and exquisite hue.

I have found myself out and about with the camera on several occasions, and have even dusted down my sketch book and have done a few pen and ink drawings out on location. 

I'll put 3 or 4 photos here to show what I mean... then I will get to the subject of potting, the noble art of making pots!

We had snow on 4 August, and on the morning of the 5th there was a little snow on the hills across the road from us.

I walked a short distance to the nearby railway crossing and took this photo looking South.

I took many photos of clouds. I was reminded of the great Dutch landscape painters, and of John Constable.

This photo, and the next, were taken on 4 December, as the snow started to come in.

Again, those clouds! I would much rather have a cloudy sky than one that is all blue!

One morning we went for a walk to the lagoon and saw a lovely puddle of ice that was in a hollow. There were cartoon cloud patterns even in this!

Laura planted snowdrops some years ago, and we enjoy seeing them emerge from their sleep and put on a show under the trees.

In August the moon was big, fat, and yellow. Definitely made of cheese!

Hawksbury Lagoon. A rapid change from winter to spring. The dramatic dark crimson bush is an akeake, Dodonaea viscosa, probably the Purpurea variety (often referred to as Purple Ake Ake).

Last of the light of the day over the lagoon.

I took a long sequence of photos of the sun going down. The impressive, rather pudding shaped, hill at the back on the right is Hikaroroa, this is also known as Mt Watkin. (There is an interesting newspaper article regarding the renaming of Hikaroroa to Mt Watkin that appears in the 13 October 1920 edition of the Otago Daily Times, you can read it here in papers past.)

Still with pea shaped seed pods, the old flower stems of harakeke, NZ flax (Phormium tenax).

A chill breeze came up after the sun set, and made "sand patterns" on the water!

Hum... "3 or 4 photos" grew in number! Potting next post!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Printing Cards with Epson Printers

Some of the images that appear on Laura's greeting cards. The artwork is by Laura, I design and print the cards.
Laura enjoys drawing with coloured pencils, she also likes working with black pens. Sometime last year she started making lovely greeting cards. They were all unique and individually hand drawn, but I was rather shocked and dismayed when I saw the low, low price that she put them for sale at, and started to look for a way of scanning and printing her designs.

We have had an HP multifunction ink jet printer in the past, but the A4 size scanner was too small for scanning Laura's art work, and the ink that the printer used generally smudged or ran if even a small drop of moisture came into contact with the finished print.

I thought that a first step would be to purchase an A3 scanner, then maybe send the card designs to a commercial printer to print. I did a search on line for A3 sized scanners, but was shocked to discover that any that I found were around $1000 which was clearly out of our budget.

I was about to abandon the card idea, but further searching on line took me to A3 multifunction ink jet printers, and, much to my surprise, these were between about $200 and $400.

I discovered that *Paradigm PCs had an Epson WF-7510 at just over $200 at the time. I had read some rather confusing reviews about the printer, and suspected that the printer part of it might not be that great, but that the scanner sounded good enough for scanning Laura's art work. So I ended up buying the WF-7510 for its scanning capabilities, and promised myself that I would get the card designs commercially printed.

The scanner worked really well, and being able to scan A3 was fantastic. I spent hours scanning a small mountain of images that Laura had produced over recent years. The real surprise was the image quality of this printer, all reviews that I read said that it really wasn't that great for printing photos, but the fact was, it was wonderful for reproducing coloured pencil or watercolour with great accuracy and clarity. Further more, I could print on matte papers, including watercolour paper. Prints of watercolours printed on watercolour paper looked astonishingly like the real thing!

This looks gorgeous when printed with the WF-7510 on watercolour paper. 

The printer’s "secret weapon" was the Durabrite ink that it used. Epson’s Durabrite range of inks uses a resin base which is smudge resistant and waterproof. I did a test with actual water and some scrubbing of the paper only seconds after the print came out of the printer. The paper started to pull apart, but the ink did not run! The other great thing about this ink is that it uses pigments, rather than the more commonly used dyes, and is extremely fade resistant. These good qualities made the ink absolutely ideal for the greeting cards that we wanted to produce.

The one major frustration that I had with the WF-7510 was that its paper feed was dreadful, and I had to hand feed everything one sheet at a time! I could have forgiven this behavior for heavy sheets of paper, but it would do this with anything! I may have been unlucky with the particular printer that I bought, but I noticed that a disturbing number of other users had similar problems with this model when I read reviews. Because I only intended this printer to scan artwork, and do proof prints, I never returned it, but it was a frustrating problem never-the-less.
Epson WF-7510... it is big! It will scan and print A3 paper.

It was difficult to find much time to devote to designing and printing cards when I had so much other pottery related work to do, but..... since injuring my shoulder I have had to substantially reduce my hours of work with clay, and I have needed to develop some other way of trying to make an income. From being a useful "extra", cards production started to look more serious, I needed to fine tune the designs I had to make them easier to print and trim to size, and I needed to print them in quantity.

Getting Serious, Epson WF-4630!
I made the decision to look around for an A4 printer. I researched other brands of printer, especially HP, but kept returning to Epson. The paper feed issue on our Epson printer had been a problem, but I loved the Durabrite pigment ink, and the print quality was ideal.

I read up a great deal about Epson's Work Force range of printers, and discovered that the A4 ones that interested me had the added advantage of having a rear paper feed in addition to the usual paper tray underneath. The rear feed means that paper that you put through it has a fairly straight path through the machine and does not need to bend the paper back around a roller, this is a great advantage if you want a printer to cope with heavy paper or card.

I settled on buying an Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630. In New Zealand the recommended retail for this printer is $449 including GST, and I was very fortunate in finding one for around half that price at Warehouse Stationery, and .... even better was that Epson also offered a generous $150 cash back special for the printer if you bought a set of inks for it at the same time as the original purchase.

I will spare you the “unboxing” details, but I was in awe of the engineering of this printer, even if I had paid full retail, it would have been very good value.

Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630

I can put a good supply of 220gm card in the rear paper holder and it will feed them through without complaining or jamming! I have experienced no paper jams when using the lower tray for the 80 - 100 gsm paper that I often proof with.

The printer has many features that I am still discovering. It is the first multifunction inkjet I have owned that will duplex, I know that many will take this sort of thing for granted, but I still find this a delight!

I am very thankful that I can scan and print Laura's cards "in house" rather than having to get the work done by a commercial printer. We can do small runs of things for only a low capital outlay and I can do all the fine tuning of the images that a commercial printer couldn't really be expected to do. It is also wonderful to find something that I can do for parts of the day where I need to rest from studio work.

Currently we sell the cards from our Waikouaiti Old Post Office Gallery, the Karitane Store, Stuart Street Potter's Co-operative in Dunedin, and Moray Gallery in Dunedin. I will do a study of ways and means of selling on line, and may make them available that way later in the year.

 Some Notes
*As I have mentioned, Epson use a resin based pigment ink for their Work Force range of printers. This is a 4 cartridge, 3 colour plus black system that is designed for text and graphics. I read many reviews of these printers, from on line magazines, and user reviews on The WF-4630 had 26% 1 star poor reviews from users, 48% 5 star and 14% 4 star the remaining being 2 and 3 star. I like to read the bad reviews and look for patterns of problems. My conclusion was that many people purchase printers that do not suit their purpose. Someone who occasionally uses a printer, then leaves it unused for days or weeks, will not like this printer, it may clog and be difficult or impossible to unclog! A water based ink is more forgiving of occasional use, and the fact that it will run and blur if wet means that it is easier to unclog blocked jets! Someone wanting to print photographs will also not like this printer. Pigment ink cannot easily match the wide tonal range required for photographs especially where only 3 colours and black are used. The top of the range pigment ink photo printers that Epson makes use 8 or 9 inks. Most photo printers use water based dye inks that have a wide tonal range, and these can work well if printed on suitable photo papers.

*My computer uses a Linux operating system, and other Linux users might like reassurance that this printer will work without a Mac or a Windows machine! Drivers are available from the main Epson website. Linux users should find drivers here

*A helpful hint for Linux users... the best everyday setting for text on regular paper is “plain papers standard-vivid”, if you use “plain papers standard”, black text comes out a pale grey that is difficult to read.

*For printing Laura’s cards I use the rear paper feed and select Epson-Matte High for the paper, and get good results even though I am currently using a different brand of heavy weight matte paper.

*I have bought a number of computer related things from Paradigm PCs and have found them excellent.