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May the New Year 2011 bring you Health, Happiness — and the Perfect Print!

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Getting the image on your screen perfectly match the one coming out of your printer is not always easy — but definitely worth the quest…

Featuring beguiling artwork that has a hand-colored feel, this 8-inch-wide fold-out nativity — even showing some of the deep embossing of the vintage original — is now available as a Premium Download.
A Christmas table flower arrangement creates the perfect backdrop for my Vasilópitta Greek sweet New Year's bread — and for a nativity (see photo above). 
The New Year is almost here, and one of the traditions I faithfully observe is already set on the dining room table: the round Vasilópitta New Year's bread, formed in a circle, centered with a Byzantine cross, and decorated with flowers made of the same sweet dough.

Dabbed with egg yolk, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and baked at 350 degrees, its ready for me to hide a coin inside, to be found by the one for whom the New Year will prove especially auspicious.

The Vasilópitta (literally St. Basil's Bread, in Greek), will be gone all too soon when Benjamin and his family come over on New Year's. Too bad, because it makes excellent toast!

And it looks so festive, don't you think? Of course, the Christmas flower arrangement with the two candles creates a wonderful backdrop for the Vasilópitta — not to mention for a nativity.

So, why not put your flowers, holly, or sprig of mistletoe to double duty yourself? Use them to garnish your nativity photos as I have done with our new Straw Hat Nativity Premium Download, on the top of the page?

The quest for the perfect print

Baking the perfect Vasilópitta is easy compared to getting a print that will match what you see on your screen.

While Photoshop and other image editors give you a full panoply of tools to do just about everything you'd want with your images, getting the image you see on your screen to match the image on paper is another matter.

When we're talking about Photoshop — or other image editor — a well-calibrated screen/monitor is a given. It might not be easy for you to arrive at a calibrated monitor, but a discussion with your local computer retailer should give you some intelligent direction.

Working with vintage images — this nativity, for example, dates from 1920 — presents its own special challenges. First and foremost is overcoming the effects of the age of the paper they're printed on — even though the lithography is beautiful and the deep embossing adds such beauty and an air of quality manufacturing.

With age comes paper deterioration and, since old paper usually contained acid, yellowing. An over-all color adjustment on the image brings the yellow background up to a white, and, in the process, restores the original colors. These colors may seem unusually vivid since we are so used to seeing older paper examples, but the colors are as bright as when they were first seen.

I'll have more to say about restoring old images, since so many of you have asked me about it, but for the moment let's touch on printers.

When printing, use your best photo setting, and a photo-quality paper manufactured for the printer brand you have. Epson, for example, sells a photo-quality paper, and Hewlett-Packard also sells a photo-quality paper: Hewlett-Packard photo-quality paper in an Epson printer doesn't really work very well — and vice-versa — because they have different absorption capabilities. Please use photo paper made for your own printer.

Bear in mind that an overlooked printer setting can make a huge difference. On my Epson, for example, "Color Settings: Adobe RGB" will produce very different results than "Color Settings: EPSON Standard (sRGB)." (I use Adobe RGB.) Or, Under, Advanced Color Settings, you want "Gamma: 1.8," not "Gamma: 2.2."

A always, experiment until your printer produces the best possible print that closely matches what you see on your screen.

The original figures of the Straw Hat Nativity show that the passage of time is not kind to acid paper: notice the dull, no longer true colors; the paper disintegration (the right hand of Joseph is mostly missing); the unfortunate break right down the middle due to paper brittleness; and the puzzling missing piece in the shape of animal ears on the bottom of the piece. But all of these problems can be restored with enough patience and Photoshop savvy.  
The perfect printer?

I use an Epson Stylus Photo R2880. I am not recommending this printer over any other, but mention it to tell you what I use and why.

First, my printer uses eight inks so the gamut — the number of colors it will print — is very large.

It's extremely easy to use, and the drivers can be downloaded from the Epson website whenever you might think there might be an issue.

Beyond that, it's very stable. The colors that it produces will not drift, and seem to stay the same year after year with a minimum of maintenance. The internal print procedures seem to be very stable, so the color it produces does not change over a long period of time.

This printer can also print the larger 13" x 19" inch sheets, is able to print all the way to the edge, as it can with other paper sizes such as 4"x 6", 5"x 7", and 8.5"x 11".

So what will I be doing when that Vasilópitta — and our New Year's guests — are gone?

Printing a new nativity, of course, to cut out and assemble, so I can continue a tradition began so long on a mountainside village, in Greece.

Happy New Year!

— Alexis

You may also find Adjusting Colors of interest, in the Crèchemania How-to's pages.

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Alexis' Blog