Last week, I jumped on a deal for 25 free prints for the cost of shipping. I’ve been sitting on a bunch of photos from our summer trip to my old home near Jackson Hole/Yellowstone National Park (you can see a lot of them over on my Instagram as I posted them there for the past month or two).
The company offering the free 5×5 square prints was Artifact Uprising (AU). If you’re a VSCO or Instagram user, you may have heard of the AU print service. Jumping onto the square photo bandwagon that Instagram created, AU promoted itself as the place to get your premium prints made for your perfectly clean and stylish work desk or that exposed brick wall in your Brooklyn loft.
Did I mention premium? If you’re used to your local corner store’s twelve-cent prints, AU prices will be a bit of a shock. Compared to other pro services like Millers and Bay Photo, they’re actually pretty close in price.
So what would make the average photographer or photo enthusiast get prints through a service like Artifact Uprising?
Uncoated thick paper. In magazine publishing, uncoated paper has been the rage since about 2008, adding a natural look and feel to printing. Magazines like Monocle, Lucky Peach, and Flow sport this natural paper so if you’ve flipped through one of them, you’ve noticed how the uncoated pages don’t have that sheen and smoothness to them.
What we’re normally used to in photo printing is glossy and matte and for very good reasons. UV coatings applied post printing add longevity and protection (as well as enhanced colors) and this is what was most important to customers. Uncoated paper will be more prone to fading, less vibrant, and it can run/smear (though this isn’t as much of a problem these days).
So why would we want to show off our work on uncoated paper since there’s a lot of selling points to a coated print? Uncoated papers have no glare, give less saturation to images for people who like a softer look, no fingerprint smudges, and just the texture is loved by many. Emulating that naturally textured paper feel that we’re now seeing in many magazines we love is another reason. When we’re showing off our work in a way that is similar to things that we also enjoy, it can unconsciously connect us to these publications we look up to. But beyond that, there’s a reason these magazines started printing on these papers to begin with.
The smooth glossy paper we’re familiar with in magazines was once the rarity and cost much more than uncoated. As its popularity grew, everyone started using it as costs when down because quantity produced made it the common paper. After twenty or thirty years, we rarely saw uncoated paper in a magazine. Magazines needed ways to differentiate themselves and this textural shift makes an impression to readers.
Getting back to the AU prints, these uncoated thicker prints give a unique and textural feel unlike the normal glossy and matte prints we are used to. The ability to leave borders around the image is another throwback to older prints from the ’50s and ’60s as well as a nod to instant films. People who process their images to have crushed blacks and grey highlights similar to processes in VSCO film emulations will find that this kind of printing will match what they’re trying to emulate on screen on paper.
Let me mention this, an IG photography friend Jan Arsenovic (@jan.arsenovic on IG), jumped on the free prints a while back and had some issues with his prints. His processing style is heavier in contrast and very vibrant (think the VSCO Pack 05 Kodak Gold presets) and it didn’t give his blacks that punch he is used to. His thought, since they don’t offer any ICC profiling to help stay consistent, is to brighten up his photos a bit to what he’s used to seeing on screen. I will second this in saying that with uncoated paper, you may get a little more muddy of a print in darker areas.
My overall impression of my prints is positive. I love that uncoated thicker paper they use and other than printing with a high-quality inkjet printer and cutting/finishing myself, there’s not a lot of other ways to get similar prints right now. At a closer look, there is a lot of detail in the images and the color range is more than acceptable. These are art pieces more than just prints. I don’t expect them to last 100 years, but they definitely brighten up my office.
There’s more information on Artifact Uprising’s website about their papers and products that I haven’t mentioned here. If you have any experiences or thoughts on their prints and books, I’d love to hear them! I’m in no way affiliated with them, I just enjoy paper.
Oh, and since these prints were free, I’d love to give some away! Send me a message on Instagram (@smithandfritzy) and I’ll send you one until I’m out.