I don't use an Easel for 20x24 prints - have you seen the price of those things
I just tape it down to the Baseboard using Masking Tape in H's - where the horizontal bar is tape up and the two verticals hope the tape up section to the base board.
My paper lies reasonably flat – if it were curled I would just have to use more tape strips
If I want a boarder, I use a print mount to mask the outside edges.
It’s surprisingly easy to align the paper to the Baseboard when you get used to it - I use yet more masking tape to show reference/alignment points.
This method is much slower than using an Easel, which is why I suspect we are all wedded to our Easels so much – we started that way and never quite move on.
In answer to Ralfs’ point, the great master printers he refers to are concerned only with quality and not quantity, so I suspect, the added set up time is not a major concern to them.
Martin (a creature of habit)
I believe part of the answer to 'what easel' vs 'no easel' as Ralph suggests, depends on the final use of the print.
Using a four-blade easel is great to mimic the look of a matted print, but if the final goal is to mat and frame the print, I think that following Ralph's advise is the better (and cheaper) way to go.
I've used generous borders when printing 8x10 for use in a clip-style frame. If I were printing for use in mat and frame, I would either use very narrow borders or print to the edges of the paper.
Another vote for Ralph Lambrecht's argument: given the price of paper, I can't imagine doing enough 16x20 prints to justify an easel that big (and that's assuming that anyone besides me would want a copy ) For anyone who doesn't want to trim prints during mounting (as opposed to "crop", which implies compositional issues) the ultimate would appear to be a vacuum easel, (along with immaculate technique for handling a water-soaked sheet without ever blemishing at least one edge or corner).
What's the big thing about an easel? What am I missing?
I like clean edges, and I want a clear white outside of the print and inside of the matte. Part of the reason for this that when the matte is made to conceal the irregular edges, one is forced either to sign on the matte or on the image area of the print itself. Both are extremely tacky, imho. Of course you could be like Stieglitz (who thought he was god) and justify not signing by saying "Is the sky signed?" He did say that. I sign in the clear area under the print, but use only a metal stylus for that purpose, so it is very unobtrusive.
Think about it. One main purpose of a matte is to be replaceable. If you sign on the matte, will you come back from the dead to sign the next time it's matted?
Even with dry mounting, if you have a good square easel, trimming the print and the tissue at the same time is incredibly easy because you can tack first and then trim the print along the edges. To reveal the edges for the trimmer, just cut diagonally right to the corners of the image; then you can see exactly where the blade will cut.
And as for other printers, regardless of how sainted they are, I think I'll just do it my way, thank you. To each his/her own.
If you want a good easel that doesn't have blades (so you get edges made by the negative carrier) it's fairly easy to construct a box with 1x2's for edges and baffles, pegboard on the top and plain masonite on the bottom. The inside needs to be well baffled with a maze of the 1x2's which allows air circulation to every part of the inside. A vacuum cleaner can provide the vacuum. The best vacuum is an old Rainbow, because the hose has an adjustable leak. With no leak, the surface can distort, and with it, the image. Yes, it is noisy. I printed 20x24's this way.
Now I print in a modified contractor's trailer, so it's very good that I've gotten over needing to print that big anyway. These days, most people can't afford the space to hang big prints, and they sure are a problem for storage.
As you said, we are all free to do it our preferred way. I prefer to drymount a trimmed print with an overmat, clearing the print, and I sign the mat, just as Ansel Adams did (example attached). People not mounting their prints, or overlapping their prints with the overmat, may get more benefit from an easel than I would.
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One main purpose of a matte is to be replaceable.
Another is to keep the surface of the print from contacting glazing material in the frame.
If the mat overlaps the print, there may well be, in time, light- or contaminant-induced differences between the covered and exposed parts of the print. Archival materials are intended to prevent the latter, but only storage in the dark will prevent the former. A "floating mount" as described by Ralph Lambrecht is one solution to this problem. Properly done, the signature can be on the mount rather than directly on the print, and will not be lost in re-matting.
(Yes, I know that there are reams of controversy with respect to dry mounting versus hinging, but this thread is about the merits of easels, right? )