Master Printmaker Jonathan Penney

By | |Exposure, Snap Art, Fun|

Jonathan Penney is one of the premier printmakers in the photography industry. He is the chief cook and bottle washer for his small, boutique printmaking studio in New York. His business centralizes around the art of exceptional photo printing. For decades, he’s been known as one of the best in the biz and has worked with many of the best photographers from around the globe. He is a printmaker who really knows his craft.

Back in the day, we photographers used to spend countless hours in a dark room with our noses filled with the salty, pungent stench of fixer. That was our Photoshop! Just like today, the art of the post processing–which used to be the printing process–is an artform in itself. Jonathan is what you might call an expert printmaker . Now that the days of the mainstream darkroom have passed, he carried his skill set for making beautiful images over into the world of digital. His studio manufactures exquisite photo prints with all of the depth and feel of the films and papers from the analogue film days.

Below is a little more about who he is, what he does, and how he does it. Thanks, Jonathan!

Image © Cate Scaglione, Ballerina. Processing by printmaker Jonathan Penney

Image © Cate Scaglione, Ballerina. Processing by Jonathan Penney.

I started out in high school, 40+ years ago, but my focus (pun intended) shifted soon after to darkroom printmaking. In 1990, I started a company providing custom B&W printmaking; in 2001, we switched over to digital, and currently offer creative editing and Giclee printmaking on fine art papers to professional photographers all over the country.

Initially I was fascinated by the photographic process; how physics, optics and chemistry all come together to capture a slice of time and preserve that moment forever. Later, I began to see the artistic possibilities for creating imagery.

The transition over to digital was just as tumultuous for me as with everyone at the time. The new workflow was fraught with new, unique pain-points and difficulties. As a printmaker it was frustrating at times; the early equipment was expensive, slow and unreliable and image editing software had very limited capabilities. Luckily, within 2 years, I was making better prints than I ever did in the darkroom; improved software afforded greater possibilities in creative imaging.

My personal style tends toward dark, dramatic and brooding; more toward an illustrative look. I love to produce imagery that blurs the line between photography and classical art. The use of programs such as Exposure and Snap Art, along with my own texture layers, are critical to achieving the look.

Image © Linda Long. Processing by printmaker Jonathan Penney

Image © Linda Long. Processing by Jonathan Penney

Basic Steps

There are several critical elements to producing compelling images. My approach to the editing and printmaking process is to first identify the story. My edits always focus on providing a clear distinction between subject and background, making use of local contrast, density, color and sharpness. Secondly, I look to bring the subject “forward” and let the background “recede,” providing a dimensionality in an otherwise 2 dimensional image.  I like to think of it as “sculpting” the image. Thirdly, I make use of creative treatments such as filters and textures that help to tell the story with style and impact. Lastly, it is important to choose printmaking and finishing options that support the story in it’s final presentation as a print that is hung on a wall or assembled in an album.

Image © Aaron Gil. Processing by printmaker Jonathan Penney

Image © Aaron Gil. Processing by Jonathan Penney


I do get problematic files from photographers periodically. When I do, they usually fall into one of three categories: low resolution, improper exposure and blur/shake. These all respond well to a treatment using texture overlays and a detail plugin; by moving toward a more graphic or illustrative look, the problems are minimized.  Snap Art 4 performs miracles with these types of images.

Image © Roger Mathis, New Orleans. Processing by printmaker Jonathan Penney

Image © Roger Mathis, New Orleans. Processing by Jonathan Penney

Jonathan really does produce amazing edits. The images are completely transformed into a piece of art that we can all appreciate. Jonathan is working on tutorials that demo his workflows using Alien Skin products. He has more plans up his printmaker sleeve, too. Stay tuned!

Image © Wanda Reeves. Processing by printmaker Jonathan Penney

Image © Wanda Reeves. Processing by Jonathan Penney

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About the Author:

Jimmy is the marketing nerd at Alien Skin. He makes workflow training tutorials, handles affiliates, writes for the blog, manages our contributing authors, governs our social media, and he is the king of swag orders. He also makes a mean cup of espresso, so if you stop by the office, remember to give him cash tips for his efforts.


  1. labro December 25, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    can’t you make tutos with some tips and tricks and describe presets used and values of sliders,…
    many tutos are general and even if we find the images amazing we can’t reproduce on our own images.
    personnally i am not at all interested how, why,… the people became premier printmaker but i find the images really beautiful


    • Jimmy December 26, 2014 at 9:34 am

      Hi Marc,

      Jonathan is working with us on creating some tutorials to share here, so stay tuned.

  2. Kevin January 27, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    Nice article. Jonathan truly is THE master at printmaking. I have been an avid follower for a long time of his vision and his work.

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