Preparing Your Images for Print
Feb 28, 2021
One of the most common questions we get at Print Partner is how should I prepare my photos for printing? There are many things to take into consideration and much can be written about each, however, for this blog post I wanted to start with an introduction of the key steps and then in future posts we will take a deep dive into each one separately.
For those photographers with lots of printing experience under your belt consider this a review, however, I am certain you will pick up a few key tidbits you may not have thought of. For you newbies, this will be helpful information to get you started on creating the best prints possible.
Let me preface this by saying, there is always more than one way to accomplish an end result and what I am about to share here is based on my experience and targeted to a general audience. We can debate the differences of high pass luminosity sharpening compared to using the good old un-sharp mask (don't worry if this means nothing to you) but for most, let’s just KIS (keep it simple:) and get everyone started on the right path to creating prints they can be proud of.
Step 1 - Calibrate Your Monitor
Imagine spending hours processing your image and getting it to look exactly as you want only to find out your monitor isn't showing you colour and tone in a reliable way. What does this mean for your image? Well, you might think it looks great on your screen, but in reality, you have no way of knowing if the colours and tone are correct or not. On other devices it may look very different and more importantly, your prints may not look like you expect. Calibrating your monitor "syncs" it with all other calibrated monitors and printers providing you with a reliable reference when colour correcting your photographs.
Calibrating is a process of attaching an external spectrometer to your computer and running a program that measure the brightness and colour of your screen. These devices are readily available online and one of the most popular is the SpyderX by Datacolour. They usually cost around $200-$400 and come with everything you need to ensure your monitor is calibrated correctly. In this post we are not going into the steps on how to use a spectrometer, but they are easy to understand so just follow the instructions once you have it installed the software.
So, what exactly does the spectrometer do? In simplest terms, it adjusts your screen so that it is displaying colour and tone based on known ICC standards (International Color Consortium in case you wondered). By calibrating your monitor, you can be confident that what you see on your screen is the same as what your printer is seeing on their screen, assuming of course, they have it calibrated (and if they are a fine art printer they better!)
There is a lot more to discuss on this subject including soft proofing and icc profiles for paper and ink combinations but let's leave it at monitor calibration for now as this will make the most significant difference for how your prints turn out. The most common printing issue we hear is that my prints are too dark, well most likely your prints are just fine and printed exactly as the file was supposed print however the usual cause is that your monitor is set too bright. A bright monitor will produce prints that are too dark because you will not have lightened them enough onscreen. Calibrate your monitor and you will have a truer representation of how your prints will turn out.
Step 2 - Remove Imperfections
This may seem obvious, but I can't tell you how many dust spots and defects we see in images prior to printing. What people fail to realize is that as your image is enlarged, all the good gets bigger along with all the bad! Small dust spots, colour fringing on edges (known as chromatic aberrations such as green and magenta fringing) horizons that are not straight etc. all get magnified in the print.
So, my advice is prior to sending your imaged through for printing view every inch of the image at 100% magnification looking for imperfections and defects. Most photo editing software today will allow you to correct for these and it is far cheaper to catch issues before printing then after.
Step 3 - Consider the Media you are Printing On
An often-overlooked factor is how different media types can affect the way your prints look. First, consider this, when you view your image on your monitor the lighting source is backlit and when you look at your image on a print the light source is reflected. It is only common sense that the material you print on will factor into how your print looks.
So, what can we do to "predict" how the print will look on certain papers? For advanced users you can soft proof using paper and ink icc profiles in Adobe Photoshop or other similar advanced editing programs but for the sake of this article, we will follow a few simple rules.
Gloss Papers - These papers will reproduce your images closest to what you see on your calibrated monitor but may benefit from a subtle brightening of the images prior to sending to print. Also, many of these papers have a slightly cool white tone to them so you may want to consider warming up your image just a bit. For the most part, blacks and shadow areas reproduce well on these papers so if you have deep shadows where detail is important you may want to choose a gloss, satin, baryata, metallic or luster paper all of which can be considered Gloss Papers.
Fine Art and Matte Papers - These papers are the go-to for fine art photographers looking for the highest quality and longest lasting paper on the market. They are usually 100% cotton or rag based and are luxurious to behold and view. For all their atheistic benefits they can be the most challenging to print on. Colours can appear slightly muted and deep shadow areas do not show detail as well as their gloss paper counter parts. When preparing images to print on fine art or matte paper it is a good idea to add a little saturation and brighten up the shadow areas and mid tones more than usual. I usually find an amount of around 10% additional brightness and saturation works well. Be careful not to "blow out" any key highlight areas when brightening your image!
One other thing to consider is the colour of the base paper, is it bright white or more natural white with a slightly warm tone to it? The tone of the base paper will impact how your image looks once printed and you may want to compensate for this when preparing your image for printing.
If you are unsure about what paper will look best for your photography you can send us your image ahead of time for a consultation or consider ordering a test print or sample kit.
Step 4 - Sizing your Image for Print
At Print Partner we prefer our clients do not resize their image to the final print size before sending but rather send us the original file size and allow us to do the enlarging. We recommend this for two reasons, first, when you enlarge your image prior to sending to us it may create a size that is too big for our system to handle. Any images over 100mb can become a problem and will not upload correctly.
The second reason is that we use sophisticated software for upsizing to our printer and media specs and find the results to be exceptional. If you are experienced at resizing your photographs and sharpening for output and want to send us the final image sized to your specifications simply follow the instructions on the upload and order page for sending us files over 100mb.
Step 5 - File Types, DPI, Colour Space and Bit Depth
In the world of printing what you put in greatly impacts what you get out. Therefore, we always recommend you send us high quality PSD or TIFF files and not compressed JPEG files. That being said, JPEG files saved at maximum levels tend to reproduce just fine as long as we are not enlarging them too much.
People often ask how big can they print their photograph? There are no hard fast rules for this as it depends on the image quality, camera/lens that was used, subject matter, and material being printed on. Also, how and where the image is being displayed plays a factor as well. Every photographer has different expectations on how their image should look when enlarged so if you are unsure please reach out to us and we will be happy to assist you. I can advise that you will get the best results saving your images with a dpi of between 240 and 360. For larger prints consider using 240dpi as this will result in less uprezing while still maintaining excellent print quality. For smaller images 300-360dpi is optimal.
In regard to colour space, sometimes there is a difference between the colour space used for editing and colour space used for printing. Printers use the colour space Adobe RGB and sRGB while many people choose to edit in the ProPhoto colour space. There is no need to change your image to the printer’s native colour space prior to sending the file to us as the printer's RIP software handles that conversion automatically.
Most serious photographers will likely edit their images in 16-bit mode and this is certainly recommended. However, when sending your files for printing 8-bit mode is more than enough and is our recommendation.
File Type - Tiff, PSD, or uncompressed Jpeg.
DPI - 300-360 for images that are being up-sized 2x or less and 240DPI for images above 2X enlargement.
Colour Space - Adobe RGB is best.
Bit Depth - 8 bit.
Print making is as much an art as it is a science and takes time and practice to gain a good understanding of how your photographs will look on different media types. Feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would be more than willing to guide you through what might be the best choices for your printing needs.
About the Author
Andrew Collett has over 20 years experience as a professional photographer and fine art print maker and is the founder of Print Partner Inc.