My favorite way to experience photography is through print. It’s hard to describe the tremendous satisfaction I get when viewing my own prints, or prints from a photographer I admire. I’ve always enjoyed printing myself. I learned to print in the darkroom in my college photography classes and when I moved to digital I taught myself how to make my own prints at home. As my photography progressed people started to ask if they could buy prints of my images. Eventually, I started doing art festivals and gallery shows to share my work and make more print sales. Whether you plan to print yourself, or have prints made by a dedicated print shop it’s essential that you understand a few basic concepts about color management and preparing images for print.
We live in an increasingly screen based culture. The majority of photography I see is on some sort of screen. A lot of photographers I meet who are starting photography exist almost exclusively in the digital universe. Eventually though, you, or someone you know might want a print made of your photos. Photographic printing can be daunting at first, but it’s very satisfying to see your own images in print, and you will be a better photographer if you understand the fundamentals of color management and print preparation. In this article, I’ll share five essential tips for getting you and your images ready to print.
- CALIBRATE YOUR MONITOR:
It’s hard to stress how important this is. There is no point spending hours processing your photos for print if you haven’t calibrated your monitor. It’s the foundation of color management, and brings everyone into a common color standard. I remember when I got started in photography many years ago, I read on some forums about the importance of calibrating my monitor. At the time I was more concerned with acquiring more lenses and gear and didn’t see why it was a big deal. When I started printing I learned a hard and expensive lesson. The first prints I made were a huge disappointment. They didn’t look like what I saw on my monitor at all, the colors were off and it came out really dark. With a little more friendly advise I finally invested in a decent calibrations package. Once I calibrated my monitor I realized two important things. One, it’s really helpful when everyone is using the same color standards and profiles, otherwise what may look red on my screen could look orange, or purple on another. Two, I had my monitor set way too bright. Reflected light from a print will never look as bright as transmitted light from a screen. Lowering screen brightness much better reflects how an image will print. Here is a link to the colormunki screen calibrator I use now. Very easy to use and profiles really accurately. All of their products work really well, but I like the customization options with the colormunki display model: http://xritephoto.com/colormunki-display
- UNDERSTAND BASIC COLOR MANAGEMENT:
Whether you are printing yourself, sending your files to a dedicated print shop, or preparing an image for a publisher, you will get much better results if you understand the basics of color management. There are two basic concepts to understand when managing color on your computer. The first is using the correct color space when exporting from Lightroom, or Adobe Camera Raw and the right color setting in Photoshop. I always use the Pro Photo RGB color space as it has the widest color gamut, I prefer to start my editing with as many colors as possible especially if I will be printing the image. The second concept is using the right printing profile. If you’re having someone else print for you, it’s still important to understand printer profiles. You can use a printer profile to soft proof your image and get a preview of how it will look when printed with the specific printer and paper they use. Printer profiles are scripts used by the printer to adhere to color standards, they help the printer produce an image that looks as close to what you see on your screen as possible. I’ll talk more about soft proofing in the next section.
- SOFT PROOFING AND HARD PROOFING:
Soft proofing is using software such as Lightroom, or Photoshop to preview a printer profile. Soft proofing attempts to simulate what the image will look like when printed on a specific print paper with a specific printer. I think soft proofing is useful to get you in the right ballpark, but I don’t trust soft proofing completely. It is still pretty unreliable when trying preview exactly what a print will look like. I use soft proofing to get me close and then I order a test print which is called a hard proof. Once the test print is made, or arrives from a print shop, I can evaluate it and make any adjustments that I think it needs. This method is what I rely on when making prints for customers, art shows and galleries. The videos below help explain soft proofing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Great video on soft proofing in Lightroom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M9B8ABOb9U
Another video about basic soft proofing in Photoshop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y47uoKE_dAs
- SHARPEN APPROPRIATELY FOR EACH PRINT MEDIUM AND SIZE.
Each print medium I use requires different levels of sharpening to look it’s best. For instance, noise from over sharpening shows up easier on metal prints. Both acrylic and traditional inkjet prints are more forgiving and hide minor noise and digital artifacts better. Canvas is the most forgiving. Print size is also something to consider. What does this mean in practical terms for my workflow? I’ve adopted a simple and flexible approach to sharpening. I do normal output sharpening in Lightroom or ACR to correct for softness introduced by camera, lens, and the RAW format. The amount varies for each image. I continue with my workflow in photoshop to produce a master file with all layers and adjustments preserved if possible. If I’m going to make a print, I save a flattened copy of the master file and sharpen it specifically for that print size and medium. Sometimes it doesn’t need additional sharpening, but if it does it’s usually the last adjustment I make before sending it to print. As a general guideline, I sharpen more for smaller prints, and less for larger prints. The is counter intuitive for many people, but I’ve found that smaller prints need more because they lose sharpness when they are scaled down, and large prints tend to show any unwanted effects that might arise from over sharpening. This is my personal preference and there are other factors to consider including the view distance.
- ADJUST LUMINANCE FOR SPECIFIC PRINT MEDIUMS.
Each print medium has it’s own perceptual brightness and ambient reflectivity. Like I described in the sharpening section, I save a flattened copy of my master file for each specific size and print medium I print on. Aluminum prints and lumachrome acrylic prints have high ambient reflectivity and perceptual brightness, therefore they require very little, if any brightness adjustment. Traditional inkjet prints and canvas require a lot more brightness adjustments if you want to replicate the look you see on your screen.
I’ve been printing a long time, and I’ve learned several important lessons from printing over the years. I’ve noticed that my processing workflow has evolved to accommodate printing. I now tend to process with printing in mind first, and make specific changes to the file later when posting to the web. I also have evolved to process in the most editable and non destructive way to preserve the image quality. I think printing has made me a better photographer and has helped me improve my image quality.
Old video blog about basic printing from Photoshop: http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/intro-to-photoshop-printing-video/#.WIT_MrGZMUE
Recommended printing companies: These are the two print companies that I use. I’ve tried a lot print shops, and these guys both produce incredible, quality prints. I get my Aluminum prints from: http://www.hdaluminumprints.com and acrylic prints from http://www.nevadaartprinters.com
Location: Bend, OR
Zack is an award winning photographer specializing in fine art landscape photography and post processing. “Art is in my blood. My father is a well known poster artist and painter. My mom was a painter, and print maker and my brother is an art director at Facebook. Art is a way of life for my family, and I will hopefully pass it on to my children as well.”
“The love of nature is also something that my family and I are passionate about. I’ve been hiking, biking, rock climbing and backpacking since I was little. From an early age, I learned to appreciate the beauty in nature.”