Beginner’s guide to photo printing

Imagine taking a great photo and carefully retouching it before having it printed. Although, when you look at the final output, it doesn’t quite have the same dynamic range, color, or detail that you’d expect based on how the image appeared on screen. Sound familiar? This has certainly happened to me before. In addition to an instructional video on AdoramaTV, I write this blog to help you get detailed, color-accurate prints of all your photography. I’ll cover four fundamentals of photo printing to get you as close as possible to matching what you see on your screen to what you see on your prints.

Realistic expectations

Let me save you a lot of heartache and tell you that you will never get 100% accuracy between what you see on your screen and what you see in photo printing. An “exact match” is frankly impossible because, whatever you do, the reflected light is never the same as the transmitted light. What you see on your monitor is transmitted light and what you see on a print is reflected light. It’s just physics.

Also, perceived color accuracy in photo printing depends a lot on the temperature at which the light hits it. For example, daylight will make the print cooler (bluer) than incandescent light. Finally, the way the print is displayed should also be considered. Will you be placing the print behind a glass frame, acrylic frame, glare resistant material or will the print be unframed?

For more information on color correction in post-processing, see 42West’s article, The Basics of Color Correction.

Discussions with Printique.com

In preparation for this article, I reached out to Printique’s print masters and got their perspective as well. Printique makes hundreds of impressions a day, so I knew they could provide me with useful information. Using their guidance and personal experience, I’ve come up with the following four principles to help you create accurate prints.

Principle #1: Monitor Calibration: Why is it Important?

I asked Printique if they recommend a hardware monitor calibration tool. They said: “We use X-rite but generally find the calibration to be imperfect and recommend ordering small proofs to get a feel for where our print is in relation to what you see and then adjust accordingly. result. »

I love this simple piece of advice, which I found to be absolutely true. I calibrate my monitor using a ColorChecker and it does a great job getting me about 90% of the way there. For that extra percentage, I rely on test prints.

Photo by Mahesh Thapa

Principle #2: Upload a well-edited file

To get the most detail when printing photos, make sure downloaded files are set to 300 ppi. If you are printing large print, you may need to “up-rez” your file. For example, when I made a 20″ x 30″ print, I needed to make sure that the overall dimensions of the print were 6000 x 9000 pixels, which equals 54 megapixels.

Remember, this is for maximizing detail. You can certainly download a smaller megapixel file, and you may not be able to notice any appreciable loss in detail. It depends on factors such as the medium you are printing on, viewing distance and personal tolerance. Although, to maximize detail, Printique and many other printing services recommend 300 ppi.

Now, what about soft-proofing your file before uploading it? Basically, soft proofing is previewing your digital file on your monitor before printing. Several online printing services publish their International Color Consortium (ICC) profiles. Users can usually download it to soft proof their digital image. Essentially, an ICC profile describes the color characteristics and limitations of a particular device or medium. While I find soft proofing helpful, I still think Printique’s original advice is far more valuable. Order small proofs to get an idea of ​​the position of the print output relative to what you see on screen, then adjust accordingly.

Principle #3: Pay attention to the built-in color profile

Which color profile should you include in your downloaded digital file? Many online services accept any color space. However, I recommend Adobe RGB or P3, both of which have a wider color gamut than sRGB.

Photo by Mahesh Thapa

Principle #4: Upload the Correct File Format

Finally, what file format should you use to save the file? According to Printique, there is no appreciable difference in print quality between uncompressed TIFF files and high quality/low compression JPEG files. This corresponds to level 10 of Photoshop’s Save option. TIFF files are much larger than JPEG files, and some services have a limit on the upload file size. A high quality JPEG file will look just as good when printed. It will also take much less time to download and help you avoid download errors due to file size limitations.

Some Frequently Asked Questions

If you think about the four principles we just covered before printing, I think you’ll be much happier with the quality of your prints. Now let me go over a few other questions that Printique and I frequently ask ourselves:

If I have a relatively low or highly compressed resolution file, does a certain print medium (eg canvas) hide imperfections better?

Any textured backing would hide some imperfections. Additionally, dye sublimation prints can soften and hide some imperfections because the production process involves heat transfer from a solid phase to a gas phase without going through a liquid phase first, and it’s all very organic.

If I need to “up-res” my file, do you recommend software like Photoshop, Gigapixel or something else?

Whichever process you use, see what the final image looks like on screen when you’re done upscaling the file. If there is compression artifact or a strong halo around high contrast areas, it will likely show on the print. However, imperfections may not matter if you are making very large prints where people won’t look closely.

Is there a certain print medium (e.g. canvas, metal, or paper) that does a more faithful job of reproducing colors?

It all really depends on individual preferences. Personally, I think actual paper prints on a semi-gloss texture are the most accurate overall.

Does Printique accept files in a wide gamut color space (Adobe Wide Gamut RGB) which it then correctly converts to a printer profile?

Printique can accept any color space but prefers P3.

For Printique, does the user have to include a certain color profile in the files downloaded for printing? If so, which one (e.g. Adobe RGB 1998, sRGB, etc.)?

Printique recommends the P3 color profile.

Does Printique offer ICC profiles for uploading soft proofing images?

Printique will release their profiles by the end of 2022. However, they still recommend ordering small proofs to get an idea of ​​what the print will look like.

IIf needed, is it better for the user to “up-res” files to the appropriate PPI? Should they let Printic take care of it?

It is better for the client to do so. However, be careful not to sharpen the image too much as this can cause strange grid patterns when printed.

Conclusion

Achieving high-quality, color-accurate prints requires some work and an understanding of photo printing on your part. You also have to manage your expectations due to the inherent differences between transmitted and reflected light. However, following the four fundamentals I outlined above should get you nice prints if you’re struggling with overall print quality. It is also important to print on high quality media using high quality inks and printers. The right online printing service also makes a huge difference. You should only entrust your photographs to a well-established company with exemplary customer service and a dedication to the art and science of printing, like Printique.

If you’re looking to print your images at home, we also have a list for finding the best printer for photographers.

Mahesh Thapa

Mahesh Thapa


Mahesh Thapa is primarily a travel, nature and landscape photographer based in Seattle, WA. He has been teaching and creating content professionally for over 10 years and is an ambassador for several brands, including Sony and Thinktank. Mahesh is also a physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a professor of radiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. You can see more of his work on his website, starvingphotographer.com, Instagram @StarvingPhotographer, YouTube and Facebook.

Jack C. Nugent