A Beginner’s Guide to Professional Photo Printing

Imagine that you take a stunning photograph and then carefully edit it before printing it. The final output may not have the same dynamic range, colors, or detail as you expected, based on how it appeared on the screen. This sounds familiar? This has happened to me many times before. This blog is in addition to an AdoramaTV instructional video. It will help you create accurate and detailed prints from your photos. To help you match what you see on your monitor with what you see in your prints, I will be covering four basic principles of photo printing.

Realistic Expectations

I’m going to save you a lot and say that it is impossible to match exactly what you see on your monitor with what you see when you print photos. It is impossible to match exactly because reflected light, regardless of what you do or how much you try, is not the same as transmitted. What you see on your screen is transmitted light, and what you see in a print is reflection light. It’s all physics.

Additionally, the temperature of the light hitting the photo printer can affect how accurate it appears in color. The print will appear bluer if it is exposed to daylight. It is also important to consider how the print will be displayed. The print will be displayed behind a glass, acrylic, or glare-resistant frame. Or, it can be left unframed.

You can learn how to correct color in post-processing by reading the 42West article, The Basics of Color Correction.

Discussions at Printique.com

Printique’s print masters were also available to help me prepare for the article. Printique prints hundreds of prints every day, so I was confident that they would be able to provide useful information. Based on their experience and my own guidance, I developed the following principles to help you make accurate prints.

Principle #1 – Monitor Calibration – How Important Is It?

I asked Printique if they had any recommendations for a hardware monitor calibration tool. “We use Xrite, but we find calibration to be inept. We recommend ordering small proofs to get a feel for where your printing is relative to what you see and then adjust accordingly.”

This simple advice is so refreshing and I have found it to be true. The ColorChecker does an excellent job of calibrating my monitor and getting me to about 90%. Test prints are what I use to get that extra percent.

Principle #2 – Upload a Well-Edited File

Make sure your uploaded files are at 300 ppi to get the best detail possible when printing photos. You may need to “uprez” the file if you are making large prints. When I printed a 20″x30″ print, I had the file resized to 6000×9000 pixels. This is 54 megapixels.

This is how you maximize detail. Although you can upload smaller files, it is possible to not notice a significant loss of detail. It all depends on the media used, your viewing distance and personal tolerance. Printique and other services recommend 300ppi to get the best detail.

What about soft proofing your file prior to uploading? Soft proofing basically means pre-visualizing your digital file before printing. Many online printing services have their International Color Consortium profiles. This profile can be downloaded to soft-proof digital images. An ICC profile is a description of the limitations and color characteristics of a specific device or media. Although I do find soft proofing useful, I believe Printique’s original advice is much better. To get an idea of the position of the printing output relative to the screen, order small proofs and adjust accordingly.

Principle #3 – Pay Attention to the Imbedded Colour Profile

Which color profile should be embedded into your digital file? Many online services can accept any color space. However, I suggest Adobe RGB or P3, which offer a wider range of colors than sRGB.

Principle #4 – Upload the Correct Format

What file format should you save the file in? Printique claims that there is no difference in print quality between TIFF files compressed uncompressed and JPEG files compressed high quality/low compression. This corresponds with Photoshop’s Save option at Level 10. TIFF files can be larger than JPEG, and some services limit the size of uploaded files. High-quality JPEG files can look as good on paper. You will be able to upload it in a shorter time and avoid upload errors due to file size limitations.

Frequently Asked Questions

You’ll be happier with the quality and appearance of your prints if you pay attention to the four principles we have just covered before printing. Printique and me often get asked additional questions.

What media (e.g., canvas) is better for a low-resolution or compressed file? Canvas is better at hiding imperfections

Some imperfections would be hidden by any textured media. Dye-sublimation printing can also soften or obscure imperfections. This is because heat transfer occurs from a solid phase to a gaseous phase. It does not first pass through a liquid phase.

Is there any software that can “up-rese” my file? Photoshop, Gigalpixel, or another program?

Regardless of which process you choose, you can see the final image on your screen after you have increased the file’s resolution. It is likely that there will be some compression artifacts or strong haloing in high-contrast areas. The imperfections may not be noticeable if the print is large enough that people aren’t going to see them up close.

Are there any print media that reproduces color more accurately than canvas, metal or paper?

It all boils down to personal preference. For me, actual paper prints with semi-gloss texture seem to be the best.

Printique will accept files that are in wide gamut (Adobe Wide Gaumut RGB). These files can then be properly converted to a printer profile.

Printique will accept any color space, but prefers P3.

Printique: Should the user embed a specific color profile in the files they upload for printing? Which one (e.g. Adobe RGB 1998, or sRGB) should the user use?

Printique recommends using the P3 color profile.

Do Printique have any ICC profiles that can be downloaded to soft-proof images?

Printique will publish profiles by the end 2022. They recommend that you order small proofs to get an idea of the final product.

If necessary, is it better to “up-res” files to the correct PPIPrintique should handle it.

It is best for the customer to do this. Be careful to not over-sharpen your image, as this can result in strange grid patterns when printing.

Conclusion

You will need to be able to print high-quality, accurate photos. This requires some knowledge of photo printing. Because of the inherent differences in transmitted and reflected lighting, you need to be realistic about your expectations. If you have been having trouble with print quality, you can still get great prints by following the four principles I’ve described above. Printing on high-quality media with high-quality inks and printers is important. A reliable online printing service can also make a big difference. Printique is a well-respected company that provides exceptional customer service and dedication to the art of printing.

We also offer a list of the top printers for photographers if you want to print your images at-home.