In the current day and age, photography has become an almost completely digital practice. Because of this, it’s becoming increasingly rare for us to print out images. However, printing your work is an excellent way of critiquing your skills and showing off images that you are proud of. It’s also really rewarding to see your work hanging on a wall or displayed in a frame.
Perhaps the most difficult part of printing is understanding how a digital file translates into a physical print. A digital photograph is displayed on a screen, whereas a print is displayed on paper. The way that light interacts with these surfaces is completely different, which is why your images don’t always look the same as they do on the screen when you hit the ‘print’ button.
Images on a screen are illuminated from behind. The light of your screen passes through the colours and tones of the image to your eye, thus making them appear bright and colourful. However, when an image is printed, light hits the paper and is then reflected back to your eye. Some light is absorbed into the surface of the paper, and so the image that ‘bounces back’ into your eye can appear duller and darker in colour.
There are things you can do to make sure your photographs look good on screen and in print. Below are some tips on how to get the best results, whether you choose to print at home, or in a lab.
Tips For Printing At A Lab
1. Find a lab that suits you. A professional lab is very different to the basic photo printing services offered at stores such as Big W or Officeworks, because the type of paper professional labs use and the proofing they offer (for colour correction and calibration) before printing is usually of a much higher quality (which is why they charge a little more).
If you’re new to printing or not that tech savvy, going in to the lab, rather than sending your images online, may be the less ‘scary’ option. Someone at the lab will be able to guide you through the basics of proofing and setting up your images for the specific paper and ink types that the lab carries. You’ll also get to see and touch sample of the different papers that are on offer. If you feel a little more confident (or time poor), there are also many online options, where you can upload your photos and send them and the lab will ship the prints to you by mail. Using an online service is perfect for people who know how to download the lab’s printer and paper profiles, know which paper they want, and understand how to adjust their image for printing. Some online labs will even make the print adjustments for you, so all you have to do is upload your chosen image.
2. Make sure you read or ask what output settings the labs use. Some labs require the images to be at 300ppi (pixels per inch) or 360ppi. Some labs use the Adobe RGB colour space, and others may use Pro Photo RGB. Make sure the image you’re preparing for print uses the appropriate settings, because the colour and quality of picture can be affected if you’re using the wrong ones.
3. As well as doing test prints at home, you can also request a test print from the lab. It may cost extra, but it will save you money in the long run. For example, if you’re planning on printing an A4 size picture, you could resize the image to 6x4”, make your adjustments, and print the 6x4 in test print. Whatever adjustments you make on the 6x4 test print can be carried over the A4 print. This allows you to gauge how much further adjusting is required, see whether the type of paper is to your liking, and the difference between your home screen and the lab print.
4. If all of this is too hard to grasp, you could always talk to the lab technician and get them to adjust the image for you. After all, they are the experts.
Image by Libbarella
Tips For Printing At Home
1. Make sure you have a printer that is appropriate for printing on photographic paper. Better yet, buy one specifically designed to print photographs. Printers that are made for printing text will not be able to print good quality photographs, because that’s not their intended purpose. High quality photographic printers are able to emphasise vivid colours and details in an image. Epson and Canon are two well known brands that specialise in photographic printing.
2. There are hundreds of styles and types of printing paper on the market, so don’t just stick to the budget pack that comes from the supermarket. Some common types of paper finishes are gloss, satin, matte, and canvas. Try starting with printer-branded papers such as Epson or Canon. If you find you enjoy printing at home, you can start exploring specialty paper brands such as Illford and Canson. Buy the best paper you can afford, as a high quality paper will produce a much higher quality print. When buying paper, make sure to find out which ink is required for your chosen paper style and brand.
3. Install your manufacturer’s printer driver (which may be provided on a CD or may be software you need to download) and follow the guidelines on setting up your printer. When using photographic papers make sure to choose the appropriate paper setting for the type of paper you’re using, from the printer menu.
4. Print directly from a photo editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop, to get the best control and quality over your prints. Not only can you use the software to enhance your photos by retouching, it will also give you the ability to do things to prepare your images for printing, whether it be resizing, changing the resolution or increasing the brightness or colour.
Image by Meryl CA
5. Learn to ‘proof’ your images. Professional photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop has a proofing feature, which allows you make adjustments based on a preview of what the program thinks the printed image will look like. This can save you time, ink and paper.
6. Do a test print of a photo before you begin printing multiple photos. A test print is a simple way of gauging the difference between what’s on screen and what’s on paper. This allows you to make adjustments and understand the difference in output between the screen and printer. For example, if the photo comes out too dark, you could increase the brightness in Photoshop. The same goes for colour - saturate or desaturate the colour until it matches what’s on screen. Maybe more sharpening or contrast is needed as well.
The beauty of home printing is that you can make adjustments and instantly print it to view the outcomes, and continue making more adjustments until you’re happy. Any adjustments made for print should be made on a copy image in Photoshop so that you do not adjust the original image for screen viewing. You would just save two files - one for web and one for print, and name them accordingly.
Images by Travis Isaacs
With the accessibility of digital, it is so easy to upload your images to social media, or store them on a computer in folders you will forget about, but there’s something beautiful and special about a physical print, and being able to flip through an album. When we look at a printed image, we really slow down and appreciate it, rather than clicking through thousands of digital files without even stopping to really look. Try printing some of your images and framing them around the house - I guarantee you will appreciate them much more.