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Tips to Improve Your Prints

We don't have as many physical photos as we used to now that we are all mostly using digital cameras so the art of making a print is a little lost these days. Here are some handy tips to help you make some better prints.

Understand the Context

Before you print anything you need to think about what you are printing for and how that will inform your printing choices. Ask yourself these sorts of questions:

  • What is the print for? A competition, a client, a picture frame, a flyer?
  • How long will this print need to last?
  • How big does the print need to be?
  • How critical is the colour reproduction for this image?
  • Is there a time constraint?

By asking yourself questions like these (and really we do this anyway) you will be able to make better choices on how to have your images printed. For example, if you are printing for a photography competition they may have rules that dictate the size you need to print, and if you really want the colours to be presented in a particular way you need to be prepared to print the image more than once.

Different Print Services for Different Needs

After thinking about what your print is for you'll need to select a print service. There are lots of options out there with their own pros and cons.

Printing at home: The advantage here is you get immediate results and you control the whole process. The down side is your control the whole process so you have to maintain a supply of inks and paper as well as learning how the software works.

Print Kiosk: These are super convenient and you don't need to worry about running out of ink part way through your print. They offer a lot of choices for finishes and can even let you do some of the post processing if you don't have a computer of your own. The downside is they only have set print sizes and their software can often be confusing or buggy resulting in some unexpected results. Make sure you check out all the buttons and options when you are setting up your prints to make sure you don't miss something critical.

Online Pro Print Shop: Like Kiosks, they manage all the printer side hassles for you and they often have more options than you will more options for print sizes and finishes. They will even have extra software you can download to help you better reproduce colours and understand what you are getting in your print. The biggest disadvantage is the turnaround times. Because they may be located in a different city, state or country you have to wait longer for your images to arrive.

Local Custom Print Shops: There are many local businesses, like picture framers or dedicated printing shops, that have their own large format printers and can provide you with custom printing. You benefit from being able to express your needs for the print to a person instead of a machine and can ask for advice from the people who are printing your images. This is not always the best approach for small print sizes as they tend to be more expensive on the small scale prints. Also quality and professionalism can vary from shop to shop so you may need to shop around.

Crop your Photos Right

Once you've worked out the size you want to print you need to get your crop right. Check all of these when you are cropping your image.

DPI: This means Dots Per Inch and it is a measurement of how many dots of colour are used in every inch of the print. If you can find out the DPI of the printer you are using then add that number into the crop tool you are using. If you don’t know use 300 DPI as a base line as it is the most common. 

Make it the right size: In Photoshop you can enter the size you are printing to and the DPI into the crop tool and see exactly what you are going to get from the size of your print. In Lightroom its trickier because you need to crop your image to the correct aspect ratio and then export it with the correct dimensions. I recommend you do the crop with your image software rather than doing it while you order prints as you will know ahead of time what the crop will look like. 

Remember the bleed: All printers that make edge to edge prints have to allow at lease 2 mm of "Bleed". This is a small boarder around the image that will most likely be cut off when the photo is printed. Make sure you don’t have details or part of your subject too close to the edge of the image because they will be cut off by the bleed.

Over Sharpen

The printer will blur your image a little bit so always sharpen your images more than you think you should before you print. There are no hard and fast rules on how much you should sharpen because every image is different. Use your favourite sharpening tool and when you think it looks light increase it by 10%.

Make it Brighter

Screens are amazing at making details in shadows easier to see but prints will always look darker. This is because a screen is shining light through your image but a print is reflecting light off it. Make sure you watch your histogram and ensure your whites are all the way to the right. Perfect white pixels in the digital file use no ink when printed so if your image has no white pixels you will not have any of the white paper showing. This will bring down the brightness of the whole image.

When you prep an image, particularly a dark one or one with lots of detail in the shadows, make sure you brighten it by half a stop.


Damian WallsComment