Preparing Photos for Print

Preparing Photos for Print

Written by William Algar-Chuklin

Getting a photo print is one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling parts of making a photograph. Let’s talk about what your local printer is expecting from you, and some of the basics on how to get the best prints from a photo printer.

The Rundown:

  • Easy to set up and prepare.
  • The right settings for your photos.
  • Know the basics and you’re set!

The workflow for getting great prints is easy to set and and use, and once you know the proper settings, it’s easy to keep them in mind when shooting photos.

Let’s begin with setting up before you shoot!

Colour Spaces and Camera Settings

A good place to start is with a brief overview of colour spaces. They’re important in displaying your photos and getting accurate prints.

The different colour spaces available are basically a range of possible colours that can be represented with values in that colour space. The more colours a colour space covers the better it is at representing individual colours, but the harder it is for imaging sensors and computer displays to capture and represent the whole range.

The main colour spaces that photographers deal with are sRGB and Adobe RGB. sRGB was built for computer monitors, mobile screens, etc, and is the best supported option available for digital and photo prints. Adobe RGB is able to represent more individual colours, but doesn’t have the support of sRGB, causing issues with displays that are sRGB only. This can present itself as very severe colour banding and incorrect colours being displayed. Not ideal!

The best way to think about it is that you want to capture with the widest range of colours, and then export your photo in a lower colour space.

In terms of cameras, my ideal preference is to set the colour space on the camera to Adobe RGB if possible, and sRGB at the very least. You’ll need to dig around your camera setting to set this, but I think it’s a good photography practice to have.

This leads to using a properly calibrated monitor.

Monitor Calibration Matters!

I’ve covered this in a previous post, and is super easy to achieve with a colour calibrator. Colour calibration will get your monitor as close as possible to representing accurate colours and will help you get prints that look as close to the ones you edited on your computer monitor.

Let’s talk next about the photo edit process.

Aspect Ratios

I think this is one of the more important creative options for photo prints, and something you should keep in mind from the start.

You’ll need to decide whether you want to adhere to the standard photo sizes and fill out all the photo print paper, or you’re happy to cut the excess paper from non standard aspect ratio prints.

I prefer to adhere to the standard print sizes for most of my prints. It guarantees a photo composition that people are used to looking at, and also generally means less cropping my photo in post editing. It’s also sometimes the only option if you were to go with something like a metal print.

If you’re going with the standard sizes, it’s best to see what sizes are offered by a printing place and use those as a locked aspect ratio on a crop in your photo editing software. Keep in mind that the size of the crop doesn’t matter as long as the ratio between the length of the photo and it’s width are respected.

Most camera sensors capture in a 3 x 2 ratio rectangle and is considered a safe printing option, but it’s also common to see 16 : 9 ratio when dealing with some smartphones, and many printing places also support this ratio.

Once you’re happy with the edit to your photo and the composition using the aspect ratio you’ve chosen, then it’s time to dive into the common photo export options that a printing shop will expect.

Exporting for Success!

Photo printers are going to expect files with certain export options selected.

First off, you’ll probably want to sharpen your image for print. Most modern image editing software will have this as an export option. All you need to do is select the medium (i.e. matte paper, glossy paper, canvas, etc) and it should take care of the sharpening for you. As a rule of thumb, you tend to want to sharpen less for glossy prints, and sharpen more for matte prints.

Here are a list of the other common ones:

  • Bit Depth: Given the option, it’s best to select 8-bit instead of 16-bit. Most photo printing places will automatically do this conversion for you, but it’s good to save them the trouble and also end up with a smaller file size for transfer.
  • DPI: For computer monitors a common DPI (dots per inch) is around 72, but for print you’re going to want a much higher resolution. A common (and safe) option is using 300 DPI for your prints.
  • Colour Space: This is where you’re going to want to swap over to sRGB. While some places do handle Adobe RGB in their printing workflows, most don’t, so it’s a safer bet that you’ll get an accurate print by always selecting sRGB on export.
  • File Type: TIFF is a popular option (albeit uncompressed), but my preferred option is a high resolution JPEG. If your DPI is set at 300 at a high resolution, and you’ve got the JPEG image quality set to the max, you won't have an issue with details on prints.
  • Image Size: Be sure to check with your printer shop to see what size images they expect. If in doubt though, a minimum of 2,848 pixels on the short edge will generally guarantee good image quality up to a movie poster size.

Signing Off

A printed photo is one of the best ways to enjoy the fruits of your labour, and I recommend every photographer to at least get one photo printed. It can be wonderfully addictive, and a great way to show off your art to friends and family!

If you need more information, check out some of our other articles on the C.R. Kennedy blog.

William Algar-Chuklin is a night and travel photographer based in Sydney, Australia. You can check out some of his work at walgarch.com and on Flickr

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