What Every Photographer Needs to Know About Printing Photos
If you are serious about showing off your ‘wow’ photographs and are looking towards hanging them in galleries or selling them to be framed in a place of pride, you need to think beyond your camera and computer screen, and consider printers, paper and frames.
You may want to set up your own printing centre and make the developing of your photos part of your art. But even if you do decide to track down a professional photographic service (ie. one that develops wedding photographs will have the equipment to do the job), you need to know the type of file to send and the type of format to ask for.
In short, the trick to amazingly presented photographs is the right printer, quality paper and setting up the job correctly from your computer.
How to Choose a Printer
The most professional printers for photographers who hang in galleries are high-end ‘near-dedicated’ inkjet printers. A good inkjet printer reproduces the information from your photograph and file dot by dot (pixel by pixel) for detail and exactness.
So why ‘near photo dedicated’ and not ‘photo dedicated’ printers? Good question and the answer is simple- photo dedicated printers specialise in the smaller album size photograph formats. They have some sweet little function for grandpa to plug in his camera and choose sizes and borders from the device itself (rather than from your computer). However, we ambitious and artful photographers want to be working from Lightroom and Photoshop, and print in specialised and large formats.
For large format and fine art you need to be looking at ‘fine art photography’ printers that may also be called a ‘near dedicated’ because they can handle other large documents such as architectural blue-prints and digital mock-ups. Printers in this category almost always have a wide range of choices for photo paper including several fine art papers and you can set the up to their size and other requirements from your computer (or even Lightroom). This is great for experimenting with different textures that can bring the printed image to life.
The basic rules of image size and resolutions for printing.
For the record, your high-end inkjet printers will probably be capable of at least dpi of 1200 x 1200. You always want to be printing your image at the highest resolution possible to get the most details and so that the printer has the most information from the original file to make it pop and wow the viewer even when you have expanded it to a large format.
Keep the original ratio of the photograph when resizing the canvas or changing the shape to fit your paper or frame by keeping the ‘maintain aspect ratio’ (or similar in your photo editor) ticked. This means that if you are say, reducing the width of a portrait to make is a square, you are going to have to actually cut some of the photograph out- you can’t change the width and not the length without squeezing or stretching the image.
Managing colour quality and authenticity
If you are shooting in JPG and haven’t changed it on your camera you are probably shooting the colour profile sRGB on your camera. It’s okay but you can get more depths and detail if you work on Adobe RGB on your computer. (There is also something called Photoshop RGB which gives even more detailed options but it can sometimes be more trouble than help, as it can make simply bright colours flair and punch too much).
If you are working in a RAW file when you open it on your computer it has no profile until you render it. Again I would also choose Adobe RGB unless I had some ambitious creative concept in mind.
Saving files for printing
With smaller photographs it won’t matter but most experts say that for a larger file to print at its best quality save it as a TIFF (rather than a JPG).
Setting up your printer
You might want to print a test shot at lower setting to get an idea of the frame or how the image sits on the page, this will save some expensive ink. However, always print the final at the highest settings on your computer (in print settings or in Lightroom print).
It’s also important to change the printer settings to the type of paper you’re using as this definitely has an impact on the final result (and whether or not the paper gets chewed and mangled or not).
Printing from Lightroom
I highly recommend that if you are using Lightroom that you print right from the software. I also recommend that you choose ‘print quality ‘ in Lightroom and let it overide you computer print settings. Lightroom should know more about getting optimum quality from your image than your printer software on your computer.
The right paper
If you want gallery standard images, buy gallery standard paper. It’s actually amazing how the texture of paper can add to the visual sense of a photograph.
Another simple tip that can save you some trouble later is to give your printer extra room when printing on heavy-weight papers so that there is space for it to be held straight behind the printer and so that when you’re print comes out, it remains flat and pristine.
It is usually essential to load thick media one sheet at a time.
Okay, so you won’t be pegging in a dark bathroom full of chemicals smells like the old days but your photograph can still smudge so give it time to dry.
Inkjet printers use liquid ink which takes time to set and I recommend that you lay your masterpiece somewhere flat for about 24 hours to ensure you don’t get any smears or smudges .
If you have any tips and tricks on getting your photos printed, please share them in the comments below.
(photographs of printers all courtesy of Epson or Canon, click on the image to go through to their website).