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How to Prepare Images for Printing

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Prepare images for print

Seeing a finished image displayed online is always a nice feeling but actually holding a physical print gives a completely different type of satisfaction. It’s not until the image is printed and hung on a wall that the entire process is finished. However, making a good print usually not as straightforward as one would think and most of us have experienced finding that the image printed doesn’t look nearly as good as it does online.

Prepare images for printing

There are many reasons that they don’t look as good printed but most come back to the fact that we’ve failed to prepare the image for printing. We’ve simply just sent the processed file to the print store (or printed it ourselves). Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to get a good result without doing a bit more beforehand.

Don’t worry, though! It doesn’t take a lot of effort to get the printed image to look just as good as the online version. There are only a few simple steps we need to follow:

1. Sharpen the Image

If you’re a Photoshop user and already use Raya Pro, you might already know that you should resize and sharpen an image to make it optimal for the web. When preparing an image for printing you also need to sharpen the image but the methods will be slightly different.

An image that will be printed needs to be sharpened more than an image that is prepared for online display. In fact, you need to sharpen it until it almost looks like it’s too much (be aware, the line between over-sharpened and under-sharpened is thin).

How much you need to sharpen an image before printing varies with each image. Typically, images with a lot of details need to be sharpened more than images consisting of mostly sky or soft surfaces such as still water (keep in mind that we don’t want to add unnecessary noise when sharpening).

There are various methods to sharpen images for print but I prefer to use the Unsharp Mask in Adobe Photoshop and manually mask in the areas I wish to sharpen. This lets me have full control and target only specific areas of the image.

For more detailed information on how you can sharpen images for print, I highly recommend viewing this short tutorial by Zack Schnepf:

2. Soft Proofing

The next thing you’ll notice when comparing the printed version and the digital version is that the colors are not the same. In fact, it’s extremely rare that you’re able to reproduce the exact colors you have on the digital file (however, you’re able to make it look almost identical).

There are several reasons to why your image doesn’t look as good printed as it does on the web:

  • You’re printing in sRGB (the color space ideal for web)
  • Your monitor is not calibrated
  • The color profile selected does not match the printer

Soft Proofing is a simple method used to visualize what the printed image will look like. You can do this in both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop as well as in other photography related softwares.

Prepare images for printing

When Soft Proofing, you’re able to choose between different color spaces and different printers (plus make your own presets). With the correct printer and color space selected, you can continue making adjustments to the saturation, color balance and sharpness until the image resembles the original version.

A similar technique that was more common amongst photographers in the past was Hard Proofing, which means printing a test image and then making further adjustments afterward. While many still do this today, it is an expensive and time-consuming method especially considering you’re able to get almost as good a result by using Soft Proofing.

Calibrate the Monitor

Having a correctly calibrated monitor is the most important factor when you want to prepare images for printing. Without a calibrated monitor you won’t know what the image actually looks like.

Calibrating the monitor means that you’re making adjustments to the color balance, saturation, contrast and brightness of the monitor. This is something everyone should do even if they don’t plan on printing an image. If the colors of your monitor are off, it means that all your images look different on other devices than what you see. Normally, this becomes most visible when getting a physical print.

There are various tools out there that you can use to calibrate the monitor. I’ve been using the Datacolor Spyder5Pro and have had great results with it.

3. Resize the Image

Resizing the image might not be an essential step to prepare images for printing but I tend not to send the full-size image to be printed. Also, when printing large images we need to enlarge the file. Enlargement is slightly more complicated and is too big of a topic to cover in this article. However, I highly recommend Mark Metternich’s video course Mastering Fine Art Printing and Color Management which also goes into detail about enlargement.

Resizing the image is not time-consuming, though, if you’re not enlarging the image. Simply open the image in Adobe Photoshop then go to Image -> Image Size and choose the size you wish to print in (for example 60x40cm).

Now you’re ready to print the image! As I mentioned above, keep in mind that different printers and materials might have different demands. Some products might require you to sharpen a little more while others need you to increase the saturation slightly. Contacting your local print shop and ask what printer they are using is often a good idea if you want the perfect result.

Do you have any routines you follow when printing images? Let us know in a comment below!


Ultimate Sharpening Workflow for Fine Art PrintingFor a deeper and more detailed explanation on how you can create high-quality prints, this processing video by master printmaker Mark Metternich teaches you everything you need to know from A-Z.

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