The satisfaction of holding a print of an image that you took is really something special. And like taking photos, printing is something of an art in itself. The process also includes some technicalities, and as a photographer it’s a good idea to have at least a general understanding of such things. To demystify the photo printing process, Aaron Nace from Phlearn answers some frequently asked questions with help from Xander Fischer, an expert at Print Lab.
Adjusting Brightness For Prints
Most people complain that their prints appear different than how the image appears on screen. One of the major causes for this is that when you’re viewing an image on screen, the display is backlit. Prints, on the other hand, are front lit. So, when the brightness on your screen is cranked up, the images will obviously appear brighter, vibrant, and more saturated. It makes sense that, with a print, you don’t have that same brightness.
“One of the things you need to consider is; how is this print being viewed?”
Do Calibrated Monitors Make Any Difference?
“I think a big misconception about monitor calibration is that it is the end-all solution.”
What you need to understand is that, not all monitors can be accurately calibrated. Monitors other than a print monitor don’t get calibrated very well. And as Fischer pointed out, improper calibration does more harm than good. So, before you go about calibrating your monitor, make sure that it is a dedicated print monitor. Otherwise, just try working with a slightly dimmed screen with decreased contrast.
CMYK or RGB?
“Please don’t send CMYK files.”
CMYK color space is much smaller compared to RGB color space. The CMYK gamut is even smaller than the sRGB color space. CMYK color space is useful especially for offset printing. When it comes to fine art printing, you need to work with an inkjet printer. Inkjet printers print all the colors at once, unlike the offset printer. Also, they can print a larger color space like the Adobe RGB color space.
Resolution and Print Size
A typical 24MP camera can produce a file that can be printed at 20″ x 13.5″ at 300dpi. If you are fine with printing the image at 150dpi, you will get a print that’s double the size i.e. 40″ x 27″.
When enlarging a print, you may try to up-sample your image instead of lowering the dpi. But, there’s a catch. Photoshop’s algorithm can misunderstand small details in an image resulting in unwanted pixelation.
“Personally, I would always prefer a little less sharp that doesn’t have noise and pixelation in it than something that has been interpolated.”
As Fischer explains, when deciding on dpi, it’s a good idea to consider the viewing distance as well. If the print is to be observed from a really close distance, a 300dpi print will appear sharper and detailed. But, if the viewing distance is anything above 4ft, you wouldn’t notice a difference between a print at 300dpi and a print at 150dpi.
What’s a Print Profile (ICC)?
Fischer likes to think of ICC profiles as a translator between two languages. Whenever it sees a certain color, it will change it to another according to the profile. You can have ICC profiles for monitors, cameras, and also printers. They are particularly important in order to reproduce the most accurate colors.
“Every printer has a separate profile for every profile. We calibrate every paper that we use, for every printer that we use.”
Best Paper for Photos
“Part of the art, the craft of printmaking is knowing what paper is going to work for which image.”
There’s no concrete answer to which paper works best. The most suitable paper is subject to the image you want to print. Some images look great on glossy paper – like in case of product photography. On the other hand, a foggy landscape won’t look nearly as good on the same glossy paper; a matte paper would do it better justice.
“You have to choose a paper that enhances the subject that’s in your image.”
Wow – printing is pretty complicated. I hope that this discussion at least helped clear up a few doubts you may have had. There’s always more to learn, though!
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