There are times when pressing the shutter button isn’t enough to create a beautiful print.
It doesn’t matter if you plan to print your photos at home or use a professional photo printing service – these tips will come in handy no matter the approach!
Step 1. Set the color space.
Color management can vary a lot depending on the photo lab you choose, so it’s best to ask them for their profiles or hand them sRGB files. Most of the time sRGB (also known as standard RGB) will work just fine.
Check your color space from within your image editor. In Photoshop, for example, you can control your settings inside the “Convert to Profile” panel that you will find in the Edit menu.
Select “Preserve Embedded Profiles” to make sure you’ll be working in the same color space when opening the file in Photoshop.
sRGB is usually the default color space for most digital cameras, but even if that’s not the case for you, you can switch to it from your camera’s settings.
Step 2. Sharpening the image.
Some sharpening is necessary for all photos, but it’s sad to say a standard sharping formula doesn’t exist. Settings depend on the print size, specific image properties and more.
One way to sharpen your images in Photoshop is to change the mode to Lab Color. Then go to the Channels palette and apply a subtle Smart Sharpen filter on the Lightness channel.
You can also duplicate the image layer, apply a High Pass filter and change the high pass layer blend mode to either Overlay or Soft Light.
You can also apply selective sharpening for areas that actually need it by using layer masks. There are many other techniques and every photographer adjusts them to his or her needs.
Whatever you feel comfortable with, just remember not to exaggerate. Some labs apply some sharpening to the files you send them anyway, so it’s better to keep the sharpening to a minimum.
Step 3. Be careful with aspect ratios.
One common problem that’s often overlooked is the aspect ratio of the original image cannot coincide with that of the final print.
The ratio of the photo should match that of the print so nothing important is cropped out.
One way to do this is to create a blank document to match the print size, copy and paste the photo into it and adjust the photo to the document.
In Photoshop, it will help if you turn the image layer into a Smart Object to preserve the quality of the original as much as possible.
Most image editors also include a crop tool with presets for most print sizes. You can select the desired ratio, drag the tool over your original photograph and adjust the crop to fit your composition.
Step 4. JPG is your friend.
Even though JPG is shunned by some purists, compression issues will probably turn out almost unnoticeable if you save the photos with very high JPG settings and then print at reasonable sizes.
You can choose to save in the PNG format, as PNG is lossless and still quite small in terms of file size. PNG is also ideal for graphics that require preserving transparencies, but it is unlikely you will need such a feature in photo printing.
However, not all printing labs accept PNG files, so you might have to convert your PNGs into JPGs whether you want to or not.
Some labs accept TIF but it’s very heavy and not as easy to work with. JPG is still the most printer-friendly format for photos, so don’t be afraid to use it.
Step 5. Monitor and printer calibration.
If you are printing your images yourself instead of sending them to a professional lab, the tips above won’t necessarily be enough to ensure the photos will turn out nice. If your monitor and printer are not calibrated correctly, colors might look inaccurate on the print.
Calibration is often just a question of trial and error. If you want to know about the correct way of calibrating your devices, you should start by checking the manuals for both your monitor and printer or the manufacturer’s site for detailed instructions.
That's all, folks.
If you want your professional photos delivered to you quickly without any stress, it’s best to either find a local commercial lab or try one of the many printing services available online.
With time, resources and patience, home printing may be a better choice, especially if you want full control over your prints.