I can’t think of anything more satisfying then seeing one of my Images printed large and hung on my wall. Well, maybe hung on someone else’s wall I like better. But either way, seeing that large print just completes things for me.
So I would encourage YOU to print your images and I’ll give you some tips to get great prints because many people don’t print anymore or haven’t printed since they got their digital cameras so they aren’t always familiar with the process.
This will be about printing at a commercial lab not home printing. Home printing on Large format Inkjet printers is and art and science all to itself and most people can’t afford to spend what it takes to do it right, so for their large format prints (larger than 8 x 10) most people turn to commercial labs.
Now if you want, you can off course go to the local drug store or big box stores like Wal-Mart and Costco. Most are now offering larger size prints and even things like stretched Canvas Gallery wraps but I would encourage you to use some of the consumer arms of professional labs or, well, if you are a professional, those professional labs.
The prints are of a much higher quality on quality papers and done by technicians that know what they are doing to assure the best possible prints.
I use Bay Photo labs but I have a professional account with them. However anyone can get their services if you use SmugMug Besides access to great Bay Prints, SmugMug is a fantastic photo sharing site and community serving both amateur or professional photographers
One of the other labs you may want to try is MPIX.com, they are the consumer arm of Miller’s professional labs. and offer a wide variety of Print products.
All online labs allow you to upload your images, choose your sizes of prints, pay for and then have your prints shipped directly to your door. Some even offer it the next day so while it may not be as quick as your 1-Hour lab (why do they always ask when I want my prints back? Ummm…in an …hour?) It is plenty quick and convenient.
There are generally two types of prints from Digital Files
- True Photographic prints also known as Digital – C Prints, Light jet or Lambda Prints. These prints are made on true light sensitive Photo papers that are excited by a laser and finished in a traditional photographic process
- Giclėe (pronounced zhee- clay) are Fine art Ink Jet Prints printed on a variety of papers from Photographic style; Glossy, semi, Gloss, matte. To fine art type papers
Either style can give you a very high quality print but they just have different looks and qualities. Digital-C prints tend to have a higher dynamic range and deeper blacks, but it can depend highly on what your images look like and how you want them to appear. The best thing to do is to get some sample prints made in different styles to determine what you like best.
Preparing your Image Files – Resolution
Probably the most confusing thing that people fid about printing and photo files themselves is; resolution. PPI, DPI, 8 x 10, 4800 x 3600, 250ppi, 300ppi, 360ppi etc etc etc…Yikes.
OK, so let’s make some sense of this all.
Your digital photo files have a pixel x pixel resolution. In the case of My Canon 5D, my images come off the camera at 2880 x 4320. This is the most important number you need to know. Forget just about everything else you may have heard or known. These are the numbers that matter when it comes to Resolution and printing.
The other number you will hear a lot about is PPI, or Pixels Per Inch. This number ends up being the source of more confusion than any other. But I will try to show you how to best use this number
From these numbers we can determine how big of a print we can make. All Print labs have a Recommended PPI Resolution and also a Minimum PPI Resolution. In most cases, labs recommend 250PPI for Digital- C prints and 300PPI for Giclėe prints. Most labs have a minimum resolution requirement of 100PPI
How do I determine my PPI for the print I want to have made?
Forget about what your image may say: “I have a 3000 x 2000 @ 300 PPI image or I have a 3000 x 2000 @ 72 ppi” PPI in that context does not matter one bit. Both of those digital files are identical in size.
So, the first thing you need to know is; Your Pixel by Pixel resolution and then the size print you want to have made. We’ll use my 5D image for example
File size 2880 x 4320 and I want to have a 12” x 18”, I simple divide the file size by the print size
2880 / 12” = 240ppi
4320 / 18” = 240ppi
So I know from the PPI number I got, that is close to the ideal ppi my print lab (250ppi) needs to make an excellent quality print. Don’t try to be perfect, close is good.
What if I want to make a larger print, say 20” x 30” I simply do the math again.
2880/ 20 = 144ppi
4320 /30 = 144ppi
My ppi is now 144. It’s less than the perfect number but still well within the minimum requirements my lab needs to print me a great print.
Now I really want to go big. I want to make a Wall Size 40” x 60” Print. Let’s do the math one more time
2880/ 40 = 70ppi
4320/ 60 = 70ppi
My ppi is 70. NOW I have a problem. This print size is below the minimum ppi resolution my lab requires and it will make for a poor quality print. (I will give a possible solution at the end of this post)
Now that you know you have a large enough file for the size print you want to have made. Let’s make sure that the file is in best shape to be uploaded and printed
Color profiles or ICC profiles are the bits of information in your images that tell others or other devices, this color is this color. The major ones we use are sRGB, Adobe RGB, and Pro Photo RGB. If you don’t know which one you use you are probably using sRGB but you can check your file’s EXIF data to tell you what your file is.
Most labs either have a color profile they want the files in or at the very least, ask that you embed the profile in the image so they know what to do with that file. For instance MPIX requires that your file be sRGB. While Bay will accept either sRGB or Adobe RGB as long as you embed the profile into your image. Check with your lab
Lightroom while it works for the most part in Pro Photo RGB, when you select an image for Export you can tell Lightroom what profile you want to use and Lightroom will convert the profile upon export (check your export settings)
Photoshop has a working profile that you set. But even if you are say working in Adobe RGB, before you save a print copy, you can Convert the profile to any you want by going to Edit> Convert to Profile and then save your image with that profile embedded.
Speaking of saving your file, almost every lab will accept JPEG files; some will also accept Tiff or other file types. Check first to make sure before you upload. Even though my portfolio files are all saved as either Tiff or PSD files, when I make a print copy, I save them as JPEGs for universal use at any of the labs I use. JPEGs even though they get a bad rap sometimes are fine for your print file. Save your JPEGs at the highest quality your software provides.
Nothing get new photographers mad than trying to understand cropping. They go to order an 11” x 14” print and can’t understand why parts of their image are cut off.
Aspect ratios: Most DSLRs have as aspect ration of 2:3 this translates in to print sizes of 4” x 6” and multiples there off.
But the problem is a lot of the common print sizes are based on either popular Frame size or print size of days gone by (that film stuff) So we have print sizes of 5” x 7”, 8” x 10” 11” x 14” or 16” x 20”. None of those sizes match up to our 2:3 aspect ratio of our Digital Images so part of our photos MUST be cut off to fit those sizes. So if you want to print in those sizes, you must keep this in consideration when shooting and shoot larger to allow that part will be cut off when you print.
The good news is, the frame industry and the print labs have known the photographers frustration with this so they have begun offering both prints and frames and/or mats, to work with the standard aspect ratios of DSLR camera.
Other sizes that require no cropping are:
6” x 9”
8” x 12”
12” x 18”
16” x 24”
20” x 30”
24” x 36”
Soft-proofing ( Advanced – Photoshop Full Version only)
This section is for more advanced user and those that use Photoshop (the full version) If you’re not skip over it, you’ll be fine.
We want our prints to look like what we see on our screen but the truth is Prints are different than what our image looks like on screen. Prints are front illuminated; Our LCD screens are back-lit. Also every print machine is different, every paper is different, they have a different look to them. They respond to different colors differently.
So how can we know ahead of time what our prints will look like? By soft-proofing.
Soft-Proofing is a simulation of what the combination of Machines and papers will look like. A Lot of print labs have ICC Profiles that you can download that you can use with Photoshop to do that simulation. Once you download the profile from the lab and install that profile to the correct location on your computer. In Photoshop you go to View> Proof Set-up and Custom. From there you will drop down a list of profiles till you find the one you want. Then by Ctrl +Y or (Cmd+Y mac) , you can toggle between your image ad the print simulation to see if you need to make any changes to the file to make it as good as you can get printed.
For more in-depth information on soft-proofing simply Google it. There are some good explanations to be found.
I cannot stress this enough how great it is to see your work in print. Even in my own home I have many 20 x 30 Standout Prints, 16 x 24 Matted and Framed Prints, 36 x 36 Stretched Canvas Gallery warps and even a 48” x 48” Photo Mural printed directly on Aluminum Metal (LOVE these). So give it a try.
One last thing to consider once you get your prints on the wall is how they are illuminated. Proper lighting on a photograph can make all the difference in the world. Whether that is halogen spots or Track-lights or just Portrait Lights Hung over a Framed Print. Putting good light on that print will be the difference between blah and wow.
OK, I know that was a lot to read on something that seems as simple as getting a print but I appreciate you making it all the way thorough.
Addendum: I said earlier I would talk about what to do if you want a bigger print than your file was capable of. One of the things you can try is resizing the image. Unfortunaly resing a image with too few pixels intoi a really large print usually is not that sucessful. If however you have a very good quality image that is sharp and low noise you can use a bit of software that has gotten me out of trouble many times. OnOne’s Perfect Resize (formally Genuine Fractals. This software uses a very powerful resizin algorythm that is much different than what we can do in our normal editing software. The good thing is we can try it and then see for ourselves how the image looks at that size and see if it has too many resizing artifacts tpmprint well. In most cases with a good file you can get at Least the next biggest size print than what you were capable before and sometimes much more than that.
To download and Try Or Buy OnOne’s Perfect Resize Click HERE, For 10% off your purchase of any onOne Software Title, enter the Coupon Code: THEHDRIMAGE10 at check out
Hope that helps,