Preparing Images for Print

Printed images can contain more colours (they have a different colour ‘gamut’) than digital images on a screen.  In addition, a high quality print is made up of very many more coloured ‘dots’ than an image on a screen — it has higher resolution.

High quality images, which:

  • are sharp where they need to be;
  • retain the maximum number of original pixels, and therefore the maximum amount of colour and tone information from the original capture;
  • retain at least the all the colours that can be reproduced by a photo printer,

can be very satisfactorily enlarged for exhibition sized prints.

On the other hand, images that have been compressed, or downsized, or have had colour information thrown away, often cannot be satisfactorily upsized for printing. Enlarging such images usually introduces jagged edges, ‘pixelated’ areas, and stray colour ‘artefacts’. In short, they’re no good.

If you are preparing an image that you may want to print, for yourself, for competition entry, or for exhibition, then you should follow the good practice ‘rules’ for maximising digital image quality so that you do not lose the colours and resolution that your digital image is capable of providing.

In summary:

  1. Shoot in RAW if possible
  2. If it is necessary to shoot JPEG, shoot only maximum resolution, maximum quality JPEG, encoded in Adobe RGB, and save to disk in TIFF file format;
  3. Don’t edit original image files;
  4. Never edit JPEG files.

These ‘rules’ are particularly important  if you may ever want to print ‘enlargements’ — prints bigger than about 10″ x 8″.

Assuming that:

  • you have captured a good image; and
  • you have taken steps to preserve image data quality; and
  • your computer monitor is well calibrated and profiled, so that you are confident that what you see is accurate; and
  • you are happy that the adjustments you have made to the image have enhanced it; and
  • you have resized and/or resampled the image to an appropriate size for your print; and
  • you have installed the correct profile for your printer, the paper you are printing on, and the ink-set you are using,

how do you ensure that the image you see is printed with the same colours on your printer?

You have two basic choices when you want to print your image:

  • The first is to use the printer driver to control colour.  To do this you could print your file using the OEM print application, like Epson’s ‘Photo Quicker’, Canon’s ‘Easy Photo Print’, or you could select “Printer manages colour” in the Print Output dialogue of your favourite photo editing application (e.g. Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, Aperture, etc).  This is not the best approach because to get standard colours you need to override the printer driver’s default generic colour settings which will give you only approximate colours, at best.  
  • The better approach is to take control of colour management by using ICC colour profile conversions.  In this approach you will use tools in the photo editing application to manage the colour conversion of your image from the device independent working colour space into the device dependent colour space defined by your printer profile.

In the print module of your photo software, do not choose “Let Printer manage colours”

Getting it right is a two-step process.

(i)  In the print dialogue of your photo application

Depending on the application you are using, there will be a panel or tab in the print output dialogue that enables you to control colour management.  In that dialogue you make the choice to use the colour profile of the printer, paper, and ink that you are using to convert the image data to the proper colour space for your printer, paper and ink.

Here’s how to make the choice in Photoshop Elements:

Having selected the printer and paper size in the Print module, click in turn:  More Options; Color Management; Color Handling; “Photoshop manages Colors”; and finally, the correct printer profile.Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.05.23 pm

And here is how to make the same choice in Lightroom (in the ‘Color Management’ sub-panel.)

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.12.28 pm

Click in the ‘Profile’ box, then select the appropriate profile for your paper.

The interface in other applications may look slightly different from these, but the intention will be the same:  you want the colour- managed photo application to handle the image colour conversion to the print profile, and not to let the printer driver manage that process.

(ii) In the printer driver

In the printer driver you need to select the appropriate media setting for the paper you’re using. (usually under some option like ‘Quality’ or ‘Quality and Media’ or ‘Paper Type’).  This setting is not a colour setting, but determines the quantity of ink laid down.  The optimum amount depends on the nature of the paper surface, so varies with different papers.  If you make the wrong choice you may get too much ink which maynot dry, and/or may smudge or run.  Too little ink could leave blotchy patches.

You need to ensure too, that the printer driver does not apply any subsequent colour conversion.  In the driver (whose interface usually appears after you press ‘Print’ in the application), you need to ensure the option “no colour correction” or “No colour management” or “Turn Colour Management Off” is selected.  Note: this is not an issue if you happen to be using Apple Mac OS X because once you tell the application to manage colour, the option for the driver to do it is automatically removed.


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