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How To Get The Best Prints At Home Or From The Lab

By Holly Roa on May 26th 2018

DIY printing can be a frustrating endeavor, but when your final print shows every detail exactly as you want it the rewards are there. There’s a bit of a learning curve, though, and if you set out on your own without a little instruction on printing, you’ll likely end up wasting a lot of paper and ink, and wondering why nothing looks like it should.

If you’d rather forgo the hassle of making your own prints and put your work in the hands of trained professional printers, there are still considerations to ensure best results. Landscape photographer Adam Karnacz dispenses his printing wisdom for those of you who would like to see your work in the physical plane (and you should) in a new video which you can find at the end of this post.

Karnacz sees printing as the final step, the last bit of the creation process that actually brings your photograph to life. Using Adobe Lightroom and a Canon printer he shows the viewer his exact workflow for printing.

How To Print

1) In Lightroom, make a virtual copy of the photo you want to print.
This step allows you to make changes to your image specifically for print. Computer screens are backlit, prints are not. It seems obvious when you think about it, but many photographers who are new to printing wonder why their printed photos never look as bright as they do on the screen. To counteract this effect, brighten your virtual copy’s exposure by a quarter to a half stop.

2) Choose a paper type.
There are three main types of photo paper, and which one you choose will depend on personal taste as well as a few practical points. The types are glossy, semi-gloss/luster, and matte.

Glossy holds saturated colors the best of the three and is a good choice for highly saturated landscapes. Semi-gloss/luster is the most versatile of the three. It’s well-suited for framing and is what Karnacz chooses for the majority of his prints. Matte is the third type, and cotton rag varieties are the highest quality and best for archival. Matte paper holds the most black ink and is excellent for black and white prints.

3) Use ICC profiles.
ICC profiles give both monitors and printers instructions on what to do with colors. Each paper has its own ICC profile which is usually downloadable from the manufacturer’s site, and labs will often have profiles you can download as well.

[Rewind:] Printing & Print Prep With Photoshop With Michael Woloszynowicz

The reason to use them is two-fold. As you work in Lightroom or Photoshop, you can ‘soft-proof’ your image to get an idea as to how it will look printed using your paper’s ICC profile and can make needed adjustments to the file.

Then, when you choose the correct ICC profile as you print, the printer is informed precisely what will work best for your paper. ICC profiles are vital for color-correct prints.

4) If you are sending your photo to a lab, it’s time to export. You’ll need to check with your lab for some of the particulars in what they accept or prefer, but Karnacz’s big recordation here is that you export a TIF file. He says most high-end labs will take a TIF, and they contain the most data of printer-friendly file types to make sure your print looks amazing.

In the end, both methods have their pluses and minuses. Printing yourself allows for the greatest control in your output, but it can be expensive in both dollars and time. High-end printers aren’t cheap, nor is the ink they use. The best papers can be pricey, too, and some will invariably end up wasted as you try for the perfect print.

Should You DIY Or Use A Lab?

Printing via pro lab offers greater versatility. Labs will have access to larger printers than the average person keeps at home, and will have a variety of paper types that you can choose a la carte with no obligation to buy a whole pack or roll. The downside is that you give up your control, and occasionally will receive a result you don’t like.

This is just a taste of what Karnacz has to offer in his video, check out the rest below.

About

Seattle based photographer with a side of videography, specializing in work involving animals, but basically a Jill of all trades.
Instagram: @HJRphotos

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Mathieu Pothier

    Working in a lab that is fully digital since more than 12 years (and almost 50 years in business) and TIF does not make any difference vs JPG provided that it is the correct size. One thing that it does however, is clogging the pipeline because of their size…. we print millions of images and we convert all TIF to JPG before sending to machines….

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