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Photography tips - How to get cheap professional 'photographic' photograph printing

 25th Jan 2010

photography printing tipsFor less than the cost of printing at home or through an online mass market printer you can have professional photographic prints with clear, bright, vibrant colours that match what you see on your monitor.

We all love the excitement of pressing the shutter on a ‘good one’, but how do we go from an image in the camera to a beautiful print on the wall without spending a fortune?

Photography printing ‘photographically’ means you get a proper photograph printed using traditional silver crystal technology just like in the days of film. Only instead of the image coming from your film negative ­ it’s produced from your digital file.

In the last photography tip I explained how to calibrate your ink-jet printer so you print whatever you see on screen. This time let’s look at professional, cost effective photographic printing.

First let me explain the basic difference between professionally colour managed printing vs mass market photography printing.

The consumer mass market can’t properly colour manage because most people don’t know which of the two colour spaces (SRGB or Adobe RGB) they’re using or have a calibrated monitor.

Bulk photo printing companies are pre-programmed for the average picture taken in average conditions. And for average images they generally do a fair job. If your images are more than average - you may find what you get back isn’t what you thought you’d sent!

For example a close up of something predominately red like a freshly painted UK post box with a gold ‘ER’ logo is likely come out magenta with cyan letters. This is because the machine has been programmed that average pictures aren’t almost entirely red. It will try to lose some of it by adding loads of cyan. Causing you loads disappointment when your get the print back!

A colour managed lab will use one colour space and ask you to prepare your image files in a specific way for them to ensure what you send them is what you get back on the print.

Colour managed photography printing sounds scary - but in reality it’s just a few clicks. There’s no need to get to get flustered by it.

Ever stood outside the TV shop window and watched Natasha Kaplinsky reading the news? On one set she’ll be darker, lighter and redder on another, possibly a bit pale on a third …  You get my drift?

Computer screens display colours differently from each other just like TVs, so you have to calibrate so you know your screen matches another calibrated screen - or printing device.

photo-printing-assignSo to make certain your monitor matches everyone else you must buy a monitor Spyder and calibrate it so you know you’re working with accurate colours.

The next step in colour accurate photograph printing is to choose a pro lab. I use ProAm Imaging because at £1.25 for an 18x12 inch colour accurate print - it’s a bargain.

You don’t have to use the same lab as me. There are many labs out there if you ‘Google’ for them, but I know ProAm are consistent and fast so I’m happy to recommend them.

File preparation varies from lab to lab as it depends on the system they use. Labs working in SRGB will want you to prep the files differently to those working in Adobe RGB. A good lab will give you simple step by step file preparation instructions on their website.

photo-printing-assign-2Because of this I can’t give you chapter and verse on what each lab wants ­ but here are some pointers on what to look for …

  • Make sure their website has step by step file preparation instructions
  • A good lab will be happy to help so ask them to do a couple of test prints for you to make sure everything’s working right.
  • Check to see if you can upload prepared files directly so you don’t have to burn onto CD and post them
  • When you know if the lab uses Adobe RGB or Srgb ­ look up SRGB or Adobe RGB in your camera’s hand book and set it to use the chosen colour space.

I can also give you instructions on ‘Assigning’, ‘Re-sizing’ and ‘Converting’ - three steps you’ll probably be asked to complete on your finally tweaked images in order to prep them.  Always do this in the order it’s written.

I’m showing you how in Photoshop, but these steps can be done in any good image editing software. Illustrations in order below the Rose at the top :-)

Assigning a profile ­ do it before you do anything else …
This is so their machine knows which colour space the image is in.

  1. Open you image in Photoshop
  2. From the main menu choose image ­ mode ­ assign profile
  3. In the dialogue box that opens scroll to and choose ‘Adobe RGB (1998)’ or ‘SRGB’ according to what your lab has asked for

photo-printing-croppingRe-sizing your image to the print size you want …

  1. Click on the ‘Crop’ tool
  2. In the 'crop' options that appear beneath the main menu type the width you want in the ‘Width Box followed by the unit of measurement. IE. cm or in.
  3. In the ‘Height’ box type the height you want followed by cm or in (eg ­ 6in) In the resolution box type the resolution the printers asked for. (ProAm use 402 ppi for all normal work)
  4. Drag the crop cursor from corner to corner of the image and press enter. Your image is now the size and resolution asked for.

photo-printing-convertingConverting to a custom colour profile …
Your chosen lab will almost certainly give you a custom colour profile for their printing machines to convert your images to before sending them in.

To install them on a PC just double click on it once you’ve got it and it’ll install itself. On a Mac follow the labs own instructions on where to place it in the system.

‘Converting’ is the final step to ensure your images are printed just the way you want them.

  1. From the main menu choose image ­ mode ­ convert to profile.
  2. In the dialogue box that opens scroll to and choose the custom profile given to you by the lab.
  3. Make a folder on your hard drive labelled with the size you want the image to be and save a copy of this re-sized and profiled image into it. (Be sure you keep the original un-changed version in case you want another different sized print).
  4. Once an image has been converted ­ leave it alone even if it looks a bit different to the way it was before. (The reason why is very long winded and techie - so trust me on this. Just don’t alter an image after it’s been converted.)

mike free
I you’d like to know more about shooting the images you’ve always wanted ­ take a look at our Masterclass in Photography. It has all this information and more written in easy everyday language to help you get capture and print the images you’ve always hoped for.