Many photographers outsource their printing. And interestingly enough this is the preferred way of printing for those folks simply because printing can be complicated and usually involves learning a whole new set of skills not to mention the financial burden of expensive inks and large format printers.
To others though, printing their own images is necessary in that it offers the photographer yet another aspect of control over the final, important “presentation” stage of their artwork.
Indeed printing can be complicated. It’s not within the scope of this blog post to describe everything to do with the print process. However, I have found that many photographers often opt for the “hit and miss” style of self-printing. That is, sometimes the printed image looks alright, and sometimes it doesn’t. But by understanding a few key concepts that are integral to the print process, one could certainly expect better results consistently.
The first concept to understand is that your computer monitor on the machine you do your editing with has got to be properly calibrated. There are a number of different calibration tools available to photographers that are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Datacolor and X-Rite are a few manufacturers that come to mind. The end result of using a colorimeter is that it will create a calibration profile that you will use for your monitor. You are in effect putting a pair of corrective “eyeglasses” on your monitor so that white is white, black is black, colours are accurate, and contrast and brightness levels are properly set.
The second important thing to understand is that your editing software and your camera will usually be sharing the same colour space setting. The most common colour space is sRGB. Check your editing software to make sure you know what setting it’s using.
So now you know that all the colours your monitor is showing you as well as black point, white point, contrast, and gamma levels are accurate. You also know what colour space (colour environment) you’re working in on both your camera and your editing software.
The third very important concept to understand is that the process of putting a photograph on paper will usually produce an image that looks flat, lacks contrast, and may even have tonal and brightness shifts that differ according to the various paper types and surfaces used for printing as well as the printers themselves. For this reason, it is necessary to download and install the proper ICC printing profiles in the software you’ll be using to make the print. The profiles are available from the various paper manufactures or publishers. For example, if you knew that you were going to be printing on an Epson ultra photo lustre paper, you would make sure you had that ICC profile selected in your print settings.
In addition, your printing and editing software should have this ICC profile installed and selected in the “proofing” settings section so that you can soft proof the image before it is printed. “Soft proofing” shows you what your image will look like when it is printed on a certain type of paper by a certain printer. When you’re done editing you image to your satisfaction, you can create a duplicate image that will be used for printing. This duplicate image will be soft proofed and may have to be further edited until the soft-proofed duplicate closely resembles the original when the images are placed side by side.
Printing digital images accurately and consistently is not for the faint of heart. But for those who wish to pursue an even greater level of satisfaction by seeing a beautiful printed image that looks exactly like what the artist had in mind, it is well worth learning a little about key printing concepts.
1.) computer monitor is calibrated using a colorimeter
2.) colour space set properly on camera and in editing software
3.) proper ICC printing profiles are installed and selected in your print settings
4.) proper ICC print profiles are installed in the soft proofing settings of your printing/editing software so that you can create an image for printing that is a match of your original image