Tips for Printing Your Favorite Photographs
Did you know that printing is an art? Consumer print labs are in such abundance today that it’s easy to forget that printing is an art form. My very first job was at a photography studio. I worked in the office (I had no idea I’d one day be a photographer). I remember hearing the lab technician at the studio talk about printing and the difference between consumer and professional print labs. This was back in the day when film was still the main medium used by professional photographers.
I didn’t understand what she meant by the difference. She would mention things about ink and printer quality, but it all went over my head. One day I decided to have a roll of film developed from a trip I’d taken to France. I wanted to frame some of my favorite shots in a collage. So I took my film into work and had some 4x6s printed. When I got those prints home and compared them to the ones in my photo album that were printed at Walmart, I was AMAZED at the difference. The colors were SO MUCH BETTER in the prints from the pro-lab at the studio where I worked. I went back to work the next day and asked why the pro-lab prints were so much better. That was what opened my eyes to the differences between professional print labs and labs that offer free prints by the hundreds.
Do I print all my personal photos at a professional lab? No. But when it’s something special that I’m going to hang on my wall, or place in a tabletop frame, I definitely think it’s worth it to go the pro-lab route. Digital images are included with all of my packages, so I want my clients to feel free to print photos on their own, but there are definitely some tips for getting good results. Today I’m sharing some of those tips with y’all! I’m calling this post Printing 101!
It starts with where you print
Where you print your photos matters. Big box stores offer low prices and if you’ve just gotten back from your honeymoon, or that Disney World vacation and have hundreds of photos to print, that might be the best route to go. Don’t let those photos just live on your phone. However, if you’re gifting some photos from your latest portrait session to grandma and grandpa for Christmas, you probably want to be a bit more selective about where you print.
Mpix.com has long been my favorite online source for consumer prints. This is the best online consumer lab that I’ve been able to find and I personally use them to print all my personal prints that I want to put in photo albums just as documentation. They’re the option in between big box stores and professional labs. Their quality has always been consistent for me and the best results I’ve gotten outside of printing from my pro-lab. Locally, we have Calagaz Photo, which is my favorite place to get my personal photos printed when I need them ASAP. Prints size 8×10 or smaller are usually ready within one hour. Larger sizes may take a few days. If you’re local to Mobile, Alabama and need prints quickly, this is the place to go. You can even order them online so you only have to go to the store for pickup.
Why is there a price difference?
It comes down to printer, ink and paper quality. Professional labs are going to have the best. Inks and paper from a pro-lab will retain their quality over a longer period of time. The pro-lab I use for all of my client print orders estimates their prints will still look as good in 100 years as they do today, provided that they are not exposed to excessive sunlight, water damage, etc. I have prints from Shutterfly that are barely 10 years old that have already started to fade quite a bit (and that’s even the ones that have been in acid free photo albums). Big box stores can offer lower prices and lots of free prints because they are printing on lower quality paper with lower quality ink. This is why you’ll often see less vibrance in big box store prints when compared to pro-lab prints.
Color Correction & Your Prints
Many consumer labs apply color correction to photographs when printing. This is because the average person’s photos need a little correction to brightness, contrast and color. When printing professionally edited photographs, applying further color correction when printing will often cause the final print to appear too red, too blue or too green. They can also over saturate, or desaturate, the colors, completely altering the final look of the photo. If you’ve invested in a portrait session with a photographer whose style you love, then you want your prints to come out the way they edited them, not the way the mass-production consumer lab altered them to appear. When ordering from consumer labs, look for an option to “Print Files Without Color Correction” for a more accurate result. Mpix.com has an option in the shopping cart to turn off color correction. When I order from Calagaz, I simply write in the notes section on the order form to “Print Files As Is Without Color Correction.”
Prints vs. Photo Books vs. Specialty Products
Many online consumer labs have various tiers of print quality. I’ve noticed that standard 4×6 prints from many online labs are often darker, duller and more green tinted than photos I print from my professional lab. However, I have many clients that use online consumer labs to make photo books and these seem to use higher quality papers and inks. Consider what you’re printing when making a decision about where to print. For photo books, I personally love Blurb and Apple photo books. Both have easy to use design software and the print quality is consistent and very close to my pro-lab product prints.
How Ratios Affect Printing
Have you ever ordered that 8×10 photo only to discover that it trimmed off some of the people in the shot? This happens because the 8×10 ratio is a different ratio than the camera’s native ratio. This is why I often shoot group shots with lots of breathing room around the edges. If it’s something I think a client will want at size 8×10, 11×14 or 16×20, I know those ratios are going to cut into my shot quite a bit. Keep ratios in mind when ordering prints and be sure to adjust your “crop” in the shopping cart. By default, online shopping carts will center the trim lines, but this isn’t always the best option depending on the photo. Be sure to double check all the trimming before hitting that “Place Order” button. When my clients order from their online galleries, I always double check the trimming for this very reason.
Below is an example of adjusting the crop in the shopping cart. With this portrait, Katie and Patrick aren’t terribly off center in the frame, so the center crop is still decent. However, if they were further off center in the original composition, the center crop would not work.
For this particular portrait, I prefer the crop adjusted so that Katie and Patrick are centered in the frame.
Don’t forget to hit “Save” after adjusting your crop!
Size maters. If printing a professionally taken portrait at a size larger than size 8×10, it’s probably best to order that print directly from your photographer so that they can prepare the file for printing at that specific size. Sometimes little details stand out so much more on an enlargement than they do on sizes 8×10 or smaller. I include a fine tune retouch for all prints that my clients order above size 8×10. You also want those enlargements to have the best possible color quality and sharpness since they’re likely to be on display for many years to come. I love the gallery wall that I have in my office. I am always rotating out some of my favorite prints. These are all size 11×14. This also helps me keep a check on my monitor calibration to make sure I’m seeing accurate color when I edit!
Don’t Forget to Print
Yes, our phones make it super easy for us to have quick access to all our photos, but there is something wonderfully nostalgic about printing your photos and framing them, or creating printed photo books. Don’t forget to print those photos that you paid to have taken, or those favorite cell phone shots that you’ve made your profile picture on Facebook. I love to make photo books from vacations, or special milestones. Every year I make calendars for my immediate family that double as an “album of the year” and contain several of my favorite photos. I mix in iPhone shots right along with my professional photos.
If you take a lot of photos on your phone (as most of us do), then check out Chatbooks. It’s a great way to document everyday life. My dear friend Laura has an amazing collection and says that her daughters love nothing more than flipping through them. Check out her display in the photo below! I loved capturing her Chatbooks collection when I did a “Day in the Life” portrait session for her family!
That’s it for Printing 101! I hope this post inspires you to print some of your favorite photos.
If you have questions, please drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them! Happy Printing!
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