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In the first two articles in this series I explained why making prints helps you become a better photographer, and looked at the questions you need to ask before buying an inkjet printer (click the links to catch up if you missed them).
Today in the final article in this series I’m going to show you how to turn your photos into beautiful prints that you’ll be proud to look at and hang on the wall.
Making a good inkjet print isn’t as difficult as you might think. But before we look at the mechanics of the process, there are three important points to make.
1. Your print isn’t going to look like the photo on your monitor. You need to get used to this. A backlit photo on a monitor (or a phone or a tablet) is never going to look the same when it’s printed on matte fine art paper (it will be closer if printed on glossy paper).
That doesn’t mean that you can ignore unwanted color casts, but it does mean you can be relaxed when colors look slightly different, or the print has less contrast.
2. The print is the goal. All you need to worry about is what the print looks like. The print is what people will see and judge you by.
3. The hard work is done in camera and in post-processing. There’s no magical button or app that can turn a bad photo into one that looks good in a print. Get the fundamentals right first. Optimize exposure and develop your photos properly in Lightroom Classic. Remember that applying lots of Clarity or Texture may look good on screen, but often doesn’t look so great in a print.
How to print photos
Once you understand these ideas you’re three quarters of the way to making good prints. The rest is just mechanical. I’ve broken the printing process down into a series of steps that anybody can follow.
1. Calibrate your monitor
This is important, especially if you’re using a Windows PC. If your monitor isn’t displaying colors correctly, then you won’t get accurate color in your prints.
The problem is that most monitors for Windows PCs have a strong blue color cast. As a result that means you have to warm up the photo using the color temperature sliders in Lightroom Classic. When you print out your photos they look a lot warmer than they do on the screen. That’s fine if you’re happy with the print, but it’s better to have a calibrated monitor so that your colors are accurate.
Mac displays are more accurate and many Mac users don’t bother calibrating their screens.
Monitor calibration is easy and a basic calibration device is relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the cost of an inkjet printer, paper and inks.
2. Get the brightness right in Lightroom Classic
Make sure the photo isn’t underexposed and that it has a good histogram without a gap on the right-hand side.
3. Select a good quality fine art paper
But think about where your print is going to be used first. If you’re going to frame it, for example, then the thickness of the paper isn’t so important and you can choose a cheaper paper. But for prints that are going to be held and appreciated, a thicker fine art paper is better.
Factors like texture, paper thickness and paper color are all important. It’s important to match your photo to the right paper. Some photos will look better printed on a heavily textured paper. Some will look better on smooth paper. Some will print better on white paper, others on warm toned paper.
It may sound complicated, but don’t be intimidated by it. Accept that it’s a learning process and have fun with it. Buy test packs so you can try out different paper types, pick a few favorites and run with them.
There are plenty of good videos on YouTube that go into the topic of paper choice in more detail.
4. Use Lightroom Classic’s Print module
If you have Lightroom Classic the Print module is the easiest way to make a print. If you don’t, try your preferred post-processing software, or the software that comes with the printer.
The advantage of using the Print module is that you can use one of the supplied templates to create layouts for your prints. You can also set the exact size of the photo to be printed.
For example, I want to print the photo below onto A3 paper. I’m going to frame it, and the frame I’ve chosen comes with a mount with a space of 39 x 29cm for the print.
I set the photo size to 38cm so that it fits inside the mount with a little white space to spare.
Alternatively, you can choose a layout that displays several photos in the same print, like this one.
You can even include text with your print layouts, something like this.
5. Select the correct printer profile
To start with you should only buy papers that come with a generic printer profile made for your specific printer module. The paper manufacturer’s website will have the details. Make sure you select the correct profile in Lightroom Classic’s Print module (it’s easy to forget and select the wrong one).
For example here I’m making a print using Matt Ultra 240 paper ordered from Fotospeed in the UK. This paper has a generic profile that you can download and use (marked below).
That will give you a fairly accurate result. For best results, get the paper profiled. Some sellers (like Fotospeed) offer this as a free service for certain papers.
The idea is that you download and print a test image, then post it to the retailer. They profile it (using a device similar to the ones you use for calibrating monitors) and send you the icc profile by email. You then follow the instructions and save the icc profile in the correct folder on your computer. It’s then available for you to select in your print settings.
Here you can see the icc profile that Fotospeed created for me in the Profile menu.
Another option is to buy a monitor calibration device that also measures colors in prints and creates printer profiles (like the Datacolor SpyderPrint).
Then you can print a test print, scan it with the device which will generate a profile specific for your paper and printer combination. The only downside to this is that a calibration device that also calibrates prints is expensive.
6. Get the settings right in your printing software
In Lightroom Classic the important settings are in the Print Job panel and the Printer button. For other software use Google to search for a tutorial that explains your particular settings. Some of the settings depend on your printer and operating system, so be prepared to do some research if what you see looks different to my screenshots.
In the Print Job panel, go to Color Management and select the right profile. Set Intent to Perceptual (you might use Relative occasionally, but stick with Perceptual for now).
For Print Sharpening I usually select Standard, and for Media Type follow the instructions that come with your paper.
Under Printer you need to select the printer that you’re using, then go to Quality & Media and set the Media Type (depends on which paper you’re using), set Print Quality to High and make sure Grayscale Printing is unchecked. The other settings are redundant as Lightroom is managing color, not the printer.
Note that these are Mac OS specific, and your options will be different if you’re a Windows user.
7. Respond to feedback
Your photos may print darker than what you see on the screen. If this happens to you then the solution is to reduce the brightness of your monitor to match the print, and increase the brightness of the photo in Lightroom Classic.
If you’re getting weird color casts, then make sure that (in this order):
- No inks have run out.
- You’ve selected the correct customized printer profile (generic profiles are okay but not as accurate as customized ones).
- That your printer dialog settings are correct.
- That you’re working with a calibrated monitor (Mac users can often get away without calibration).
My final piece of advice is to relax and have fun with printing. It’s meant to be enjoyable, so get printing, experiment with different papers and see what you get. If you have any questions about the process, you can ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.