Monday, 5 May 2014

Digital printing workflow

Having decided that I would print some of my assignments I thought it best to check my digital workflow. I have printed my own images for a while now, but unsure if I am following the best practice, what I find acceptable may in fact not be for assessment purposes. The more research you do, the more opinions you listen to the more confused I in order to sort myself out I have done some MORE research....

From images taken to actually being printed the percentage is very low, blame this on the advent of digital photo sharing on the web.

The final print is the culmination of a lot of variables being brought together on a particular
paper at a particular size. It has become apparent that as with most things photographic sometimes compromise is necessary and although there are no real hard and fast rules there are ‘good practises’.

Obviously there will be some form of disparity in cameras, lenses, software, printers and print
media owned and prefered before even touching on the subject matter which is to be printed. Probably best at the beginning would be to make brief notes on what I try in case I don't remember what was done and what to revisit some of the decisions made.

Hardware set-up, initial adjustment of file and preparation for printing 
Monitor set-up 

Monitors will vary, offering a wider gamut of colours and higher contrast, and the price you pay will vary accordingly.Irrespective of the monitor specs, computer and monitor should to be calibrated using a monitor profiling device that sits on the monitor. This needs repeating regularly and I use a Spyder Express 3, following the manufacturers guidelines as to brightness and temperature. I do find that my prints are a little dark following these guidelines so so turn the brightness of my screen down.

Printer set-up 

Personal printers are now very capable, reliable devices which offer high level results. Make sure you check basic things like Nozzle Alignment, ad do this on the paper you are going to use. It might sound like an extravagance but paper thickness is important.

Make sure you use the correct ICC profiles for your printer and papers on which you are printing. Most paper manufacturers now supply ready made ICC profiles and stipulate the driver settings for the more popular printer models.  My printers are fairly basic in reality and therefore I tend to stick with the same paper manufacturer/printer, in this case Epson and use the profiles for the different papers that are pre-set.

Printers and monitors will struggle to reproduce all of the theoretical colours but there are ways around this called the "rendering intent or mode." This is the way in which colours in an image are portrayed.  ‘Perceptual’ and ‘Relative Colormetric’ for example are 2 of the rendering intents are ones to be found when I go to print.The majority of ICC profile settings require setting the output software such as Photoshop to  ‘No color management’ setting. Apparently  "the golden rule is to replicate whichever settings were used
for making the ICC printer profile and save them as a preset. Also pay attention to correctly setting ‘Black point compensation’ and ‘Simulate paper white’ to the appropriate options"

Getting prints made by a company

If I intend to have prints made by a third party it is imperative that I understand the settings
used by them so I get a better match. I should ask for a download of the printer profile, details of the colour space used, native resolution for files and whether they sharpen or if I am expected to apply the output sharpening.

Initial adjustment of file 

Having taken the photograph picture and uploaded it to my PC the basic adjustments are done to get it looking right. I use Adobe Bridge to upload,Photoshop and RAW for processing. Advice seems to be to use is to use a large colour space such as ProPhoto RGB or Adobe (RGB) 1998 although my first tutor said the 16 bit  ProPhoto was probably too large a space and not needed as my monitor wouldn't show the whole gamut. I agree but thinking ahead if I ever got an all singing all dancing monitor would I not wish I had saved better files?

10 basic adjustments in rough order

  • White Balance - temperature and tint adjustment sliders
  • Exposure - exposure compensation, highlight/shadow recovery
  • Noise Reduction - during RAW development or using external software
  • Lens Corrections - distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberrations
  • Detail - capture sharpening and local contrast enhancement
  • Contrast - black point, levels and curves tools
  • Framing - straighten and crop
  • Refinements - color adjustments and selective enhancments
  • Resizing - enlarge for a print or downsize for the web or email
  • Sharpening - customized for your subject matter and print/screen size


When Capture sharpening, the file should be viewed at 100%.
A useful article here about advanced selective sharpening in RAW

File preparation for printing 
Soft proofing - I have never really known what was meant by softproofing. Is it something I do but don't know what its called? From good old Luminous Landscape

The holy grail of digital printing is to be able to get the image that you print to appear as close as possible to what your screen displays. The first ingredient in this quest is to ensure that your screen is properly profiled. This was once a mysterious and expensive prospect, but now most experienced photographers understand that they need to buy a colorimeter for a hundred dollars or so, and profile their screen on a regular basis.

Of course the second step is to print using accurate profiles. These may be available from your printer or paper maker. Preferably you should have custom profiles made for your printer, your paper and your inks. Unless you frequently switch papers this isn't terribly expensive to have done. There are quite a few services online that will do this for you. The best profiles though are likely ones that you make yourself, but this requires spending at least $1,000 and involves the purchase of a spectrophotometer and accompanying software. For anyone using different printers and testing new papers as they come out, this ultimately ends up not being that big an expense.

Regardless of where the profiles come from though, using them is a must for any serious printing.

But, even with a proper profile for your particular screen, as well as printer / paper / ink combinations, many photographers are often disappointed with the results. What appears on screen simply doesn't match what is seen on the print, especially with regard to colour intensity and saturation.

There is a solution, and it's known as soft proofing.

Soft proofing is simply a mechanism that allows you to view on your computer monitor what your print will look like when it is on paper. A specific paper. That paper and ink combination has been defined by the profile that you or someone else has made for your printer / paper and ink combination. When a printer profile is made the colour of the paper is one of the factors that is figured into the profile, because the spectrophotometer is reading the combination of the ink, and the paper that lies beneath it.

So, if you were able to view your image through the printer profile, you would be able to see how that particular combination of ink and paper would reproduce it, taking into account the gamut as well as other characteristics of the inks used.

Looking into this I haven't been soft proofing but now I know how I shall!

Once the image colours are right, resize the file for the print size using either 300ppi, minimum 240ppi. Flatten layers, change mode from 16 bit to 8 bit, if 16 bit was used, final sharpening, look at final sharpening at 50% to check for obvious haloing when saved in separate file for ease of finding then hopefully thats it!

Odd notes....


PPI ( usually written in lowercase ppi) and dp are two similar concepts, but are still different.

Pixels per inch denotes how many pixels are in each inch of your image at the current printing size.  If your image has 360 ppi, for every inch of your image, it is 360 pixels wide and one pixel tall.

Most of us like to think in terms of square inches (two dimensions). Resolution, however is usually given in one dimension. For a reference, 360 ppi can be understood in two dimensions as 360 x 360 pixels per square inch.

Optimal Base Resolution (ppi)

Again, base resolution means the pixels per inch that exist in a digital file without any *interpolation.

In computer terms this generically is any "guessing" the computer does to create extra pixels or color information that wasn't there to begin with by looking at the existing pixels and color schematics as a basis for filling in the blanks.


I need to go lay down now!


  1. Firstly, enjoy the lie down! I've been doing my own printing for assignments and assessment since I started 5 modules ago and have come to the conclusion that for L3 I am going to have everything professionally produced (which will probably make for several blog posts in its own right). At £111 for a full set of inks I think producing my own prints is getting to be a luxury item I need to reconsider!

    1. I know it is scary. I think I would worry that I wasn't preparing my files properly to send away, if they come out to dark or colours not correct you'd kick yourself for having to reorder and pay again. It's being stuck between a rock and a hard place! Would be great if the OCA could run a ressidentialcourse in printing or preparing for print...or have a dedicated print shop in evey town that we could run to for help lolololol Did I just see flying piggies?

    2. The good ones provide a profile so, assuming your monitor is calibrated, you get pretty much what you see. Instead of adding an ICC profile for your printer you save the files with the profile for their printer. (Sounds complicated, it isn't!) I have in the past had a few small proof-prints printed before submitting a full sized order to be sure.

    3. I've not tried them but these were recommended to me recently by an OCA student who outsources all their printing

    4. Thanks for the replies, I shall definitely look into that for future possibilities, for this course I think I shall treat it as a learning curve if nothing else, something to blog about, research and hopefully have some degree of success with...shall let you know how the prints turn out and eventual feedback on submission... :o)