Printing your photographs is a special feeling. It adds value to the art and brings life to the image. Some photographers even believe that your image isn’t real until it is printed.
Now that you want to order some beautiful photographs, you first need to select a lab. And before you ask, using your local retail store doesn’t count.
Step 1 - Choose a lab
You need to choose a professional lab that will best present your images. When selecting a lab, here are a few things to consider.
- Quality - consistency, resolution, and accurate colors that best represent your image. Retail store labs often have poor-quality prints.
- Selection - having options such as different types of papers and finishes helps you be more creative.
- Customer Service - printing labs can sometimes have a lot of errors during production, and how they support you can make a huge difference.
- Additional services - labs will often offer special services such as color corrections and Photoshop manipulations.
A lab that I have found that is great to work with is bayphoto.com. They have superb quality with a great selection of products and services. Bay Photo Lab’s customer service is also fantastic because one time they screwed up on a $250 wall display that I ordered and they quickly sent me a new one. I love that!
Step 2 - Find your size
Once you have selected your professional printing lab, now you need to select the size. However, this isn’t as easy as one might hope. First, figure out how wide or tall your print needs to be. Just only use one measurement because using both will depend on the ratio of your image.
The ratio is the relationship between the width and height of your image. For example, if your photo is 2:3 that means it can print at 4x6 inches, 12x18 inches, etc.
It is very common for people to try to print images at their non-native ratio, and they wonder why it looks cropped. If your image is a ratio of 2:3 and you print at 8x10 inches, that won’t work because the latter size is a 4:5 ratio.
Both the print size and the image dimensions need to have the same ratio unless you are okay with the image being cropped.
3 - Select your medium
Ask yourself, how would I want to display my image? This is the medium of your print and it is essentially the material your photo is printed on.
Paper is obviously the most popular and usually the best choice, but there are many other options as well. For example here are some of the common mediums:
- Metal prints - these are incredibly brilliant (e.g. bright, glossy, and sharp) prints that are created by infusing colors onto aluminum sheets.
- Acrylic prints - giving a 3D look to your image by printing on the back of a thick sheet of clear plastic-like material.
- Canvas prints - affordable and impressive looking, images are printed on canvas and then stretched onto a frame.
- Wood prints - allowing the texture of wood to show through the image as it is printed directly onto smooth hardwoods such as maple.
- Paper prints - from choosing the type of paper to choosing the style of frames, customization is nearly unlimited.
- Album or book - series of pictures presented on spreads or pages to tell a story.
You can also discover other mediums such as Xpozer, just make sure you don’t get lost in finding what option is best for you.
Step 4 - Know the best finish
Understanding what finishes to print your photos on is more of a feel rather than just using knowledge. I can also say that this is perhaps the most important part of ordering
If you start ordering prints from Bay Photo Lab, you will be amazed at how many different options there are. Actually, I recommend you go on their site to check them out.
What you will find is that the finishes determine both texture and how light reflects off the surface:
Reflective: best for images with high contrast
Images that have a strong light source work best with high-reflective finishes. These finishes include glossy, pearl, and metallic.
The appearance can be very vibrant and display the contrast between brightness and darkness very well. The reflectiveness will depend on the type of finish.
For example, pearl and metallic distribute very sharp reflections whereas glossy distribute soft reflections. I like to print pictures of fireworks with a pearl finish because it gives me a feeling that no other type of finish would ever accomplish.
Non-reflective: best for images with flat contrast
Diffused surfaces are much more delicate and soft to the touch compared to the reflective options. It can be used for almost any type of photograph, but I find it best to be used for images that are very low in contrast.
Finishes include silk, matte, and fine art paper. All of these options will add elegance to the photograph. It is also important to note that deep mattes and fine art options will always be the most expensive prints out there.
Lustre: the best of both worlds
I order most of my images in Lustre because the quality is amazing and it is very affordable. Honestly, when in doubt, go with this finish.
The Lustre finish appears like a matte, except it is not. This finish has a fine pebble-like grain that scatters high reflections evenly across the print. This is a great option for people portraits, nature shots, and everything in between.
Just know that Lustre is usually best to not use for high-contrast images with hard light or monochromatic images.
Step 5 - Setup the presentation
The last thing you should consider is how you will accompany the printed picture. That isn’t to say the picture won’t speak for itself but rather complement it.
The frame is the architecture that adds to the feel of the picture. You have many different styles to choose from, so here are a few examples:
- Very clean modern-looking frame for a landscape.
- A sophisticated frame for a cityscape.
- Shadow box with deckled-edged paper for a wedding portrait.
Matting is the inner frame for the picture and serves two purposes.
- Adding aesthetic value by separating the image from the main frame.
- Bring out a particular color in the image. White works most of the time, but you can experiment with other colors to find out which combination works best.
Bonus checklist - Preparing your image for the lab
To make sure your images are going to come out as expected, here is a bonus checklist.
- Check the ratio of your image and compatible sizes (read step 1)
- Color-correct your images to match the printing. Your monitor needs to be color calibrated to make sure your photos print the same way you see them on your computer. You can also pay the lab to color-correct them for you.
- Export a sufficiently large resolution file of the image. This includes the megapixel count and the DPI (dots-per-inch).
- Check any additional instructions the lab may have.
Ordering prints can sometimes be just as much of an art as taking pictures. I can provide as much insight to you as I can, but above all use your artistic vision for what would work best.
I hope this blog post is useful to you for putting together a printed photograph. Being successful in this process will not only just allow you to have finished a beautiful piece of art, but also preserve a memory for generations.