Photo printing tips for your dramatic edits

I’m a big believer in printing my photos. And I like them BIG.

But what about those super dramatic edits I’ve been doing in Luminar? Are they printable? Or are they only good enough for viewing on mobile screens on Instagram?

I wondered that too, so I’ve done some tests. And the results were great.

In my home I have big prints (and paintings) all over the walls. Even some photo prints done with dramatic and grungy filters. My favourites are canvas and metal prints but they’re pricey!

But before you send your files to the lab, there are some things to consider.

Things to watch out for when doing ultra dramatic edits.

  • Artifacts in gradations — look in the sky for those. You may get banding if the change in gradation is subtle. You won’t notice banding or artifacts if there are clouds in the sky or lots of busy detail in your images.
  • Skin tone that is too crunchy — you don’t want to texturize people’s skin too much
  • Blown out highlights that go “paper” white — those can looks like blobs on your print and seem to be worse on inkjet prints

If you zoom in to your photo at 100% you will get a good indication of what your extreme edits will look like printed. Look around the frame for artifacts…. here’s what they look like.

Of course it helps to have a colour calibrated computer monitor to judge colour and density accuracy, but not 100% necessary. I like to read the actual RGB values in the file using the WB tool in Luminar. (That works in Lightroom too.) If you see a number of 0 that means 100% black. If you see 255, that means 100% white. The printable range of tones is about 20 to 245 in each of the red, green, and blue channels (RGB).

Printers aren’t able to give you full range of tones that your camera can capture, or that you see on your computer. Experts suggest you load colour printing profiles for each specific photo printer. More info on that here.

You can also put on your highlight and shadow clipping warnings. That will help show you the printable range. Do that by clicking these triangles on your histogram. (This works in Lightroom too.)

But mostly, I suggest making test print (8×10) before spending money on that 16×20.

How to prepare your file for printing

For a photo lab print: 

  • After you’ve done your edits export your file at sRGB colourspace
  • Choose the file size – for 8×10 you can use 2000 x 2500 pixels or so
  • Export as jpg with high quality compression settings

Need a test image? Click the image below to download this one!

photo lab test image

I’ve got this one for download. It’s in sRGB jpg format, and ready to go. Print it without corrections using your home printer or favourite photo lab. Send along a couple of your own images to test at the same time.

Notice the test print has a step wedge for reference.

Those are the RGB values using two scales, percentage and tonal range. When you get your print back you’ll be able to see the visible range of what’s printable.

If you are sending your prints to a photo lab, pick a good one.

If you’re in Canada or the US, Costco does a great job of printing photos. And they use “real” silver-based archival photo paper. For a few dollars you can get some 8×10 prints to check out. I suggest printing 8×10 or larger when testing, because you won’t be able to detect any problem areas at smaller sizes.

When you get your prints back from the lab, you can compare your prints to what you see on your screen. If the test print I gave you matches perfectly, then you know your computer screen is calibrated. If it’s a little off, that’s okay. You will still know the bias your screen has.

One thing I have learned about printing is that the dark areas of an image, the shadows, tend to go darker when printed. So if there is some shadow detail that you need to preserve, then grab the shadow slider and brighten those up a bit before sending the file to the printer. Keep an eye on your histogram when you do that.

I don’t print my own photos because the cost for archival ink and paper is too high. You need special calibration tools for the printer as well. I don’t have space for a high-end printer. Plus, I’d rather be spending time shooting photos, than printing them. And, as you probably figured out, I find the photo editing process fun too.

For more info on one of my favourite photo labs and more about photo printing, check out this blog post too.

If you have any questions, please ask in the comments below or on the video.