Beginner’s guide to printing photographs – part 4

We are coming to the end of our 4-part beginner’s guide to printing photographs. Part 1 introduced us to the complications and costs involved in printing and provides us an introduction to photo printers. Part 2 introduced colour management, the confusion of printer-paper profiles, and gives some suggestions for users choosing between Epson and Canon printers. Part 3 provided additional information about the different types of photographic papers available and the various factors you have to consider while choosing a paper. If all that confusion has not dissuaded you from trying to print your own photos, welcome to part 4, where we finally summarise all the required steps that lead to us sending a print to the printer.

Summary of steps for printing photographs

Step 1: Colour calibrate your display. (part 2)
Step 2: Get a recommended printer. (part 1, part 2)
Step 3: Do your research, and choose a paper to work with. (part 2, part 3)
Step 4: Find out the printer driver settings to use. (this article)
Step 5: Colour-calibrate the printer and paper to generate a printer-paper profile. (part 2)
Step 6: Make sure you have image processing software which allows you to perform soft-proofing. (this article)
Step 7: Pick a rendering intent and soft-proof your image. (this article)
Step 8: Print your photograph! (this article)
Step 9: Not happy with the print result? Experiment with different rendering intents and paper types. (this article)

It looks like we are covering a lot of topics in this part of the series. But this is not true. Previous parts of this guide build up the foundation knowledge we will rely on to print our photograph in this article. This chapter is the easiest segment in this four-part guide.

Printer drivers’ settings and paper type

Every printer driver from every manufacturer should have an option for you to select the paper type. Let me be clear with this: The paper type setting has absolutely no effect on colour calibration. It only determines how ink should be applied onto the paper. This is where some experimentation is necessary. For example, you may be surprised to learn that with some printer-paper combinations, you should select “matte” instead of “semi-gloss”, even though the paper you are using is clearly labelled as a “semi-gloss” type. If the print result using a paper setting looks obviously wrong, try with another paper setting. Eventually you will find a match that works with the paper you are using.

Get the necessary software

Do you have image processing software that allows you to soft-proof an image? If not, stop reading here and go get an image processing software that has this feature. Never mind if you do not know what “soft-proofing” means. We will explain what it is shortly. Most leading image processing tools such as Adobe PhotoShop, Affinity Photo, etc. has the soft-proofing feature. If you are not sure, check the help section of your software. Don’t bother trying to print your own photographs until you have the necessary software. In addition, ensure that the software you have either supports layer-based editing or the creation of virtual copies. At least one of these features is mandatory for managing the appearance of your original image when you perform soft-proofing.

Rendering intents and soft-proofing

Your digital display has a very different colour gamut than what your printer-photo combination can reproduce. Rendering intents are algorithms that decide how colours on your digital files are mapped to your paper print. There are four types of rendering intent: Perpetual, Saturation, Relative Colourimetric and Absolute Colourimetric. The choice of rendering intent is another creative decision made by the artist. Study the different results and decide which method works best for the image that is going to be printed.

What soft-proofing does is it allows you to apply a rendering intent for the printer-paper combination you want to use by loading its colour profile into your image processing softwar. Doing this displays a preview of what your printed image will look like, and allows you to pick a rendering intent that is most apppealing to you. It also shows you all the parts in your image which are out of the gamut of your printer-paper combination. You can then make additional edits to your image to ensure that it fits within the gamut of your physical media. Not doing so may cause your print to suffer from some harsh tonal transitions and strange colours.

This is where the layer-based editing or virtual copy feature becomes vital. When you edit an image to fit in the colour gamut of your printer-paper combination, there needs to be a way to save the appearance of your original image. This can done by either keeping the soft-proofing edits in their own layers, or making the edits on virtual copies of the original image.

So… how does one perform soft-proofing exactly? Is it difficult? Fortunately, there are video guides available online which easily explain the process. And no, it is not difficult to understand. Just watch the following video for an example. Although this example is for Affinity Photo, the same concept applies to all image processing software. You can easily adapt and apply the knowledge from this example to alternative software from other vendors. Or just do an online search for a soft-proofing tutorial specific to the software you use.

Soft-proofing guide for Affinity Photo.

Print your photograph!

It took a long time to reach this section, didn’t it? Now that you have done everything earlier, it is a simple matter to send your print to the printer. Make sure that printing colour management is performed by your application instead of your printer. You may have to explicitly disable colour management in your printer driver – check the print dialogue of your printer for an option to do so. Then in the application you are using to print, select a “let the app manage my colours” option so you can select the printer-paper profile to use. Remember to disable the soft-proofing effects before you send the image to print!

Experiment!

Remember I mentioned in the beginning of this series that printing could get expensive? Sometimes you want to experiment with different rendering intents and different papers for different results. That is going to cost you ink and papers. Hence I recommend economical ink-tank dye-based printers for every beginner. If you are careless, the amount you spend on printing can easily match or exceed the amount you spend on a new lens or camera.

Congratulations for reaching the end of this beginner’s guide. Have fun printing!

-WY