Printing: Chapter 8 - The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers

Using Photoshop to Control Your Printmaking

by Derrick Story

This excerpt is from The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers . Many photographers, including the pros, feel overwhelmed by all the editing options Photoshop provides. The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers not only shows you which tools you'll need most often and how to use them, the book walks you though an enjoyable and efficient workflow that makes it easy to process your images using new user-friendly features that come with Photoshop CS4.

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Many photographers, myself included, believe you can't really evaluate an image until you see it on paper. Prints reveal the characteristics of photographs in much the same way as face-to-face conversations reveal the characteristics of people. And by studying the subtleties in a print, you'll often find ways to improve your photograph.

Yes, it's true—a print has personality. Digital images tend to have a predictable feel when displayed with the steady glow of a backlit computer monitor. Prints, on the other hand, can be made on different types of paper and viewed under a variety of lighting conditions. An image may look one way when printed on a cool, glossy surface, and then surprise you when rendered on a warm matt stock. These variables add both to the excitement of working with this medium, and sometimes, the frustration too.

People like looking at prints, but not everyone likes making them. And if you've endured more frustration than joy when trying to produce an enlargement, you many fall into this category too. To be quite honest, Photoshop itself has been part of the problem. The print dialog box can be an intimating place if you're not confident about the settings to use.

I think this brief chapter will change that. I'm going to show you the basics for making beautiful prints without wasting ink, paper, or your time. Once you have confidence in the process, my guess is that you will want to make more prints. And as a result, become a better photographer in the process.

Calibrating Your Monitor

The process begins with calibration. The number-one complaint I hear from photographers about printing is that the image they see on the screen doesn't match what comes out of the printer. Sure, a backlit image and an image you view on a reflective surface are inherently different in many ways. But you can take a big step toward minimizing those discrepancies by calibrating your monitor and then passing that information correctly to the output device.

Calibrating your monitor simply means you want it to display colors and tones so they match the standard settings used for output, including luminosity and color. By standardizing your settings through calibration, you'll have more confidence that the edits you make to the photos onscreen will be reflected similarly in the print. Keep in mind that a calibrated monitor is only part of the equation. Your output device needs to accurately interpret the information you send to it. But good color management begins with the monitor.

If you're already using a screen calibration device such as Pantone's huey ($89; www.pantone.com) or X-Rite's Eye-One Display LT ($169; www.xrite.com), you're in great shape. But if you aren't using such a device, don't fret. There are a few workarounds for both Mac and Windows users that can help you calibrate your display (while you save up for a better solution). They aren't as accurate, or even as easy, as a good colorimeter, but they're free.

Color management accuracy

Mac OS X

Windows XP, Vista

Fair

Stock monitor profile in Display Preferences pane

Stock monitor profile in Display Properties pane

Better

Built-in monitor calibrator in Display Preferences pane

Third-party software such as Adobe Gamma

Best

Hardware colorimeter

Hardware colorimeter

Monitor calibration options

Calibrating on Mac OS X

Mac OS X includes some handy built-in tools that can get you off to a good start. A handful of preset monitor profiles are available in the Display Preferences pane. Go to System Preferences, click Displays, and then click the Color tab. You'll see a list of profiles you can use for your photography, such as Adobe RGB.

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You can use the calibration helper in Mac OS X if you don't have a colorimeter available.

You can also create your own profile. While you're still in Displays, click the Calibrate button. Your Mac will walk you through the basic steps of visual color calibration. It's not as accurate as the mechanical calibration a colorimeter can perform, but it's a giant step in the right direction.

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A list of color profiles in the Displays dialog box for Mac OS X.

After you finish the process, you'll have a new color profile for your monitor that you can choose from the list of other profiles in the Display Preferences pane. You can see the differences between the profile you just created and a stock one included with your Mac (such as Color LCD) by clicking the two different profiles and noting how your screen renders colors. The differences can be quite remarkable.

Calibrating on Windows

Stock monitor profiles are also available on Windows PCs. In Vista, right-click on your desktop and choose Personalize from the contextual menu, and then choose Display Settings. Click the Advanced Settings button, click the Color Management tab, and then click the Color Management button; you'll see the monitor profiles available for your computer.

Even though Windows doesn't have a built-in calibrator, you can use third-party software to help you create a profile. For example, the Adobe Gamma application that comes with Photoshop is a useful tool for checking the accuracy of your monitor.

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Monitor profiles in Windows.

If you use Windows XP, you can learn more about Adobe Gamma by visiting Adobe Tech Note #321608 (http://kb.adobe.com). If you use Vista, you can try Adobe Gamma, but you'll need to fiddle around a little. See the Weblog post on All Things Adobe (http://allthingsadobe.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=230489) for more information.

Calibrating in General

In the end, if you want to get serious about this stage of the color management process, you'll need to invest in a colorimeter. My advice is that you find or create the best profile possible for your computer monitor and follow my other steps for accurate printing. If the results work for you, you're done. If you want to continue to fine-tune the process, investing in a colorimeter is a good first step. I also recommend that you recalibrate about four times a year or before very important printing sessions.

One final note about this endeavor. Your environment does influence your perception of what you're seeing on the screen. Ideally, you'll want neutral-colored walls in the area where you work. Bright orange paint, for example, might say something about your flamboyant personality, but it will also skew your perception of the image on the monitor. It's better to stick with white surfaces if possible.

Lighting comes into play as well. Be wary of strong artificial lights, such as fluorescents, that can taint your view of the colors on the screen. Once you've set up your work area and you've calibrated your monitor, you're ready to think about the device you're going to use to actually make the print.

Dedicated Photo Printers

Dedicated photo printers for home and studio work can produce gallery-quality archive prints on a variety of surfaces. Devices such at the Epson R2880 (www.epson.com) and the HP 9180B (www.hp.com) accept paper up to 13 x 19 inches, letting you create everything from snapshots to fine art.

I mention these two printers as good examples because they're designed to make photographs that are vibrant and that will last. You could use a standard color office printer, but it may not come with photographer-friendly software, such as color profiles for your paper, and the permanence of the prints isn't guaranteed.

Regardless of the particular printer you have, people have a perception about the voodoo that's involved with getting decent enlargements. But thanks to improved software and an abundance of paper profiles, today there's a lot more science to printing than there is black magic. Of course, this is true only if you know the steps to follow. With a little organization, you'll soon be churning out beautiful large-format images that will retain their integrity for decades if you store or display them properly.

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The Epson R2880 photo printer

Ten Steps to Making a Beautiful Print

Some of the steps I list in this section will feel familiar to you, but I'll also talk about a new concept or two that I haven't discussed before, including ICC profiles. I'll get to those in a minute. First, here's my basic overview for creating beautiful prints at home.

  1. Capture the best images possible with your camera.
  2. Calibrate your computer monitor to these standards: Target Gamma = 2.2, White Point = 6500. (See “Calibrating Your Monitor” earlier in this chapter.)
  3. Upload your images from your camera and select your favorites using the Bridge workflow I cover in Chapters 2 and 3. Fine-tune those candidates using Adobe Camera Raw as I discuss in Chapter 4.
  4. Power up your printer and load the paper you want to use. While you're getting your feet wet with this process, I recommend that you use paper your printer manufacturer supplies because you probably have an ICC profile for that paper already loaded on your computer; more on this later.
  5. Open the image in Photoshop. Go to the Page Set Up dialog box (File➝Page Set Up) and make sure your printer is selected in the “Format for” pop-up menu. Also choose the paper size and the orientation. Leave scale at 100 percent. Click OK.
  6. Now you're ready to print. Open the Print dialog box (File➝Print). Here's where you're going to take the voodoo out of printing. First, make sure the correct printer is displayed at the top of the dialog box. If not, change it. The number “1” should be displayed in the Copies field. Also double-check the paper orientation.
  7. You're going to choose a few more bits of information, including the following (you can adjust to taste later):

    Position Center Image is the common choice for position, but you won't have to do anything here because of the option you're about to select in the Scaled Print Size area.

    Scaled Print Size Turn on the Scale to Fit Media checkbox and make sure the print resolution is 150 ppi or more. If your print resolution is less than 150 ppi, your image isn't big enough for a photorealistic print. You'll have to either reduce your paper size or find a bigger image. I recommend a resolution of at least 240 ppi.

    Bounding Box You should not turn on this option unless you want a dark line to print along the perimeter of the image.

    Color Management This option should appear at the top of the second column. If it isn't displayed, choose it from the pop-up menu. Click the Document radio button, and the color profile you established earlier in your workflow will display. A safe bet for printing is Adobe RGB 1998 because it's a reasonably large color space.

    Color Handling Photoshop Manages Colors is still my favorite Color Handling setting. But I've noticed that printers are doing a better job of color management these days, so you might want to experiment with Printer Manages Colors too. For now, though, let Photoshop do the heavy lifting.

    Printer Profile This can be a rather large pop-up menu displaying a variety of color profiles that are loaded on your computer. Look in the list for the printer/paper stock profile you've loaded in your printer. These are actually specific profiles for the various papers (often ICC profiles). They're added to your system when you load the printer software.

    This is an important choice because it helps your printer accurately interpret the calibrated information it receives from the computer.

    • Rendering Intent Set it to“Perceptual”

    • Black Point Compensation Turn on the box.

  8. Click the Print button. Photoshop may present you with a secondary Print dialog box; this scenario varies depending on the type of printer driver you have loaded on your system. If Photoshop does present you with a secondary Print dialog box, everything should pretty much be all set. But it doesn't hurt to nose around a bit. I usually double-check the Paper Type/Quality setting. This listing is usually in a pop-up menu in this secondary dialog box. Once I'm there, I make sure the paper type is the same as what I've loaded onto the paper tray, and that the quality level is set at Best. If those two parameters check out, click Print again and your printer should go to work. Within minutes, you should be holding your first print of the day.
  9. The print dialog box

    The Print dialog box.(Click to enlarge.)

  10. Review the first print in the type of lighting in which it will most likely be displayed, such as window light, halogen light, and so on. Does it look good? It should, but if it doesn't and you want to adjust the tone or color, return to step 3. At this point, you should consider making a duplicate of your master image and adding “print” to the filename. This gives you the latitude to play with tone and color for the specific paper you're printing on without tainting the original image.
  11. Sharpen the print (this is an optional but sometimes amazingly effective step). Once you've completed your final adjustments and you feel like the picture is ready for prime time, consider sharpening it a little. I recommend that you zoom out to 50 percent to better visualize the resolution of the print that'll emerge from your printer (monitor is 100 ppi and print will be 150 ppi or 240 ppi). Then use Smart Sharpen (Filter➝Sharpen➝Smart Sharpen). In Smart Sharpen, choose Lens Blur from the Remove pop-up menu, with a low Radius setting (1 or 1.5 pixels) and a higher Amount setting (25 percent or 50 percent). You may have to adjust to taste, but these are good starting points for making prints.

Make your final print. Be sure to leave the print accessible after printing so that you can enjoy it and learn more about your image as you view it over time.

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Very few things are more satisfying than having a tangible print of your image.

A Word About Printer Profiles

The most notable new concept in this workflow is the Printer Profile selection. Often, these are ICC profiles (International Color Consortium). These bundles of information help your printer match the data from your computer to the inks and paper you're going to use. Most photo printers load a set of these profiles onto your computer when you install the driver. I recommend that you start with the paper available from your printer manufacturer because those will be the profiles initially available to you.

Tip: Shop Smartly for Paper

Some independent paper stocks can be just as good as brand names for considerably less money. Red River Paper, for example, offers paper that comes in a variety of surfaces, produces great prints, and is often less expensive than printer manufacturer paper. Plus, you can usually download printer profiles from the company's website (www.redriverpaper.com) for your particular photo printer.

Independent paper companies often make profiles available on the Web for their papers too. They match to the most commonly used photo printers. So, if you want to go that route, look on the website of the company whose paper stock you're interested in, and see whether a profile for your printer is available. The company will also tell you how to load the profile onto your computer.

If you're truly ambitious, you can make your own profiles using systems sold by companies such as X-Rite which specialize in color calibration. To start, however, I recommend that you stick with stock profiles available with your printer software or available online until you feel comfortable with your print setup.

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A handful of printer profiles displayed in Photoshop's Print dialog box.

Success! A Beautiful Print

Now, here's the good news. If your computer screen is calibrated and you've set up your printer as I described, you'll get good prints. Keep in mind that the photo you look at on your monitor is backlit, and the image that comes out of the printer is reflective—these are two different types of illumination, so you'll see some differences in brightness. But with a tight workflow and a little practice, you'll soon be making beautiful enlargements.

Tip: Try Turning Down the Brightness for Accuracy

If you have a very bright monitor, you may want to ratchet down to about two-thirds brightness for printing. I use an Apple 23-inch Cinema Display, and I've noticed that my prints match the screen better when I have my monitor set to 70 percent brightness.

Improving Your Photography Through Printing

When you print an image and hang it on a wall, you'll look at it more often than if you had left it buried deep in your computer. And if you look at your best pictures more often, you're going to discover strengths and weaknesses about your craft that you may have missed otherwise.

The combination of ink and paper will reveal details and subtleties that weren't apparent before. You'll probably have more conversations about your work because it's more accessible to visitors as they drop by. Prints provide us with much-needed “quality time” with our pictures. Be selective in what you print. Study your best work. Seek out comments from others.

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Printing your work enables you to stand back and analyze it over time, which can help you improve your photography.

Reference Tables for Printing

Here are a couple of handy reference tables to consider when you're thinking about the minimum resolution you'll need for various paper stocks, and the different types of paper surfaces to choose from.

Print size

Standard quality
(at 150 ppi)

High quality
(at 240 ppi)

4 x 6 inches

600 x 900

960 x 1440

5 x 7 inches

750 x 1125

1200 x 1800

8 x 10 inches; 8 x 12 inches

1200 x 1800

1920 x 2880

11 x 14 inches

1650 x 2475

2640 x 3960

13 x 19 inches

1950 x 2925

3120 x 4680

Resolution settings based on desired print size and quality

Type of photo

Recommended paper surface

Comments

Snapshots of events, vacations, daily life

Glossy

Good all-purpose finish that shows high detail and color saturation.

Portraits

Semi-glossy, luster, or matte

The surface texture of the paper complements the subject matter.

Weddings

Luster or matte

Gives images a professional appearance; surfaces don't show fingerprints as easily.

Landscapes and nature (8 x 12 inches or smaller)

Glossy or
semi-glossy

Good color saturation and detail.

Landscapes and nature (11 x 14 inches or larger)

Semi-glossy, luster, or matte

Large prints with glossy surfaces can reflect unwanted light. Textured surfaces often work better.

Recommended paper surfaces

Final Thoughts

A good friend once told me that the best way to tackle a big problem is to break it down into parts. I discovered that's what I needed to do with Photoshop. Because, to be honest, for years it was more than I could comprehend. I decided that I wanted to be better with this application. So I took my friend's advice and broke it down into parts. And it worked. Today, I truly enjoy working with Photoshop CS4.

It's funny, now that I look back on my frustrating days with Photoshop, I realize that I just didn't have a good set of instructions to help me figure out which
parts I needed, and those I didn't. I hope I've provided that here, enabling you to build your Photoshop workflow piece by piece. And by doing so, helping you can take your photography to the next level with no end in sight.

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If you enjoyed this excerpt, buy a copy of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers