Printing Your Photos - From Start to Finish
In collaboration with Epson.
Seeing a print of a photo you took your self is very rewarding. If you’re reading this you’ve probably printed a few of your own photos or occasionally ordered a print from someone else. But have you ever printed one of your own photos, by yourself? There are often a lot of questions around printing. Printing is not that difficult, but it requires some general knowledge that I’m going to explain in this article. A good print is a print that looks similar to how you see it on your screen. And that’s often easier said than done. Believe me, I’ve ordered many of my own prints in the past from different manufacturers and was often not 100% happy with the result. And this was not always the printer’s ‘fault’.
So I contacted Epson asking if they wanted to work together with a simple concept: print my photos as good as possible with their new Epson SureColor SC-P900 and Premium photo paper and explain the process in ‘simple language’. So that’s what this article is about: how to print your photos from start to finish and what workflow I apply.
The Epson SC-P900 printer with some A3+ prints
Having your own photo printer at home
First things first. To print your own images at home you need your own printer. People often think professional photo printers are super expensive and big. But these days, the printers are modern, use a touch screen, are rather compact and are relatively affordable. Epson SureColor SC-P900 I am using in this article costs around 1200 euro (Inc VAT).
Now when would I recommend having an own printer? Simply put: if you love to experiment with printing your own images and trying to get them as best as possible out of the printer. With a ‘home printer’ you won’t print your images at very big sizes. The Epson SC-P900 in this review prints A2 format, which is 42 x 59,4 cm. It's big enough to hang on some of your walls, but I also occasionally hang prints of 90x60, 120x80 or even bigger that I order externally.
So, owning one at home is more like a hobby. I find that I really enjoy printing some of my best images and just being able to ‘touch’ it. Feel the paper and just see the photo in its physical form. It gives that extra feeling of satisfaction when the print rolls out of the printer.
I also love to give these away to friends and family and occasionally sell fine art prints to customers. Because if you decide to print at home, it will cost you money. Like I mentioned earlier: the printer is relatively affordable but it’s mainly the ink that will cost you. So selling a few prints from time to time to make up for the ink usage is a good idea.
Having a printer at home is mainly great fun and gives your photography (wether hobby or professional) a new level of satisfaction.
The Epson SureColor SC-P900
In this article I’ll not go too in depth about the printer itself. We are talking about a professional photo printer here. But I just want to point out a few things to tell you that this is really for everyone and you don’t need to be very technical to be able to use it.
The printer is very easy to install. You basically just unpack it, put it on your desk, turn it on and it guides you through a whole walk through on how to set it up. It has a nice tilt-able touch screen which also functions as a little monitor screen. Through images it guides you through the setup process, how to put in the ink cartridges (included when buying the printer) and the whole initialising process. All in all it probably takes you around 30 minutes to set it up.
When putting paper into the printer, the printer automatically detects the size and shows it on the touch screen. It will then ask you what kind of paper you’re using. Simply select the correct paper and you’re good to go. The menu system is intuitive and easy to use. It displays handy functions as your last print job(s) and the amount of ink you have left in your cartridges.
The printer holds 10x 50ml cartridges. Keep in mind that its smaller brother, the SC-P700 (which is nearly identical, its just smaller and thus prints smaller paper) has 25ml cartridges. Their cartridges are not the same.
Another thing I wanted to point out about this printer is that its really compact. If you have a normal sized desk it will look perfectly ‘normal’ standing next to it. It’s super shiny though, so make sure to not touch the top of it too much with your fingers!
For a very detailed article with all the print functions, please go to http://www.northlight-images.co.uk/epson-sc-p900-printer-review/
I’ve bought a separate printer stand for my Epson P900 and as you can see it’s quite compact, standing next to my desk. When it prints, you can slide out a drawer in front so the paper slides onto that.
Printing your images is not just pressing ‘print’ like you’re used to when printing documents. When you want to print your photos in the best possible way it’s important to have the right workflow to ensure your prints roll out of the printer the way they look on your screen, and the way you want them to look. I’m sure we’ve all been there: the frustrating part when a photo looks different from the printer with slightly different colours and sometimes (quite often) too dark.
The core of your workflow will be the monitor you work with. Having a decent monitor is extremely important. I sometimes see images from people online that look way too red or too green. This can be often the problem of people having a low quality monitor. To them, the images might look fine on their screen, not knowing that their screen colours are way off. For everyone else, the colours just look weird. And that’s something you don’t want. This is of course an extreme example, but getting colours ‘just right’ is an art by itself, and you don’t want a bad monitor to mess that up.
The same applies to printing. If you have a low quality monitor and you think everything looks ‘good’ on your screen, it looks completely (or slightly) different when coming out of the printer. This is because both devices need to have the same understanding of how your file should look. If that’s not the case, the result will not be optimal.
My BenQ SW321C is a calibrated photography monitor to ensure my colours are 'correct'
Using a ‘good’ monitor, and most importantly, a calibrated monitor, is very important for printing. So what’s a good monitor?
A monitor is digital and is only able to display a certain amount of colours. We call this the color Gamut. We also define Color Spaces as standards. For example, the sRGB color space is the standard most used online. If a monitor is able to display 100% of the sRGB color space, we are sure we can work with all of the colours that are used to display images on the web. For printing, we mainly used AdobeRGB, which has a wider color space than sRGB because the gamut of the printer/paper is wider (more colors can be displayed) and we want to take advantage of that. Simply put, it can display more colours. So, for your print to be as close as possible on your screen, compared to your actual print, it is important to have a monitor that can display (almost) the entire AdobeRGB Color space: 100% AdobeRGB. You can find a bit more information on this in my BenQ SW321c Monitor review.
Now, you’ll pay a lot more money for a professional photography monitor so it’s up to you if you want to invest in such a device. I use the BenQ SW321C which has 99% AdobeRGB coverage.
Does that mean other monitors are bad? It depends what monitors we are talking about. A professional photography monitor is optimal, but having an iMac, Macbook Pro or Dell XPS screen for example, is not bad at all. Sure, it’s less AdobeRGB coverage, but the most important thing is to Calibrate your screen. With a ‘lesser’ screen it’s still perfectly fine to get a ‘near’ perfect result.
The most important thing to make sure your prints roll out of the printer similar as to how they look on your screen is to calibrate your monitor. Calibration ensures your printer and screen have the same interpretations of colours. Calibrating your monitor also ensures your images look the same on different screens. You have probably noticed your images look slightly different on different screens like your iphone, iPad, screens at your parents, or friends. This is because normally people don’t really calibrate their screens. But if you have multiple monitors in your house and you all calibrate them, you’ll notice the difference between how they look on your different screens, is almost none, depending on how good your screens are.
Monitor calibration has to be done (in 95% of monitors, some have a hardware calibration device included) via an external device. I am using the X-Rite i1Display Pro. I’d say that X-rite and Spyder are the most popular devices on the market. Either one will do fine. This little device makes sure your monitor is calibrated well.
In this article I’ll not go into the details of how exactly you calibrate your screen. This depends on the device you use, but the bottom line is that you put the device on your monitor, it reads out different colours, adjusts your monitors colours based on what it reads and creates your custom color profile. This makes sure your monitor is calibrated via the standard. There are YouTube tutorials out there for all different devices.
Edit your photo
With a properly calibrated screen it's time to edit your photo. Now this is of course a purely subjective thing. Some people don’t like to edit their photos, and some do a lot of editing. My style consists of lots of color harmony, and often a bit of a dreamy atmosphere. If you’re interested on in my own workflow, I have a complete course available on how to process your landscape photos at www.edityourlandscapes.com
For printing, it’s important to look at a few things specifically:
Details: You’ll see a lot more things on your prints than you see on your screen. This is simply because your prints are often bigger on paper, and you look at them from closer so you see every little detail. That’s why it’s important to spend extra care on your images when you print them. Look at distracting elements, weird colours, little things that are off etc. Your healing brush (in Photoshop) is often your friend to fix imperfections in your images for prints.
Dust Spots: I often see that people forget to fix dust spots in their images. Dust spots are these little black dots that are caused by some little dust parts on your sensor (make sure to clean your camera sensor from time to time). These can be easily fixed in Lightroom or Photoshop, but make sure to watch your sky carefully. It’s very annoying when your print rolls out of the printer and only then you’ll notice you missed a few dust spots in the sky. Ink is costly so when you print your work, you want to avoid making those mistakes.
When you’re happy with your edit and fixed all imperfections, it’s time to move on to the next part: Paper proofing.
Proofing with paper profile
A print on paper always looks different than on your screen. Simply because your screen emits light. A print is not. Also, a monitor often has a very smooth and reflective surface. Paper, has not. Or at least, it really depends on what kind of paper you use. There are a lot of different photo papers available with different structures, textures, glossy and matte.
It’s important to realise what photo paper you’re using. With my images, I often have strong colours that really pop from my screen. I don’t want colours to be muted on paper when I print these kinds of images. I want that same effect as on my screen. So I am looking at paper like ‘cotton smooth bright’ or premium luster. When I have a lot of muted colours will use a more matte paper. It also depends on experience, and with this you really have to test some different paper types. This is totally fine, as it’s part of the whole experience and printing hobby. I love trying a print on different kinds of paper to see what fits best.
The important thing here however, is to download the paper profile from your paper manufacturer. You can always find these on their websites. A paper profile (also known as ICC profile) is used to describe the image you want to print to the printer, taking the pysical characteristics of the paper and the printer into account. These paper profiles are important. If you download the paper profile from the website, you’ll have a generic profile which will do a decent job in simulating.
If you want it to be super accurate. You can print a colour chart from your printer, ship it to the paper manufacturer and ask them to create a custom paper profile for you. They often do this for free and ensures an even more accurate paper profile based on your whole setup.
These paper profiles are files that you put in a folder on your computer. On Mac this is in the main Library > Colorsync > Profiles folder. You can find the correct directory depending on what OS you use via Google.
Now that you’ve put the paper profiles in the correct directory, you can find them in your editing software to use as proofing. Soft proofing lets you simulate the final result on the paper, letting you adjust the editing according to the displayed simulation.
original image on the left, proof simulation on the right.
If you edit your images in Lightroom for example, you can press ’S’ to bring up the soft proofing menu. Here you can select the paper profile for the paper you’re using. The settings ‘Simulate Paper Ink and Relative/Perpetual are usually selected like they are in my example. However, double check this with the paper simulation settings from the manufacturer website. They’ll always say what settings to use in your simulation.
You’ll then see that the image will look different than how you edited it originally. In this example, the right image, which is the ‘proof’ looks much more muted and a bit less colourful than the original (click to see bigger). To fix this, we need to slightly re-edit the image, add some more colour and contrast, to make it look as close as possible as our original edit. This ensures the print comes out on paper as intended.
This is a crucial step in printing that many people actually don’t know or forget, and makes sure your print comes out how you want it to be!
Once you’ve edited your image and edited it accordingly to match the paper type simulation you’re almost ready to print it. The final step is sharpening. If you want your image to look sharp and make it pop just a little bit more from the paper, sharpening it the last step you’ll want to do. I usually do my sharpening in photoshop and it’s relatively straight forward:
Open the file in Photoshop
Duplicate the Background Layer so you get a new layer
Go to Filter -> Other -> High Pass
Now depending on the size of your file, you’re going to select a Radius. This creates contrast around edges of an images to make it sharper. For web, you want to be subtle with this and a radius of around 1 or 2 or less. But for paper, you can ‘over sharpen’ it a little bit. The trick is to oversharpen it just a little bit, so that it slightly looks over sharpened on your screen. It also depends on how big you are printing. If you’re printing a very big size, you can add more sharpening. For smaller sizes a bit less. Just experiment with it on a few images and you’ll find the sweet spot.
When done, simply press OK. Then click the layer and set the Blending Mode (the button in the Layer Panel, that says ‘Normal’ by default) Overlay. You’ll then see the sharpening applied. You can turn the layer On and Off to check the before/after result. And again, it’s okay to over sharpen a bit for print.
High pass layer that is used for sharpening in Photoshop.
Finally - Printing
It’s finally time to print the image. You can do this directly from Lightroom or Photoshop. Just make sure you select the right paper size and at the Print Management, select the paper profile. I personally use the software from Epson (as I have the Epson Printer). When I export my images out of Lightroom I use TIFF , and make sure to export in AdobeRGB.
With your printer you can print your photo in full size without borders, or with a border. I like to print with a border around and later frame it, but the professional printers like the P900 are also able to do a print until the complete edge of the paper.
For this example I am printing on the A3+ Epson Premium Luster paper, as you can see it’s selected on the bottom right. Also A3+ is selected. If I select a smaller size, the print will be smaller on the paper. So just make sure to get these things right.
Then simply hit print and see your print roll out of the printer!
Seeing the print roll out of the printer with the beautiful detail is very satisfying.
Printing is great fun. Not only does it give great satisfaction to get your print out of the printer with as great quality as possible, it’s also just nice to hold a print in your hand. Also, the quality when looking up close the prints is simply amazing (when using good paper, good printer and a high quality file). Giving prints away to friends and family and occasionally selling very personalised fine art prints is great to do as a hobby, and as a business. Doing it yourself definitely adds personal value to a printing product.
Not only that, you also learn a lot from it. Learning how to work with colour, calibration, colour profiles, paper profiles are things you normally don’t dive too deep in if you’re just viewing your work on your screen. Having the ability to understand how everything works will also improve your general color workflow.
I would definitely recommend people who are serious about photography to get a good printer at home. The Epson P900 is modern, easy to setup, has a touch screen and is fairly compact. To me it’s a great printer to work with.
I hope this article makes it a bit easier to understand how to go about printing at home. It’s not that complicated, but you just have to know the steps involved in doing it.
Feel free to ask any questions you want in the comment section below!