Print Like a Pro: How Do Professional Photographers Print Their Pictures?
Want to create gorgeous, high-quality, photographic prints? Here’s how the pros are printing high-end images their clients can cherish for generations.
When I first started in photography, I was a full-time teacher, which meant I didn’t have tons of free time. I’d basically shoot, edit, and burn a disc. One of the biggest changes I’ve made in my photography business is to provide my clients with high-quality print products.
How Should You Print Your Pictures?
You might be like me. When I first started printing, the prints looked horrible. I had no idea what I was doing wrong. I saw other people’s professional prints and wondered, “How do professional photographers print their pictures?” Luckily for me, I was able to learn some of the tips and tricks, and now my professional prints look so much better.
Creating professional prints might seem way too complicated or too much work, but don’t worry, I’m going to walk you through the whole process. In the end, you’ll see why this is so important, and you’ll have a solid understanding of how to make printing part of your workflow.
What is Digital Printing?
First off, let’s make sure we are all on the same page with what professional printing is. Digital Printing involves taking digital files and turning them into physical prints. It’s nothing new, just a different process. Back in the film days, the digital equivalent was a negative.
There are two main reasons to print your photos: for display samples, or for your clients.
When you’ve created something beautiful, you want to share it with the world! Having professional prints on display makes it easier for others to see and admire your work. It doesn’t matter how amazing your photos are if they are hidden on a hard drive for no one to see.
Offering professional prints to your clients can be a real game changer. I’ve seen it over and over again. There are photographers who were “shooting and burning”, making $150 per shoot, and then they skyrocketed to making $1000 or more per shoot by offering print products. Offering professional prints can double or triple your income!
The Digital File Debate
The biggest objection you are going to run into is your clients only wanting digitals. Yes, we are living in the digital age. My wife watches TV shows on her phone, and my kids did Zoom calls with their teachers when they couldn’t see them in person. Similarly, digital photography is what everyone is doing these days.
It is a digital world, but physical prints still have many advantages over digital photography, and you must make this clear to your clients.
#1: You are more likely to see and enjoy your photos if they are printed because you will see them daily.
You’ll see the prints on your walls, on your counters, and maybe an album on your table. How often do you look through all of your photos on your phone though?
#2: Prints are something you can physically touch.
It’s hard to explain, but there is something special about prints, about touching and holding an item. I love the ease of reading on a tablet, but give me a real book any day!
#3: Most screens are tiny!
I have no idea how people look at photos on phones. Try comparing a 3×5 inch screen to 24×30 inch prints!
#4: It’s good to have another copy of your photos.
People think digital files are indestructible, but they aren’t. Hard drives break and formats change. I’ve got plenty of VHS tapes sitting around collecting dust because I don’t have a functioning VHS player anymore.
Should Pro Photographers Print from Home?
Some professional photographers may choose to print from home. They already have the equipment, and they understand the process. It doesn’t matter if you just bought your first camera, if you’re doing photography part-time, or if you’ve been a full-time photographer for 10 years: everyone can print from home.
Some of you will be able to start printing from home without spending any money. Please understand that while everyone is capable of printing at home, that doesn’t mean the print quality will be the same. Print quality will vary depending on your printer, paper, and processing of the digital file.
What will you need?
You will need a few things to print at home. First, of course, you need a printer. With that, you’ll need ink and paper. For some, that might be it. There are some printers that can either connect to a phone or have a slot for memory cards.
For most, though, you’ll need some form of interface to connect to the printer, usually a computer. On that computer, you’ll interact with the printer and send the file that needs to be printed. Most computers have built-in software that can handle this, but if you want more control, you will want an editing program like Lightroom or Photoshop.
Why Print from Home?
This might already sound too confusing for some or too much work, so why would people even want to print from home?
Once you figure out the basics and get started, there really are several benefits to printing at home, like saving money, having more control, getting the photos faster, and seeing your results instantly.
Printing at home can save money.
It’s always nice to save money when you can. Printing at home can be cheaper than ordering from a company. Prices vary from company to company, but on average, a 5×7 costs around $1.25 plus shipping for a basic print.
The cost of printing at home will vary highly depending on the printer you use and the paper, but we can still get a general idea of the cost. If your printer, ink, and paper costs $150 for the first 100 prints, that’s an average of $1.50 per 5×7. After that, it costs roughly $80 to get ink and paper for another 100 prints. Now the average for a 5×7 is $0.80.
Again, these numbers will vary depending on a lot of factors, but if you print at home a lot, it will eventually be cheaper. With my printer, it’s roughly $.10 for a 5×7 print.
Printing at home gives you more control.
Are you the type of creative who wants control over every detail? If you print at home, you can make on-the-spot changes to the image’s exposure, sharpness, and color balance. When you print through a lab, however, you relinquish that control.
Printing at home is faster.
I love my professional print lab! They are amazingly fast. I ordered an album one morning and got it the following evening. That’s fast, but not as fast as printing at home. When you print at home, you have the photos as soon as they come out of the printer. There’s no waiting in line or waiting for shipments.
Ask yourself: “Is it worth the time and effort?”
One big thing to consider is whether photo printing from home is worth your time and effort. Are all the benefits listed above worth a few hours of your time for figuring things out, setting things up, and going through the process? Or is it better to send it off to a professional printer?
What are the Different Kinds of Printers for Photos?
There are two main types of printers used for printing photos: inkjet and laser. They are very different, and what is right for one person might not be right for another. Let’s look at each one.
Using an Inkjet Printer
The more common of the two is the inkjet printer. It’s likely that you already have one of these at your house (or you did in the past.) People will use these for printing documents, but they can also be used for printing photos.
Pros of an Inkjet Printer
- affordable—as low as $35, higher end $400
- better photo quality
- generally smaller footprint
Cons of an Inkjet Printer
- ink can dry up if not used
- possible clogs
- higher cost per page
Using a Laser Printer
If you’ve ever worked in a large business, I’m sure you’ve had to deal with a laser printer. These bad boys are made to print lots of documents—and fast!
Pros of a Laser Printer
- mainly in offices
- high quantity
- fast print time
- more prints per ink cartridge
- cheaper per page
Cons of a Laser Printer
- made mainly for documents
- photo quality isn’t as great
- generally larger footprint
Different Types of Ink for Printing
Not all inks are the same, and it’s important to choose the right ink for what you are wanting to accomplish.
Dyes are the more common type of ink. They are cheaper and create bright, vibrant colors. One downside is dyes will fade over time.
Pigments are more expensive than dyes, and are not used as much. The big benefit is the longevity of these prints. They will last much longer than dye prints, so they are used for archival prints, not necessarily “everyday prints.”
One other thing that’s important to know about ink is that it varies from printer to printer—just like different cameras create different looking photos. If you use different printers, you’ll need to make unique adjustments for each. This usually involves changing the exposure, white balance, and contrast.
Choose the Right Paper
Like printers and ink, all printer papers are not the same. There are differences in quality, thickness, finishes, and sizes. Think about the purpose of the photo. Will it be fine art and hung on your client’s wall? Or instead of fine art, is it a snapshot that your client will likely keep on his or her desk for a year or two? All of the options below will be affected by that.
When you look at printer paper, there is usually some rating for the quality of the paper. It could be a number or star rating, or it could be something like “Everyday” versus “Premium.” The quality will affect things like the color and sharpness.
A paper’s thickness is measured in pounds. The heavier it is, the thicker it will be. This won’t affect your print that much if it will be framed. I find that thickness matters more with prints that will be handled. They feel different, sturdier.
A photo’s finish affects the overall look of the print. Glossy prints will have a shine to them and look smoother, while a matte print will look more flat and have some texture. These are just two of many options.
Another important thing to consider with paper is the size. Most printers max out at 8×10. If you are wanting to deliver wall art to your clients, you’ll need a larger printer.
Here are two last tips for picking photo paper. If you are printing at home, match the brand of paper to the brand of printer. Don’t use Canon paper with a HP printer. The inks are made and tested for that paper, and won’t react the same for a different brand. Also, download the drivers for your machine so you can select the exact type of paper you are using.
What if I Want to Order Prints?
If you love the idea of creating prints but don’t want to go through all the work of doing it at home, there are plenty of professional printers that can meet your needs.
Your Local Print Shop
Almost every city will have a local print shop. Some of these shops will be devoted completely to photo prints, while others might print things like signs and banners.
The great thing about using a local print shop is the access to in-person customer service. You can go into the store and ask questions and build a relationship with them. They will become someone you know and trust. It’s also always nice to support the local economy and small businesses.
To find a local print shop, Google local print companies, photography printers near me, or photography prints near me.
Online Photo Printers
Still can’t find a printer? You are in luck! There are dozens of online-based print companies.
Online print companies let you do everything from home. You order from your computer, then the photos are shipped to you or drop-shipped directly to your clients.
These companies are great at what they do, so you can expect amazing quality, but you won’t know your printer personally. For me, that has never been an issue. If I have a problem, I can make a phone call or use their online chat feature to fix things quickly.
I’ve been using Millers Lab for the majority of my printing for the past six years or more. Other great professional printing companies I love are Bay Photo, WHCC, Artsy Couture, Pro DPI, and Simply Color Lab. If you’re looking for quality prints, these are some of the best professional printers to check out.
Know Your Numbers
Before you start printing either for yourself or for your clients, it is smart to take a look at the numbers.
When you are printing for yourself, create a budget so things don’t get out of hand and you can have enough money to get the final product you want. Consider the cost of the print, shipping, and taxes, as well as any form of framing or mounting.
When you’re selling prints to clients, the hardest part is deciding on a price for their products. How much should you charge for an 8×10, a 24×30, a canvas, etc? First, figure out your costs. That means the cost of the physical product and the cost of your time producing it. Let’s say your time is worth $25 an hour. An 8×10 might cost $5 to create, but if you spend an hour getting it ready and delivering it, your total cost is really $30. From there, most people will suggest you multiply that by 3x or 4x to get your final price.
Prepare Your File
Now that you’ve decided where and what you are going to print, you’ve got to prepare the file. This involves several different things, but if you don’t do it, your print won’t turn out the way you want.
Before you start, ensure your monitor is calibrated. Often, what you see on your screen isn’t what someone else will see. What looks perfectly balanced might be really off. Datacolor and X-Rite have calibration devices that adjust your screen’s brightness and color so “what you see is what you get.”
Next, make adjustments to the file. These adjustments will vary depending on your style preference, the condition of the original file, and the printer equipment. The most common adjustments include color, contrast, and sharpness.
Another setting that will matter is the color space. The most common color spaces are Adobe RGB and sRGB. All this means is the amount of colors available in that file. Adobe RGB has a wider range, but it also can cause more problems with printing. I’ve been using sRGB and had no problems, and most professional labs require files in sRGB.
You will also want to look at the size of the file. Check if you have enough PPI (pixels per inch). 300 PPI works for most situations. The other part of the size is the aspect ratio. If you are printing a 5×7 or 8×10 from a full-frame camera, part of your image will be cropped out. I’d suggest cropping the file to the exact size so you know precisely what will get printed.
Ask for a Proof
As I mentioned before, there are a lot of things that can go wrong during the printing process. It could be something you’ve done, or just a difference in the print company’s process. Before you buy a big, expensive print from a lab, it’s a good idea to ask for a proof first.
If your company is willing to do it, they can take your file and print a small version for you. This way, you’ll ensure everything looks great before ordering the final product.
What will You do with Your Finished Print?
You’ve gone through all of this work to get your print made, but now what do you do with it? Hopefully you considered this when making your budget; but it still involves effort to get things finished.
Will you put your print in a frame? Will there be glass? Will there be a mat? Are you going to do all of this by yourself? These are all important things to consider, and your printer might be able to handle all of these for you.
When making those decisions, think about where the print will be. What style of frame will you need for the room? What color? Will it look good with the current photos?
Shooting Techniques for a Fine Finished Product
All of this is good, but what if your digital files have problems from the beginning? What if it’s out of focus, or way underexposed? If you have those problems or others, it will be hard to make a quality print.
There are several things you can do while shooting to make sure you have the best digital file for print.
#1: Shoot at the lowest possible ISO.
Cameras today can handle higher ISOs, but the quality of the file will still be better at a lower ISO.
#2: Pay attention to your sharpness and depth of field.
Set your aperture and shutter speed high enough to make sure you have focus where you want it.
#3: Shoot in RAW format.
I know there’s a lot of debate about this, but RAW files have more information and allow for more adjustments later. In my mind, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
An Easy Printing Solution for Everyone
I know I have struggled with getting prints made in the past—and it’s part of my job! It’s even harder for my clients, so I make it easy for them by using ShootProof. You can do the same thing!
All you have to do is set up a gallery through ShootProof with your favorite print lab and automate it all. Once the images are uploaded, set up your shopping cart with product options and prices. Make sure to limit the options so they don’t get overwhelmed.
For wall art, Shootproof has an amazing new feature. You can see exactly what a certain size photo would look like on a wall! This way, you can see if you need a larger size before ordering.
Once your clients are ready, they choose the picture and size, and the finished product gets shipped directly to them. Easy as can be!
A Memory for the Ages
Printing for photographers is something that should happen on a regular basis, but it can be a complicated task. You have to decide whether you want to do it yourself or outsource to a company. While it is a lot of work, the end result is so worth it: a beautiful print that you or your clients will admire for years to come.
Bryan Striegler is a wedding photographer who loves superheroes, sports, and skittles. Along with his saint of a wife and their crew of kids, Bryan lives in northwest Arkansas where, in his free time, he’s constantly searching for the next great Netflix binge.