Printmaking – 10 Tips to Make Better Prints

Last week a previous PhotoShop student of mine stopped by my store to discuss printmaking. We talked about a lot about techniques, papers, and one of my favourite topics, how to make black and white prints.  Consequently, for this week I decided to pass along a summary of that discussion in the form of 10 tips for readers that should help them to make better prints.

1. I’ll begin with the most important tip for getting a good digital print, which is a good quality image. You will need a good original image in order to get top quality digital photography printing. It’s like the old saying, “garbage in, garbage out.”

2.  Learn to white balance your camera. Proper camera white balance means the camera’s sensor reproduces the “colour temperature” of a light source, or the relative warmth, or coolness of white light. Setting the camera’s white balance corrects all the colours in your pictures, taking into account the light in which they were shot.

3.  If you are using a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera be sure to clean the sensor regularly. Even if you never remove the lens, dust will get in and show up on your prints.  Some cameras have self-cleaning, but that doesn’t remove all the dust from the camera, it only shakes it off the sensor and it will eventually find it’s way back, so to make sure I regularly clean my sensor with a clean blower.

4.  Calibrate the computer monitor. Do this about every two weeks with a new monitor, and then every month or so after it is a year old.  Adobe Photoshop provides the Adobe Gamma Wizard or use a more a specialized product by Color Vision, Monaco, Digital Light, or other manufacturers.

5.  Choose a colour space for the camera’s image files.  The two most common with digital images are sRGB and Adobe RGB 1998.   Check the camera’s menu for that initial selection.  If you are making enhancements to your images in PhotoShop you will do better with Adobe RGB 1998; it covers a wider colour gamut.  Wider range of colours mean more precise colour adjustments. These are subtle.

6.  Improve contrast.  Photographs from digital cameras are sometimes pretty flat and lack the contrasts that were once provided by films like Velvia and Ektachrome VC.  If shooting JPGs learn how to use levels and curves. With RAW it’s easy using the sliders in Adobe’s RAW converter.

7.  Resize your image.  Choose a resolution from 250 to 300.

8.  Sharpen.  All digital images whether scanned, or direct from the digital camera, require sharpening for a satisfactory print. I leave my camera at normal and do the real work in PhotoShop. Sharpening isn’t all that hard, there are many ways. Just spend some time searching the Internet and choose a method that isn’t complicated. I like sharpening to fit easily into my printmaking workflow.

9.  Choose the right paper.  Just like traditional photography, the paper you choose to print with will make a big difference. In Photoshop select print with preview and choose your surface – matt or glossy.  Be sure to go on-line and download the correct profile into PhotoShop for the paper you are using.

10.  Set your printer’s driver.  To maintain the colour accuracy of your image, it is essential to set your printer driver correctly. When you are ready to print, select the print preview option in your file menu.  There are several steps – you should learn them by reading your instruction manual for your printer.   It is important to let your printer know the amount of ink for the type of paper and surface.

And lastly, after printing save those images on archival CDs, DVDs or on external hard-drives. Don’t make the mistake of leaving all those image files on your computer, that’s the best way to loose everything.  Cheap bargain discs will degrade with time. Don’t store them in the sun and don’t write on them.

I really appreciate your comments.

And my website can be found at

Digital Camera Terminology for photographers

A customer walked into my shop last week complaining.  She said, “ My camera isn’t working.  I think there is something wrong with the chip.”  I thought at first that the camera’s main computer wasn’t working and then I realized she was talking about her camera’s memory card, or the small picture storage hard-drive we insert in the camera.  Digital technology  confronts photographers with new terminology. I have written about terminology (or jargon)  in the past, but for those new to this the following may help to understand just what some of the words mean.

Digital Images:  The digital image is a grid of dots or picture elements (pixels). Each pixel is assigned tonal values (black, white, shades of gray, and color), the bits are then interpreted, read by the computer, and produced as an analog version for display or printing. 

Pixel: Picture Element: Digital photographs are comprised of thousands, or millions of them; they are the building blocks of a digital photo (see above).

Sensors: When a picture is taken, the sensor is struck by light coming through the camera’s lens. Each of the tiny pixels that make up the sensor converts this light into electrons. The number of electrons, usually described as the pixel’s accumulated charge, is measured and then converted to a digital value.   There are two most popular types:  CCD: Charge Coupled Device; and CMOS: Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor.

White Balance:  Is a function on the digital camera. It refers to the relative intensity of colors in your image. Without correction, a picture taken at sunset can seem too yellow or orange and a picture taken under fluorescent lights might seem too green. Some cameras come with built-in automatic white balance correction.

DPIDots Per Inch is a measurement of the resolution of a digital photo or digital device. When printing, the higher the number the greater the print quality.

Image Resolution:  Is the number of pixels in a digital photo and that affects the image quality.                                                                         

LCD: Liquid Crystal Display: A low-power monitor often used on a digital camera to display settings or the photo itself.                                                                                                             

Histogram: A graphic representation available on the LCD, of the range of tones from dark to light in a photo.                                                                                                                            

ISO: International Standards Organization is a rating describing the sensitivity of the cameras sensor to light. Generally, as ISO speed climbs, image quality drops.                                                                                                         

JPEG:  A standard for compressing image data developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group. It is referred to as a lossy format, which means some quality is lost in achieving JPEG’s high compression rates. Usually, if a high-quality, low-compression JPEG setting is chosen on a digital camera, the loss of quality is not detectable to the eye.                                                

RAW:  Is the image format data as it comes directly off the sensor, with no in-camera processing.                       

Megabyte (MB):  A measurement of data storage equal to 1024 kilobytes (KB).                                                         

Mega Pixel:  Equal to one million pixels.                                                                                                         

Noise:  Pixels in your digital image that were misinterpreted, usually at the higher ISO values. It appears as random groups of red, green or blue pixels.

Shutter Lag:  The time between pressing the shutter and actually capturing the image.  This is due to the camera having to calculate the exposure, set the white balance, and focus the lens. It is usually a problem with small point and shoot cameras.