preparing for print
Hi all! Printing is one of the most exciting parts of the imaging process. We have a few tips for you to make sure you get the best results possible. In this post, we are barely scratching the surface of a very complex process that takes years to learn and perfect, so those who are more familiar with the process may disagree with a couple things we say or think "but I prefer to do it this way" -- that's fine.
Let's start with the raw. You'll want to make sure you're sharpening in Lightroom/ACR. This is usually not our final print or web sharpening, but is just to correct any slight blur in the details raw. Zoom into 100%. Play with the amount -- it will vary depending on your camera, but for our files it's usually around 50-70. Radius usually less than 1.5 but varies on the image, detail your choice (I usually keep it at default 25). Masking, slide the slider to the right with Alt/Option key pressed down until you see the edges start to appear. You don't want to be sharpening places that don't have detail to sharpen, or you'll just add unnecessary noise. Note that this is NOT web sharpening, so you shouldn't see much difference at small size. Just for pixel peeping.
OK, so you've sharpened your raw. If you were exporting for web, you would want to apply web sharpening upon export. This optimizes the file at the size you choose for web export. But this isn't what we want for print, as we aren't going to print a 1080px file.
So, for print...
With the file open in Photoshop, your goal is to sharpen the details big time in specific detail-rich areas but not in areas that don't need it (as you'll just be adding noise). Those of you who know Photoshop are probably thinking, "layer mask! layer mask!" -- and you're right.
First, you'll want to stamp a new layer (Cmd-Option-Shift-E or Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E) and choose a sharpening method. Both Unsharp Mask and Smart Sharpen can work well. (Filters --> Sharpen --> Smart Sharpen or Unsharp Mask). You'll want to apply a healthy amount -- for many files, 150 in Smart Sharpen would not be excessive -- and play with the radius depending on how fine the detail in the image is, reduce noise just a little bit (we'll mask it out of the noisy areas later, anyway). The amounts you use for each slider depend on exactly what effects you want; we recommend you play with them on your images to see what they do (set each one to max and see what changes).
When you're done, you'll want to apply a layer mask, and paint black over areas that don't have much detail (skies, fog, etc). This allows you to sharpen the areas you want to sharpen, without affecting the rest of the image.
Now, let's talk a little about colors. You'll want to select the right color space and soft proof using the color profile for the printer you'll be using.
Make sure your file is in sRGB color space. (You can use Adobe RGB if you really know what you're doing... but we strongly recommend sticking to sRGB for starters).
We'll be using SmugMug for this, who prints with Bay Photo. Their profile is available here, along with instructions to install in Photoshop. Once that's installed, go to View --> Proof Colors and look for any shifts. If you see hardly any shifts, that's great -- you're good to go. (If you've converted to sRGB, you often won't see much, if anything. If you're in Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB, you might see more.) If you do see a shift, go to View --> Gamut Warning and see what areas are highlighted.
These highlighted areas are the colors that the printer will not be able to replicate accurately. If you don't correct to stay within gamut, you will see color shifts in these areas when you print, unless you correct them yourself. You can find more info on correcting them yourself here.
When you're done soft proofing, remember to go back to View --> Gamut Warning and View --> Proof Colors to turn them off and re-enter normal view. (The file name in Photoshop should change when you turn it off/on, indicating the view.)
Hope this helps a bit! There is a lot more to this topic than we have discussed here -- it's probably obvious that we glossed over several things -- but these are intended as basic tips to improve your printing results.
To summarize: sharpen the raw in ACR/Lightroom, then sharpen separately for web or print. Use sRGB for print unless you are sure you know what you're doing.