Winter light.
Winter light.

The final step. Printing.

As you know, for me, the image really isn’t a photograph until it’s printed on some kind of paper. There are a lot of ways to do that.

I don’t do my own printing. I send my digital files to a local imaging guy in New Orleans. Not only is that convenient, but I truly believe him to be one of the best printers in the country. As I mentioned in an earlier post we’ve been working together for so long that we know each other’s moves. Usually his first print is the final print.


I usually print a portfolio of the best of my year’s work. I do that using Blurb Books. Because they are an on demand printer, they can be pricy. But, for a portfolio of 20 prints or so bound in a book, it is a fairly inexpensive and elegant option. Besides, once you’ve made one book the template is stored on their server. You can make a portfolio, leave it with a client or give it to a friend and print another one.

For those of you who want make your own prints, there is a lot to know. Probably way more than I know.

Let’s start here.

DPI v PPI. I just read a number of comments that started out with, “for some reason “they” are using ppi instead of dpi.” Hmmmm… think of it as output v input. DPI means dots per inch and usually refers to the number of dots per inch on a printed page. PPI means pixels per inch and refers to a digital file that was made in your camera and processed using your favorite software. The more dots on a printed page, the higher the quality of the image.

To a point.

Most people believe that 300 DPI is the best possible quality. Sort of. That number was created from whole clothe way back in the early days of digital reproduction. Since high quality printing on a commercial press usually began at 150 lines per inch, a group of technicians got together and simply doubled the number and agreed that was the baseline for high quality digital reproduction.

As usual, that depends.

It depends on dot or pixel size. It depends on paper quality. It depends on input. A big sensor on a camera is preferable to a tiny one. It depends on what the output source really is… a home printer, a more professional inkjet printer or even a big commercial press.

Some people believe that anywhere from 200 to 240 DPI is just as good as 300 DPI. There are some fine art printers who say that you can print as high as 600 DPI. And, everywhere else in between. At 600 DPI there no space between the dots. The print appears to be smooth and very detailed. But, the digital file from which you are making that print must be perfect or all you get is a sea of mud and blur.

Viewing distance matters. The further away the human eye is from the print, the lower the DPI can be. For instance, a printed bill board or bus board need only be printed at no more than 150 DPI.

The original digital file size matters.  If we use the standard 300 DPI and 8 x 10 inch image — also a standard size (in the old days) — as an example. You must have a 2400 x 3000 PPI digital file in order to make a print that looks like a photograph. That’s simple math. My mirrorless Sony cameras make a file of 4000 x 6000 PPI. There are many ways of “uprezing” or interpolating files to make them bigger. That’s one reason I use On1. They own a company called Genuine Fractals who is state of the art for interpolation. Set the size that you want and push a button. The software does the rest. These days, Photoshop does that just as well. It’s all math. And, engineering.

Once you have figured out how you are going to use the print and performed the proper post production, you are ready to make a print, or have a professional printer do it for you.


A monitor is translucent. A piece of paper is opaque. What you see and like on your screen will probably be printed too dark, unless you calibrate your monitor to accommodate that. I like Apple’s calibration just fine. But, there are also sorts of companies who make devices and software to read your screen. I’ve used Spyder in the past.

Even with that, there is more to know. What your eye sees and your brain comprehends is different from any kind of reproduction. Some colors just do not reproduce exactly the way you want them to. I learned that working on big, commercial presses. Everything is a compromise on them, especially when you are printing 16 pages “to view” or at one time.

So too, on a small printer. Everything on the print might look great with the exception of one tiny place. You struggle to get that little detail correct and everything else gets out of balance. Usually that happens with pure yellow. Yellow is one of the hardest colors to reproduce exactly. I suggest you figure out what part of the picture is most important to you and let the rest of the image fall where it may.

There are “tricks” that come with printing experience. For instance. Black controls contrast. Blue (Cyan) controls depth and richness. Red (Magenta) adds warmth. Yellow controls brightness. A few percentage points in any direction can make a world of difference.

And, one more thing.

I mentioned paper quality. That’s one issue. But paper finish matters too. Glossy papers “hold” less ink than matte papers. Matte finishes tend to suck up ink like a sponge. Fine art papers even more so. The print can look too full and ink will bleed. In order to control that you must set your printer profiles. Some are generic and appear on a drop down menu on your printer or processing software. Some are created by the paper company. You can download those for free and add them to your drop down list. There is also the question of which software controls your printer. Your processing software? Or, the printer’s software. As usual, that depends.

Confused yet? I am too. Sometimes. And, I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s also why I don’t do it myself anymore. By the time I use a couple of sheets of paper and ink to make the print to my specs, it’s way more cost and time effective to let the professionals do it.

Oh. Don’t get me started on the new finishes. Glass. Metal. Infused. Those are a world unto their own. Some look great. Especially for my normal color palette. But, there are compromises with those as well. Most can’t be hung in direct sunlight or the image fades fairly quickly. Even paper and ink fades, but most have about a 100 year life. The new finishes do not. Some can fade in a few years.

The picture. Winter skies in Louisiana. An iPhone picture. I made it on a dog walk. But, she didn’t see it. I did a little post production using Snapseed on my phone.


10 Replies to “Ink on Paper”

    1. iPhone pictures print fine as long as you do the proper interpolation. After all the file is something huge, but at 72 ppi. There is one hanging on the music studio wall that is 16 x 16 inches and it looks great. There was a lot more data if I wanted to make it bigger. Google Jack Hollingsworth. He’s the iPhone guru. He and his colleague do gallery shows from iPhone files.

      Liked by 1 person

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