Most of us carry and share albums of our photographs with our phones every day. When was the last time you carried prints of your images with you? When was the last time you made a print? If you haven’t made prints recently, you’re missing out. So are your images. Making prints does many things for your images.

How many things? Let me count the ways …


Prints make your images tangible. Prints enhance your images with material qualities and the associations they bring with them. Synthetic or organic? Reflective or non-reflective? Smooth or textured? Uniform or irregular? Sharp or soft? White or cream? Transparent or metallic? These and many other factors will have an impact on the technical quality of your images (color, detail, gradation, etc) and on the reactions they produce within their viewers (“It feels like or reminds me of …”).


Prints define the scale of your images. What is the appropriate scale for an image – miniature, life-sized, or larger-than-life? Do you want people to walk up to a building-sized mountain or hold it in their hands? Scale changes the physical and psychological reactions people have to images. They draw close to small prints and sometimes hold them or even carry them with them wherever they go; large prints immerse people in images that may fill their entire visual field until they pull back to view them from a distance. You can change a space or even create new space with prints.


Printing makes your images more durable. So far, it’s prints that have stood the test of time. Historically, it’s the images that were printed that survived. Putting new technology disaster stories aside, there’s never been a precedent to help us determine how long digital files will last if properly cared for. In theory, they should never degrade and can be copied indefinitely without reducing their quality. Whether people, first you and later the inheritors of your images, will perform the required maintenance to ensure this is the real question. One day in the future, media and format migration may become automated, but it’s not now. Consider prints your ultimate form of backup. Though they can deteriorate on their own, if properly produced and stored, prints need little or no additional care and no know how to retrieve and use them.


Because they’re physical, prints are easily bought and sold. It’s hard to command a high price for intangible things and harder still for them to hold their value or appreciate. In recent years, there have been unprecedented escalations in the value of photographic prints. Photographic prints have sold for as much as major paintings.


Images in print are more rare as well as less accessible. (Often, this contributes to both their market and personal value.) Prints take up physical space and why would you let something do that if it wasn’t important? Of all the images you look at in a day, how many of them are prints? No one carries thousands of prints in their pockets or on their cell phones. No one makes millions of prints. How many prints do you make? Most of us don’t make enough prints. Making a print is a statement.

Different Experiences

Traditionally, to be viewed at all photographs needed to be printed. Today, that’s no longer true. Still, prints encourage images to be viewed in different ways. If you’re like most people, only the most important images to you have been printed and only a few of those are displayed at one time or for long periods of time. We look at images that are printed differently than images that are not. Do you look more frequently and longer at images that have been printed or images that haven’t? Prints persist. They remain in our environment consistently and require little or no conscious effort for us to consider and reconsider them yet often they demand that we do look at them more consciously. Making prints can become a part of the decision-making process to focus more attention on a select few images. When images are printed they are no longer lost amid so many other less important images. When printed your images become more significant.

In short, printing your images can work wonders for them. It can also work wonders for you.

Read What Making Prints Can Do For You.

Read more in my Printing resources.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


Almost everyday, we make, collect, sequence, process, and share our photographs on digital devices with screen. When was the last time you made a print? If you haven’t made prints recently, you’re missing out. Making prints does many things for you.

How many things? Let me count the ways …

You Connect

When you’re having a hard time believing something, you want to confirm what you see by touching it. Once you touch it, it’s hard to deny – and you learn more about it. Touch is an essential part of a doctor’s diagnosis and healing practice. When you touch and are touched by something you make a special connection. When you make your images physical, you can touch them and they will touch you. This works for other people who get to experience your prints too.

You Look More Carefully

When you make a print you consider your images more carefully. Along the way, you’ll find many ways to improve your images. This adds up. You learn not only what to look for but also what’s possible. You train yourself to look closer and deeper. If you make this a regular practice you’ll find your vision as a whole will improve.

You Develop A Relationship

When you make prints you look at your images more often. While you’re printing them you look at them very carefully, so carefully that sometimes you need to take a break to find perspective. After you print them, you still look at them more carefully at first, but this tends to diminish over time, even though it’s always an option. Because a print persists in your environment you’ll find you also look at your images casually too, sometimes you just see them out of the corner of your eye … and your subconscious registers this. Prints create an accumulation of perception, which deepens your understanding of images on many levels. Once again, this happens for people who view your prints too.

You Decide What’s Most Important

You make a lot of photographs. How many get printed? One percent? Only the best and the most important images are worth printing. Print an image and it makes a statement, simply because it’s printed.

Inevitably, when making a print some things are gained and others are lost. The sacrifices you are willing to make offer still more opportunities for you to clarify your vision. What are you willing to compromise on? What aren’t you willing to compromise? When you make these choices you make a statement, to yourself and others.

You Choose How You’d Like Your Images To Be Received

The many new opportunities making prints presents will challenge you to clarify and declare your creative goals. The way you choose to print (or not to print) your images will encourage people to look at, interact with, share, and value them in entirely different ways. How would you like your images to look? How would you like others to look at your images? How do you want people to interact with your images? Do you want to present your images as casual, every day, highly accessible, utilitarian artifacts or scarce, highly refined, collectibles? If your goal is to make a historic record you may be content with making a few, perhaps only one, possibly quite small, highly durable print that is stored and preserved very carefully for the future appreciation of only a few. On the other hand, if your goal is to expose the largest number of people possible to your imagery, you may want to consider creating an international billboard campaign. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. There is your answer – if you make a print.

You Learn About Yourself

You learn a lot about your images and yourself when you make a print. Realizing your vision in print means more than just making it real, it also means making many realizations along the way. To make a print you have to make a number of decisions. The choices you make reflect your personal likes and dislikes. Go beyond simply saying “I like it.” or “I don’t like it.” Next, ask “Why?” Answering this all-important question will make your personal vision and style clearer. It will make it clearer to people you share your prints with too.

You Share Your Journey

The things you make your images into will guide your audience through a reenactment of your journey of discovery – selecting your subject, composing it, exposing it, processing it, printing it, and sharing it. Prints offer invitations for others to carefully consider not only what you’ve seen, but also the way you’ve see it, and the ways you’ve chosen to share it.

Sure, you can let others make prints for you. Sometimes you have to. But, when you do, you’ll be missing out on many of the opportunities printing presents to further clarify, refine, strengthen, and fulfill your vision. So will your viewers. Even if you print, really print, just once, you’ll learn a lot.

Read What Printing Can Do For Your Images.

Read more in my Printing resources.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Jeremy Cowart

Gregory Crewdson

Loise Greenfield

Download The Digital Printing Quick Start Guide here.

Read more on digital printing here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


When you’re evaluating print quality, knowing what to look for is almost as important as knowing how to achieve it. Many technical factors contribute to print quality. Here’s a list of things to look for when you’re evaluating print quality – yours and others’.

It’s not that every one of these factors has to be optimal to achieve great print quality. It is that every factor you optimize enhances print quality further.

Well Focused

No Motion Blur

No Sharpening Artifacts

Extended Depth Of Field

Extended Dynamic Range

Appropriate Lightness

Highlight Detail / Separation In Values

Shadow Detail / Separation In Values

Mid-tone Contrast


No Posterization

Low Noise

No Noise Reduction Artifacts


Believable Color … or … Color Transformed With Intent

Color Without Artificial Color Casts

Variation In Single Colors

Saturated Color


Appropriate Materials

Appropriate Scale

Appropriate Presentation Materials

Appropriate Contextualization

Appropriate Price

So what’s ‘appropriate’? That all depends on the statement being made. The real question is, “What is the artist trying to do? And how well did they achieve that?” You can successfully break the rules if you break them for a reason.


There’s no mystery to what it takes to make great prints. There are just many things to consider before making them and many steps to take while making them. Set clear objectives, map the process out clearly, master the skills in each step (or collaborate with people who have mastered specific skills) and you too will be able to produce great prints.

Here’ an overview of what it takes.

1       Know What To Look For

More than half the battle is learning to know what to look for. While there are many things to look for, and many exceptions that can be made, the guiding principle can be simply stated as reproduce fine detail without process artifacts. Focus, depth of field, shadow and highlight detail, smooth gradation, minimal noise, and flawless surfaces are all prized. Exceptions are useful if they are made for a reason. Find out how great prints can be by looking at some of the best prints produced in galleries and museums. Nothing is quite like the real thing

2       Choose A Versatile Inkset

All inks are not created equally. To make the best prints, choose the best ink sets. The best ink sets produce rich blacks, neutral neutrals, good gray balance, and saturated colors. They offer substantially reduced gloss differential and metamerism. They’re fast drying and permanent; both light fast and water resistant.

3       Choose An Expressive Substrate  

Take a little time to explore your options. There are many great papers to choose from. And you can print on other substrates like wood, metal, and plastic. Each material brings unique expressive dimensions to your images. Experiment and evaluate before you commit. Make it a point to continue exploring your options in this fast evolving field.

4       Use Color Management Correctly

Take these six steps. One, make profiled conversions into a wide-gamut, device neutral editing space, like ProPhoto RGB. Two, calibrate your monitor using hardware. Three, set good Photoshop Color Settings that alert you when color management operations are about to happen and give you choices for how they will be handled. Four, softproof before you print to choose a rendering intent and make output specific adjustments. Five, navigate your printer driver correctly, choosing high quality profiles and one kind of color management not two. Six, control your environment, editing and evaluating proofs and prints in neutral well-lit surroundings.

5       Proof Before You Print

Color management get you 90% of the way there, but to get the last 10% you need to proof before you make your final prints. To get the best prints possible, you often need to take extra steps like restoring deep shadow detail, sharpening for substrate and size, compensating for scale and viewing light temperature to name a few. It’s this last 10% that often separates good from great prints.

6       Frame a Sense of Destination

They say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” But will you be happy with where you ended up? Before you start out, take a little time to decide where you want to go and how you want to get there and you’ll avoid wandering aimlessly and taking fruitless sidetracks. You won’t waste time and you’ll be much less likely to abandon your quest out of frustration. So, look before you leap. With a clear idea of what you want to achieve, the steps you need to take will become clear and you’ll be far more likely to achieve your goal.

7       Adopt A Flexible Workflow

Practice a workflow that will ensure that you get the highest quality precisely and efficiently; one that will allow you to modify your work in the future in the least amount of time, should new tools arise, new techniques be developed, or your vision changes. Stay flexible; use and know the difference between editing with metadata, smart objects, layers, and adjustment layers. Adjust luminosity first, hue second, and saturation third. Work globally before working locally. Memorize the steps you take and the order you take them in. Proceed in a logical fashion. Optimize. Softproof. Proof. Print. Make exceptions for good reasons.

8       Use A Preflight Checklist

Pilots and doctors use checklists. You should too. No matter how smart or practiced you are, you will forget something. A simple checklist will keep you on track and make sure that important details don’t get overlooked. Using a checklist will help ensure optimum quality while saving you time and money.

9       Optimize the Data In Your File

Your print will only be as good as the data in your digital file. Printers will reproduce not only the great work you’ve done but also the flaws you’ve left unaddressed. Learn to optimally process digital files. Set good black and white points. Optimize midtone contrast. Clear color casts. Enhance saturation. Avoid introducing posterization, and excessive noise. Sharpen your images appropriately. Using brushing, selections and masking you’ll find you can enhance your images in many ways, including and even far exceeding traditional methods of dodging and burning. Learn to not only to do your images justice but to breathe new life into them.

10      Prepare Your File For Output

A monitor is different than a print. So data that looks good on a monitor needs to be adjusted to look good in print. Softproofing will help you choose a rendering intent and make output specific adjustments for your choice of paper, ink, driver, profile, and rendering intent. Proofing will help you compensate for the rest; overinking, output sharpening, adjusting for scale and viewing light.

11      Sharpen Appropriately

Sharpen in a logical three step process; capture, creative, and output. During raw conversion, sharpen for input (lenses), avoiding artifacting. During image optimization, sharpen creatively for effect (often selectively). Before printing, sharpen for output conditions, taking into account printer, paper, and size.

12      Print At An Appropriate Scale

You can’t make a poster out of a postage stamp. Don’t print images so large that flaws become distracting to the viewing experience. Choose an appropriate scale. Portraits in miniature offer very different experiences than life size representations or larger than life murals. Choose a scale that enhances the statement of your images. Bigger isn’t always better.

13      Maintain Your Printer

Today’s inkjet printers need a surprisingly little maintenance, but they still need a little. Learn to align heads and clear nozzle clogs. Ensure the data stream to your printer is fast and uninterrupted. Keep your printer clean of ink and lint. Maintain an average temperature and humidity. Do this occasionally and color shifts and banding will become rarities for you.

14      View Your Proofs and Prints In Good Light

For photographers, light matters; at the point of capture, while editing, and when viewing proofs and prints. Choose lighting that is bright and of the right color temperature. While industrial and commercial applications favor 5000K, most displays for public viewing favor 3600K. Use full spectrum bulbs, like Solux, when you can. Your prints will look better under better light. All your hard work will go unrecognized if your prints are presented in the dark.

15      Handle With Care

Take care in the way you handle substrates before, during, and after production. Store them in dry environments in snug, sealed, unbendable containers that are dust and detritus resistant. Once produced, use slip sheets to reduce abrasion Avoid bending, scratching, scuffing, and burnishing.

16      Annotate Accurately

Sign them. Number them, even if they’re not part of a limited edition. Note them with provenance or production history; date printed, paper, ink, and coating used. Use pencil for matte surfaces or pigmented ink for glossy surfaces. “Permanent” pens are waterproof but not lightfast. Do this either on the front or the back of the print, but do it on the print, outside the image area, so that if support / presentation materials are damaged the print won’t be.

17      Polish Your Presentation

Even the best prints will go under appreciated if they are not presented with care. There are many ways to enhance the presentation of your images; portfolios, binding, mounting, framing, etc. Be creative. Set a tone that compliments your work. But, don’t let the presentation compete for attention with your work.

With the mystery of the process of making great prints dispelled, the real mystery will quickly reveal itself – the expression of your unique ideas and voice. The choices you make during the process are what makes your work interesting, not the process itself. This is where the real work of art begins and where its real rewards are found. Ideally, you’ll find this to be a path of discovery and self-realization. If, at the end of the process, you arrive with a changed view of yourself and the world you live in, then you’ve truly made a journey worth making, a journey we’ll all want to revisit by viewing your prints, time and time again,

Read more on digital printing tips here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

John Paul Caponigro

Jeremy Cowart

Gregory Crewdson

Lois Greenfield

Steve McCurry

Gerd Ludwig

Mark Seliger

Tim Tadder

Amy Toensing

Steven Wilkes

Top photographers celebrate printing and talk about what drew them to photography, the inspiration that drives their work, the stories behind their most famous images.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Read more with my online Printing Resources.

View more with my Printing DVD.


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