12 Classic Mistakes We’ve All Made Trying To Make Better Prints

Plus 7 Extra Go To Printing Resources To Help You


Face it, we’ve all done it, that is overdone it, when we’re trying to make great prints.  As important as it is to learn what you can do and how far you can go, it’s also important to learn how far not to go and why. You learn what to look for as well as what to look out for.  These trials of error can be beneficial. You’re sure to learn a lot when you make mistakes. And we can learn from each other’s mistakes as well as our own. One of the many benefits of teaching printing for over twenty-five years is that I get to learn from my mistakes and from many other people’s too. There are some classic printing mistakes I see made time and time again because the approach is correct but the practice has just gone too far. If you’ve never made some of these mistakes, I recommend you make them – once.

Here are some classic mistakes I see so many people make when they’re printing – and the cures.

It’s Too Light

You want your print to be more luminous so brighter’s better right? But your image ends up looking washed out. The solution is to lighten the highlights more than the midtones and shadows. It’s a specific kind of contrast you won’t get with a Contrast slider but you will get with a Highlights slider or even better with Curves. You might also darkens shadows slightly. It’s the apparent contrast between highlights and shadows and in the midtones that will make your images glow. Most prints on average are weighted darker than middle gray so that their highlights will pop.

Whites Without Detail

So once again you’re chasing lightness and you push your highlights too far eliminating detail. There is a limit to how far you want to go and you just stepped over the line. Pull back. You can move in that general direction just don’t go so far. Don’t push the Whites slider so hard and pull your Highlights slider down a little, plus remember that you can get a second pass of Highlights and their neighbors Lights with Curves. You want highlights to have full detail and to be bright but not so bright you feel like you have to squint to see the picture better.

Whites Touch The Frame

Sometimes you have exposure that don’t have much (or any) detail in very bright areas. This is particularly problematic when they touch and break the rectangle of the frame. If you’re not going to clone detail into those areas, go old school and “fog” those areas, that is print them slightly gray. Using a brush lower the Whites slider (maybe the Highlights too) to build up some density without texture and restore the frame. You don’t need a lot, just enough to make the frame coherent, keeping the eye from wandering out of it and minimizing the distraction. Alternately, in Photoshop you can use a Curves adjustment layer and lower the white point slightly, then readjust the rest of the Curve to keep all the other tones glowing; paint on the mask to isolate this effect.

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12 Useful Test Files


Use these test files to confirm color management is working properly.


1. Using Gray Gradient Test Files | Download
A little testing up front can ensure that you get the finest results possible.

2. Test File – Gray Gradient Smooth | Download

3. Test File – Gray Gradient 10% Steps | Download

4. Test File – Gray Gradient 5% Steps | Download

5. Test File – Gray Gradient 1% Steps | Download

6. Test File – Spectrum Gradients | Download

7. Test File – RGBCMY | Download

8. Test File – RGBCMY to Black Smooth | Download

9. Test File – RGBCMY to Black Posterized  | Download

10. Test File – RGBCMY to White Smooth  | Download

11. Test File – RGBCMY to White Posterized | Download

12. Test File – Line Pairs | Coming Soon

13. Bill Atkinson – Test Files  | Free

14. Desktop – Neutral With Gradient | Download


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Printing Tips

Download your free copy now!


The little things can make a big difference, never more so than with printing.


1. Banding

2. Colored Micro-Banding

3. Dark Micro-Banding

4. Delete & Reload Printer Driver

5. Evaluate Proofs Under Glass

6. Fragile – Packing & Shipping Prints

7. Ink Drips or Smears

8. Ink Spattering and Pooling

9. Light Micro-Banding

10. Locating Printer Utilities

11. Maintenance Tank is Full

12. Paper Won’t Feed

13. Printing Borders Aren’t Equal

14. Printing Off Paper

15. Printer Power Cleaning Cycles

16. Signing Prints


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The Art Of Proofing

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Get the best print quality possible with these proofing techniques.


1. Proof – The Art of Proofing
Refinine your proofing process to achieve the best print quality efficiently.

2. Proof – BAT
BAT (bon a tiré) it’s the final proof print.

3. Proof – Bracket Proofing
Bracket proof and get one hundred proofs in one.

4. Proof – Compensate for Scale
Larger images appear lighter than smaller images. It’s an optical effect that affects your prints.

5. Proof – Correcting for Viewing Light
Compensate for discrepancies in profiles and viewing light temperatures.

6. Proof – Full Scale
Proof at full scale to check noise and sharpness.

7. Proof – Light Temperature
Light temperature has a significant effect on exposure, calibration, printing, and display.

8. Proof – Notes
Take good notes so you can retrace your steps precisely.

9. Proof – Prevent Overinking
Set proper ink limit for a substrate and reduce overinking.

10. Proof – Proof Template PSD File
Use this PSD file to make proofs.

11. Proof – A Step-by Step Guide to Using the Proof Template
Steps to using the Proof Template.


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The Fine Art Of Digital Printing

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Print your images to achieve new levels of mastery and personal expression.

Dano’s Glossary of Fine Art Terms 

What Printing Can Do For You
Making prints can do a lot for you.

What Printing Can Do For Your Images
Making prints can do a lot for your images and your vision.

What To Look For In Prints | .99 | Free to Members
Knowing what to look for can help you make better prints.

12 Classic Mistakes We’ve All Made Trying To Make Better Prints

Ways To Preserve Print Shadow Detail

Printer Profiles | Coming Soon
How do you make a printer profile? Do you need to?

Epson Driver – Advanced B&W Photo

Epson Driver – Color 

Epson Driver – Double Color Management

Epson Driver – Ink Limit  | .99 | Free to Members

Delete and Reload Printer Driver  | .99 | Free to Members

Evaluating Substrates  | .99 | Free to Members
Choose media wisely. Your choice of material has a profound impact on your prints.

Epson – Print / File Size Chart  | .99 | Free to Members
The relationship between print size, file resolution and bit depth for Epson printers.

Paper Sizes – Standard  | .99 | Free to Members

Paper Size – Custom  | .99 | Free to Members

Printer Points of Control  | .99 | Free to Members
You have a number of points of control with digital printers.

Preflight Checklist | .99 | Free to Members
Createapreflight checklist designed to help you avoid common mistakes.

Longevity | .99 | Free to Members
How long do inkjet prints last? What should you do to protect them? Find out here.

Outgassing | .99 | Free to Members
Cure your prints before framing them.

Scale | .99 | Free to Members
Size matters. Consider the size of your prints carefully.

Output II – Film | .99
Printing digital negatives with Adobe Photoshop (all versions) – 6 pages

Metamerism is the tendency of an object to change its appearance under different light sources.

Bronzing is an iridescent flash of color when viewing prints under varying angles of light.

Gloss Differential 
Gloss differential is an uneven reflectance of the surface of a print.

Limited Editions | .99 | Free to Members
Edition structures disclose the number of prints that will be made of an image.

Notation | .99 | Free to Members
The notations you make on your prints add value to them.

Mounting | .99 Free to Members
Ensure that your prints are protected and beautifully displayed.

Matting | .99 | Free to Members
Make sure your images are protected and presented properly.

Framing | .99| Free to Members
The frames you choose will enhance the quality of your artwork.

Exhibiting | .99 | Free to Members
Make your experience more successful by knowing what is required.

Resolution | .99 | Free to Members
Learn how resolution can ensure fine detail and smooth transition.

Banding | .99 | Free to Members
Use these simple methods to cure banding.

Printer Maintenance | .99 | Free to Members
A little maintenance can go a long way!


Photographers Celebrate The Black & White Print


John Sexton 

Kim Weston 


Photographers Celebrate The Print


Two Generations – Paul & John Paul Caponigro 

John Paul Caponigro 

Jeremy Cowart

Gregory Crewdson

Lois Greenfield 

Gerd Ludwig 

Steve McCurry

Mark Seliger 

John Sexton 

Tim Tadder 

Amy Toensing 

Stephen Wilkes 


Photographers Celebrate Printing


Bambi Cantrell

John Paul Caponigro 

Douglas Dubler 

Greg Gorman 

Jay Maise

Steve McCurry

Jeff Schewe


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How To Preserve Shadow Detail In Your Prints

One of the keys to making a great print is great shadow detail.

Shadow detail is something to be mindful of during exposure, processing, and printing. Curiously, even if you see shadow detail in your file on a calibrated monitor you may not see all of the details in your print. What can you do about this? Many things!

First Check Your Color Management
Before you start editing your files based on your proofs, check your color management system.

Recalibrate Your Monitor
Make sure you’ve calibrated your monitor with hardware. Set a brightness value of 90-100 lux, instead of using the default brightness target of 120 lux. If your monitor is too bright, your prints will look dark overall, especially in your shadows.

Read more on Profiling Your Monitor here.

Give Your Prints Enough Time To Dry
Inkjet prints come out of the printer almost dry, but not quite fully dry. When they’re fully dry, they’ll appear slightly lighter, especially in the shadows where there’s a lot of ink. So before you evaluate prints critically, give them a few minutes to dry. This affects absorbent matte surfaces even more than glossy surfaces.

Find my resource on Outgassing here.

Look At Your Prints In Good Light
Look at your prints in good light. You need the right amount of light (a CRI of 90 or higher), you need the right color temperature light (5000K is the standard but many viewers prefer the warmer 3600K), and it helps to use full-spectrum light (Many manufacturers now make full spectrum bulbs.)

Read more on Controlling Your Environment here.


Media Type sets the amount of ink that's used.

Set Your Media Type Correctly
Your printer driver will allow you to set your media type, which controls ink the amount of ink that is sprayed on your paper. Use too much ink and you’ll lose shadow detail. Use too little and your blacks and midtones will appear weak. If you’re using a paper not made by the manufacturer, choose the nearest media type and then adjust its settings with the printer driver’s advanced utilities. (You’ll find this under Advanced Media Control with Epson printers.)

Find my resource on Ink Limit here.


Print test patches to determine when maximum black is achieved and when separation is lost.

Print A Target To Determine How Much To Lighten Shadows
Before you adjust your files for printing precisely determine how much you need to lighten your deep shadows by printing a target. While they vary a little, most media settings lose shadow detail around a value of 96% on a grayscale. If you print patches of values between 100% and 90% you’ll see exactly where you lose shadow detail. Printed results will vary slightly with each different media setting, so you’ll need to adjust files slightly differently for different media.

You can download my targets here.

Next Adjust Your File

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Top Photographers Celebrate The Power Of The Print

John Paul Caponigro

Jeremy Cowart

Gregory Crewdson

Lois Greenfield

Steve McCurry

Gerd Ludwig

Mark Seliger

John Sexton

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.

A Checklist OF Things To Look For In Prints

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.

17 Top Printing Tips For Making Great Fine Art Prints


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.

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