Using Photoshop CC to Prepare a Picture for Photo Lab Printing
In my last post I described the process of getting a single image ready for photo lab printing using Lightroom 5. In this article, I am illustrating the comparable process using Photoshop CC. Note that all the steps can also be accomplished with most older versions of Photoshop as well as many versions of Photoshop Elements. So no matter which edition of the photo editing program you have, you should find some information to help you correctly prepare your favorite image for printing.
[Note: The Save As screens are from a Windows computer. If you use a Mac, your Save As screens look different but all the same choices are available.]
Select a Picture
To begin, select an adjusted master photo from Bridge. This picture should be one you have already worked on to enhance its exposure, contrast and color to make it look its best.
You can crop your image to improve its composition, too, without having to use a specific size at this point. But if you plan to order a specific proportion for your print later (such as 8×10), you may want to keep that in mind. Also decide the print dimensions you want and the resolution you need. In this example, I want an 8×12 inch horizontal print at 300 ppi resolution.
Save a Copy
To protect your original master file, make a copy of the adjusted picture. Working on a copy is important because you will be resizing the image and changing the original number of pixels. In the future, if you decide you want to print the same image at a different size, either larger or smaller, you would open the original master document and create new copy for that print. So your master edited photo remains unaffected.
Save the copy as either a PSD or a TIFF file because these do not compress your picture. When you name your copy, include the print dimensions for future reference. In my example, I call the picture “daisy blue 8×12” because I plan to order an 8×12 inch print size.
Size the Photo
Now you need to change the size of the picture to match both the dimensions of the paper you want it printed on as well as the resolution necessary for the best quality. Using the Image Size command seems like the logical choice. However, Image Size does not allow you to set an exact dimension. It only fits the photo into a box of the size you specify. This could result in your picture being smaller than your intended size, creating a unwanted extra border around the print instead of the image extending all the way to the edge of the paper.
A better way to change the size and resolution of your picture is to use the Crop tool. After you select the Crop tool, check the Options bar at the top of the screen below the menus. Here you tell Photoshop the exact dimensions and resolution you want for your picture.
In the Options bar, change the Preset drop-down list from “Ratio” to “W x H x Resolution” for “width x height x resolution”. Photoshop remembers your choice here, so it will be the same the next time you select the Crop tool.
Type in the dimensions you want for the print size. Photoshop uses the unit of measure that you have set in preferences. The default unit is inches (in) or you can specify centimeters by adding “cm” after the number. I type 12 for W, 8 for H and 300 for resolution in the appropriate boxes. (You might consider using 200 ppi if you are creating a print larger than 16×20 inches.)
The last choice is “Delete Cropped Pixels.” You can leave this turned on or off. When you save the final print file as a JPEG, Photoshop deletes any preserved pixels.
Adjust the sides of the cropping box to suit and press the Enter or Return key to apply it. Depending on the original size of your file, the picture may either shrink or enlarge on screen to meet your size and resolution requirements.
Sharpen the Image
Changing the size of your image changes the number of pixels in the file, either deleting extras or adding new ones. As a result, important edges lose their crisp appearance. In addition, the printing process also softens these edges slightly. So to return your picture to its best appearance, you need to sharpen it.
To begin, flatten adjustment and other layers into a single layer using Layer > Flatten Image. Then duplicate the background layer by pressing Ctrl+J (Windows) or Cmd+J (Mac). Applying the sharpening to its own layer lets you easily adjust or delete it if you need to.
From the Filter menu choose Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. The initial size of this window offers a very small preview. It’s best to be able to see lots of your photo at 100% magnification. So drag a corner to resize the box and get a much larger preview.
Within the preview window click and drag to a part of the image that has important details that need to be properly sharpened. Adjust the sliders and click OK when you are satisfied. (See this Adobe video for more on using the Smart Sharpen filter.)
Convert to the Appropriate Color Space
Last, you need to be sure the image file is in the correct color space for the photo lab. All labs can understand the sRGB color space. A few professional labs can also interpret Adobe RGB correctly. Check with your lab ahead of time to see what they prefer. If you can’t find this information, use sRGB as it is the safest.
To be sure your photo is using the right color space (or profile), from the Edit menu choose Convert to Profile. At the top is the current (Source) color space of your picture. Next is the new (Destination) color space you want Photoshop to use. Click the drop-down list and select “sRGB IEC61966-2.1.” You can leave the other choices at their default settings and click OK.
Save the Photo as a JPEG File
Now your picture file is ready to be saved. It has the right dimensions and the correct resolution. It has been sharpened and converted to the appropriate color space. From the File menu, choose Save As. Select a Prints folder on your desktop (to make it easy to locate your file for uploading). Include the print size in the name and change the file type to JPEG. Click Save.
Photoshop displays another window of JPEG Options where you specify the amount of compression applied to your picture. I recommend using Quality 10; this provides a small amount of compression that does not have a detrimental effect on your image and usually cuts the file size in half. Also be sure to set the Format Options to “Baseline (“Standard”)” and then click OK.
Now your photo is ready to upload to your favorite photo lab!