Should I Print From Lightroom or Photoshop?

With Adobe’s announcement of a “Photographer’s Bundle” for the Creative Cloud subscription, many shutterbugs now have access to both Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC for printing their images. So a fair question is, which one to use? Let’s see how they compare.

How They’re Alike

Lightroom and Photoshop share many printing features and capabilities. The most important is the ability to print using a profile for a specific printer and paper combination. Within both the Print module in Lightroom and the Print window in Photoshop, you can adjust the size of the image on the page, though in Photoshop this does not give you direct control over the image resolution. You can position a single image anywhere on the paper. You can add text to the page (though Photoshop provides many ways to customize the type style and placement outside the Print window). And you can add a simple, custom-width black border (Lightroom lets you choose other colors) that’s only applied in the print. (Photoshop has many options for more elaborate border effects outside the Print window.) You can even save the layout and printer choices so printing happens with a single click in both applications.


How They’re Different

Size, Resolution and Sharpening

Lightroom and Photoshop differ in the way you determine print size, set resolution, and apply sharpening.


LR 5 Print ModuleLightroom’s Print module is a one-stop shop. You select an image without needing to create a copy. Using the Cell Size sliders is how you determine the size of the image on the paper. This can be just the long side or exact dimensions using the Zoom to Fill option. In the Print Job panel you choose a specific print resolution or use the file’s native resolution. You specify if and how much output sharpening to apply and customize it for glossy or matte surfaces. All these choices are available in the same module with a click of a mouse.


PS CC Print DialogFor the most control over size, resolution and sharpening in Photoshop, you need to use several different commands which are outside of the Print window. You open the image you want to print and save a copy, leaving the original as a source for other prints. To size the picture, you can use the Image Size command to set the resolution and length of the longest edge. Or you can use the Crop tool and specify exact dimensions and resolution all at once. Then you apply output sharpening using either the Unsharp Mask filter or the Smart Sharpen filter. For the ultimate control with these filters, you can apply them to a duplicate layer and use a layer blending mode and/or a layer mask. This ensures that the sharpening affects only detailed portions of the image, leaving smooth areas such as sky and skin alone. Because you are still working on the image (and not in the Print window), you can preview the sharpening effect to be sure you are satisfied. Lightroom does not provide options for selective output sharpening or previewing the sharpening before printing.


Multiple Images

The other important difference between Lightroom and Photoshop comes when you want to create prints of multiple pictures. Whether these are single images per page or a selection of photos on one piece of paper, Lightroom and Photoshop take different approaches to the task.


Lightroom’s Print module makes printing multiple images quick and easy. If you want all the pictures to be the same size on the same kind of paper, just select the photos from the Library module, Filmstrip or Collections panel. Set up the size, resolution and sharpening for one and they are applied to all the selected photos. You can print any combination of horizontal and vertical pictures by turning on the Rotate to Fit option. Then load your printer with paper and click the Printer button. If you want multiple images on one page, you can make them all the same size with the Contact Sheet style or different sizes that overlap in any arrangement using the Custom Package style. This all happens in the Print module. So when you’re finished with the design (which you can save), the Print Job panel is ready.


Photoshop also lets you put multiple pictures on a page, but you must create a new document and use the Place command to add, size, and position the images one at a time. You can save a template document that uses layer masks to help you use different pictures in the same layout in the future. More complex designs, borders and type effects are available in Photoshop than in Lightroom, but you are building the effect one page at a time. If you want to print several different images the same size on individual pages, you must prepare each picture and open the Print window separately for each one.


So you can create excellent prints from either Lightroom or Photoshop. The differences between them reflect the “philosophy” behind each program. Lightroom is designed to help photographers manage large numbers of pictures quickly and efficiently. Photoshop is designed to allow photographers to perfect a single print with the utmost control over the preparation. It all depends on how you prefer to work with your pictures.