Article by Robin Whalley - www.lenscraft.co.uk
I think it’s fair to say that most photographers have or will try their hand at making a print of their work at some time, typically using an inkjet printer. From what I can see on the internet and from the conversations I have had around various camera clubs, many quickly give up the idea as they can’t produce a good print. Some will preserver with varying levels of success but often conclude that producing a good print is some form of dark art.
In this article I want to share how to achieve consistently good print results using Adobe Lightroom. To do this we will look specifically at producing a print with a single image on a page. Once you master the intricacies of making great prints you can apply the same skills and explore the many other the creative options in Lightroom.
Before we get into the details of how to achieve great prints we need to cover some basics:
You have probably heard it a million times but your monitor must be accurately calibrated and its worth pointing out that monitor calibration will drift over time. If you haven’t calibrated yours recently, do so now. It’s very easy to assume the strange colour cast affecting your prints is due to a printer problem when in fact it might be that your screen calibration is off and the printer is accurate.
Periodically check your printer to ensure none of the print nozzles are blocked and that the print heads are aligned. Most print drivers have a maintenance tab to carry out common checks and adjustments such as these.
To get good results you need to use good papers and inks. Don’t try to scrimp on either as you will just waste money. My experience is that the more expensive papers from the well known manufacturers will produce much better prints than the cheaper papers.
When judging print quality do so in natural sunlight or if you must judge them under an electronic light, use a daylight balanced bulb.
Before printing your image you should have made any necessary adjustments and applied selective sharpening. Please don’t send an unadjusted image to the printer or worse still hook up your camera. Your results will never shine.
I will be using Lightroom version 4 in this article so if you are using an earlier version there will most likely be some differences.
The Print Module Interface
As mentioned above, before printing your image or images you need to have made any adjustments using the Develop Module so that your image is ready. As part of this process I recommend you Soft Proof the image to provide you with an idea as to how the finished print will appear. This is far more important than it might sound so if you are not familiar with how to Soft Proof an image using Lightroom look for my article covering this which will be published shortly.
Having made your adjustments to prepare your images, selected the image or images that you want to print by clicking them and switch to the Lightroom “Print” module from the menu on the top right of the screen. You will then be presented with a view similar to that shown below.
There are a lot of options and information presented in this interface so it’s worth quickly covering the key areas:
The centre of the screen is dominated by the current image that has been selected for printing.
On the left side of the interface is a template browser. Lightroom provides a number of preset templates that you can select from as well as create your own preset for future use. I have created a series of templates that I use frequently, each fine tuned to a specific paper and size. This is fast and helps avoid costly mistakes.
Just below the template browser is the collections browser. Here you can create a named collection of images for your printing. Think of this as a virtual photo album to which you can add and remove images. This provides a quick and easy way to print a complete set of related images.
Towards the bottom of the left hand side is the "Page Setup..." button. When clicked, this will open the page setup dialog so that you can adjust settings such as page size, orientation and most importantly select the printer you want to use.
Along the bottom of the screen you will see a row of thumbnail images which you can click on to select. The selected image(s) will then appear in the central preview. If you hold down the Ctrl key whilst clicking on a thumbnail you can make multiple selections. When you do this you will see to the bottom left of the interface, just below the central image that the two arrow symbols become active allowing you to move between the multiple print pages.
On the right side of the interface are all the controls you can use to customize your print output and which we will cover next.
In the screen shot to the right are the first three sections of the right hand interface. There are actually 6 sections in total and if like me you find it a bit tiresome needing to keep scrolling up and down you can switch to the "Solo" mode. This causes all of the sections to collapse with the exception of the selected section. To switch to the solo mode, right click on any of the section headings e.g. "Layout Style"” and select "Solo Mode" from the pop-up menu.
Reviewing the section shown in the screen shot we see:
1. Layout Style
– use this to select one of three styles to use for your printing. "Single image / Contact Sheet" allows you to print either a single image as we are doing in this article, or produce a contact sheet of images. "Picture Package" can be used to print images in multiple sizes. "Custom Package" allows the printing of multiple images at various sizes and provides a very flexible layout editor.
2. Image Settings
allow you to control how the image is displayed within the pages of the template. To understand how these work you first need to know that the images appear on the printed page in "Cells", the size and location of which you can control. The options available are:
a. "Zoom to Fill"
which will zoom the image so that it fills the entire cell in all directions. If the image is not the same dimensions as the cell, it may be resized in one of the dimensions and will result in part of the image being cropped.
b."Rotate to Fit"
will rotate the image so that the largest possible image appears in the cell. This can be handy if the orientation of the cell differs from the image.
c."Repeat One Photo per Page"
is used where there are multiple image cells on a page as with a contact sheet. Selecting this option would then ensure that the same image is used in all the cells on the page. Deselect this and you can place a different in each cell.
adds a solid boarder around the image using a colour and line thickness that you can define. If you are not intended to mount your print behind a matt board adding a stroke boarder to an image often improves its appearance as it helps stop the viewers’ eye from wandering out of the frame.
3. "Layout" controls
placement of the image on the template. Within this section you can define:
a. The "Margins"
around the edge of the page which are the areas of the page that can’t be printed. You will only be able to set the margins to 0 if you have a printer that supports borderless printing and this feature has been activated in your print driver.
b. The "Page Grid"
options allow you to define how many image cells appear on each page and how many columns and rows they are arranged into.
If you have defined a page layout with multiple image cells, the "Cell Spacing"
options become available. Here you can define how much space appears around the cell for both the horizontal and vertical placement.
d. "Cell Size"
as its name would suggest allows you to control the size of the cells. As we have previously selected the "Layout Style" (described under point 1 above) as "Single Image/Contact Sheet" all the cells will be an identical size. To have multiple cell sizes on the same page you need to select one of the other layout options.
e. The "Keep Square"
option works with the Cell Size sliders so that when selected, the cells are always square no matter how you adjust their size.
This tutorial continues in Parts two and three.