You may be tempted to submit TIFF files because
their larger size is suggestive of a higher-quality
image file, but some labs suggest high-resolution JPEG files work just as well. What you
shouldn’t do, warns Bay Photo President Larry
Abitbol, is try to upscale lower-res images in
the hopes of achieving a larger print size.
Make sure your JPEGs are in the sRGB or
RGB color space—the overwhelmingly likelihood
is that they are. “If there’s no color profile in the
file, we always assume it’s sRGB,” says Jan-Ole
Schmidt, product manager at White Wall. That
said, you can embed your own profile, which
the lab would use to determine colors.
Acrylic Press recommends using Photoshop
to assign an Adobe RGB color space to your
image, since it offers a wider color gamut than
sRGB, says Guile Elias, the company’s sales and
customer service manager.
“We request level 10 JPEGs in the Adobe
RGB color space, but sRGB works too,”
notes Greg Davis, manager of new product
development and quality assurance at
White House Custom Colour (WHCC). JPEG
compression levels are rated on a scale of 0 to
12 with 12 being the least compressed (and
therefore the highest quality). You can typically
set this compression scale when exporting,
though some programs just represent it as a
sliding scale between high and low quality.
When you submit JPEGs, don’t pre-crop
them to fit a given print aspect ratio, Bay
Photo’s Abitbol says. “It’s better to use our
cropping tools on the website,” for a more
accurate fit. Elias of Acrylic Press agrees. “If
you order through ROES software,” he adds,
“there are templates for cropping.”
NO NEED TO OV
The absolute highest resolution that
White Wall will print is 300 DPI, so it doesn’t
make sense to send files at a higher-
resolution than that, Schmidt says. If you plan
on printing larger wall art pieces over 20
inches, where a person has to stand back a bit
to admire it, DPI is far less critical, he notes.
300 DPI is also the target for WHCC.
For Miller’s Lab, 250 DPI is usually a reasonable
target for most printed products, says Gene
Worsley, the company’s senior technical analyst.
A minimum of 240 DPI works for Acrylic Press.
Some labs will make ICC profiles available to
end users so they can preview what a given
image will look like on the various media
types a lab offers. A soft proof can help you
identify color issues with a given media and
your image before you commit it to print. For
White Wall, those ICC profiles are available
for download on the site. For Miller’s, ICC
profiles can be obtained by calling the lab,
though Worsley stresses that for most users,
simply calibrating their monitors will go a
long way toward getting the print they desire.
If the option is available, you can also
order a sample print to test out your photo on
a given media. White Wall lets photographers
order a print with a watermark for 60 percent
off its retail price for proofing purposes.
While you can’t order proofs for more exotic
materials like metal or wood, it is an option
for photographers printing on photographic
or inkjet output. Acrylic Press also offers a
5 x 7-inch print sample for proofing
purposes—you only pay shipping.
One of the biggest complaints labs hear from
customers, Worsley says, is that the photo a
photographer sees on their monitor isn’t the
same as the print they’ve received in the mail.
Schmidt from White Wall concurs. One of the
main reasons for this mismatch is because
the default setting on most modern monitors
pumps up the brightness and contrast
beyond what a printed image can produce.
“A print has no backlighting,” Schmidt
explains, “so you have to calibrate your
monitor to get an accurate preview of what a
print will look like.”
Beyond properly calibrating your monitor,
Worsley suggests investing in a monitor that
can display the entire sRGB and RGB color
space. “Photographers buy great cameras
and lenses and lights, but they should also
invest in a quality monitor if they’re serious
about printing their work,” Worsley says.
These monitors are capable of accurately
displaying a wide range of colors and often
include tools to aid in calibration.
Part of the on-boarding process at WHCC
involves a walk-through of monitor calibration
and test printing to ensure a photographer
is set up for success, Davis says. “Where we
see issues is in the files people choose for test
prints,” he explains. “Sometimes they’re not
indicative of the kind of work a photographer
One does need to take care when printing
images with a lot of white on inkjet paper,
Schmidt cautions. Printers don’t typically
print white. Instead, it’s the actual color of
the paper you’re seeing when you see white
in an image. If the paper has a yellowish tint,
the whites of your image are going to take
on that yellowish color cast.
Fortunately, inkjet media companies disclose
the whiteness of their papers in the product
specs. Whiteness is ranked on a scale usually
from 80 percent (less white) up to values of
100 percent. You can push above 100 percent,
though the paper will then be typically using
an optical brightener agent (OBA). OBAs are
chemical additives that basically make the paper
fluoresce, or emit blue spectrum light, which,
to the human eye, looks like a bright white.
Papers with OBAs can be tricky to profile
since measurement devices, which are more
sensitive than the human eye, can pick up on
the blue spectrum and correct for it, giving
the resulting print a yellowish cast. OBAs
also lose their fluorescence over time, so
papers with OBAs tend to lose whiteness
as the years pass. (That’s why many fine-art
papers boast of being OBA-free.)
(Ok, we lied—there’s really nothing that
secretive about it. But while delivering a
beautiful, color-accurate print isn’t a mysterious
process, you do need to follow these tips.)