Ah film. Remember film? It still exists, you can still get it processed, and you can still get prints from (most of) those old negatives. But the majority of printing these days definitely comes from digital files. You’d think this would make it easier, and for the most part it does, but here are a few tips to help keep your lab person/printer sane when you come in. (And yes, by ‘your lab person/printer’ I mean ME!)
~ Organization! If you have a disc with 200 + images on it, and you are getting 20 or so printed, make a LEGIBLE list of the file names & numbers IN ORDER! When I’m going down the list to look for the ones you want the computer has them in order, and it makes it so much easier to find the random ones you want if I’m not bouncing up and down all over the file list!
~ Better yet, CDs & DVDs are pretty cheap now, burn a disc of just the images you want printed. You can even put them on a jump drive, you just have to be willing to either leave the drive or wait for the folder of pictures to transfer.
~ But don’t get too organized. I can only load from one folder at a time, so if you have 15 different folders I basically have to load files 15 different times. This increases the chances I’ll miss some, and it increases my frustration. Especially when each folder only has a couple pictures.
~ “But what if I have the folders labeled with the print size (i.e. 4×6, 5×7, etc)?” Don’t worry. That’s ok. That’s actually good organization that helps.
~ iPhoto is evil! Ok, not really, but it can be a PITA. iPhoto is great for the non-pro to keep their files organized on their computer, and to do non-destructive editing. But once you’ve got your pictures ready to print DON’T DON’T DON’T choose that burn disc option up there in the menu. This will give you a disc full of folders & thumbnails & crap that is really only easily useable by loading it into someone else’s iPhoto program. If you are copying photos to a disc out of iPhoto from the menu choose File –> Export… This will give you a CD that has just one copy of your edited version of each photo in it.
~ Colorspace is important! The two most common ones are Adobe RGB and sRGB. Before having stuff printed check to see what colorspace the printer uses! My Fuji Frontier photo machine is sRGB. It assumes that any file I give it is sRGB. If I print something that’s in a different color space like Adobe RGB it will still print, but the colors will shift. There are other colorspaces out there too, and often there’s no real color change, but you shouldn’t chance it because I’ve never seen anything in the wrong color space look better than if it’s correct.
~ I know your next questions are “How do I know which colorspace I’m in? How do I change it?” I only know how to check it and change it in Photoshop. If you are using a different editing program there is probably a way, but I don’t know it. Google is your friend. In Photoshop I set the little status bar drop window on the bottom of the pictures to show Color Profile. This way anytime I open an image I can tell with just a glance which colorspace it’s in. If it’s in Adobe RGB I will leave it in that until my last save for printing. Adobe is a bigger colorspace and when you convert it to sRGB you will lose some of the range of color so it’s best to just do that after all your editing so you have as much to work with as possible before then. To change it in Photoshop you go to Edit –> Convert to Profile… A box will pop up and it will say Source Space at the top and list a profile. Then under that it will say Destination Space and have a pop-up menu to choose one from. Choose sRGB. Yeah, I know it actually says sRGB IEC61966-2.1. Don’t worry, it’s the right one. You don’t need to ever worry about remembering all those extra letters & numbers.
If I’ve saved this sample correctly you should be able to see a difference between the two versions of each file. Since the change is because of the way the machine reads the file’s colors the two files will usually look EXACTLY THE SAME on your screen, but you could end up with a shit print. Also, skin tones are really affected. A person in an AdobeRGB file printed on my sRGB machine will look really grey, flat, lifeless and dull!
These are just a few of the things that will help out the person at the photo lab who’s printing your pictures, and will also help you get better prints. The best thing you can do if you’re not sure about something – ask the person printing it!