This video I actually really enjoyed creating because it was a legitimate situation happening as we selected papers for some exhibition pieces. We later went on to order that very image as its exhibition print, which sold at the event as a print-only piece. Not bad, ey?
Video on this topic can be found here:
So, the situation is this:
You’ve decided to print a piece or you’ve been asked to print a piece, and you don’t know exactly what happens next. You have your monitor calibrated (the hows of that are in this post on screen calibration here), and you have selected a print house. Surely all that is left is to send the file to print, right?
Well, usually, most of the time.
You see, our screens are made with a light behind and display colour in a specific way, through backlighting. Printing the opposite, you print ink onto the paper and the paper itself has a colour, which then as a printed image reflects light. There is no backlight, and the paper involved creates its own little nuances in terms of everything from contrast to sharpness to colour.
Papers are all different, with usually huge differences between fine art and standard photographic papers. The paper will absorb different inks differently, and either make or break your printed image. This is why I LOVE printing, because if you know your papers, and you know your pieces, you can create genuine art very very easily. This is the reason why my work looks freaking amazing on 60-inch panels, but looks a bit blah on an Instrgram grid square. I create art, so the medium of view is super important in the final end look and feel.
With that all out of the way, here is exactly what I do to solve the differences between screen and print, and get those two looking EXACTLY the same (minus the paper texture):
Step 1: Select your paper
First, you need to pick some paper. I like to select a couple of variations and then a “control”. The control is always a lustre photographic paper because I kind of know what my main pieces look like on this paper, so it provides a nice constant at the print lab that I can compare basics of colour reproduction on.
I print my work on fine art paper these days, but that doesn’t mean that you need to. It can be useful to get a paper swatch book from your printhouse to flick through the different options and see the level of texture, the paper weight and any colour tints present.
When you have selected your papers, it’s time to:
Step 2: Prepare you image
For this step, you want to have a calibrated monitor, including the brightness levels! Edit your image just like you would normally and export it to your print labs specifications. More on this can be found here in this blog post about printing your work.
With your image ready for the printhouse, you want to them move on to:
Step 3: Test print time!
For this step, you want to order the same image on a few papers and make sure you have them printed at the same size. For Fine Art prints, I like to send for 12 x 8 inch prints, because I find these big enough to get a good representation of sharpness vs texture, whilst still being manageable to compare side by side.
TIP: It can be super useful when ordering your test prints to ask if the lab can note on the back of the prints which paper is which. It can be confusing when you receive lots of different papers to know which one is which, and it can lead you to ordering big pieces of the wrong paper. Most labs will be more than happy to help with this!
Ensure you deselect, uncheck or otherwise REMOVE any lab colour correction when ordering your prints.
Step 4: Review the differences
Your prints have arrived – awesome. This is an exciting moment but do not make the mistake of opening your prints one evening in a dimly lit room. This isn’t the best way to view work and you will immediately think they are way too dark and have a (usually) weird colour cast.
View your prints all laid out nicely in good natural light (not harsh, soft is best). Good light is key for an accurate assessment. If you have one, using a light like the ScreenBar Plus from BenQ is absolutely incredible for doing screen to print comparisons on your desk/workspace. I use mine as my normal desk light now, but really it is incredible for comparisons which are needed here.
Ensure you have your monitor set at the right brightness level, then compare the print you prefer the most with the file you sent to print. There will probably be some differences. Really get your eye in to assess what those differences are.
Is the print more green? Is it darker? Are the shadow’s visible? Note these changes down.
Step 5: Create a solution
This step is broken down into two. The difference, and the adjustments.
a) The Difference:
So here you need to sit with your print nearby and make specific, focussed adjustments in Photoshop to get from what you have on the screen to what you have in print. If the print is darker, use a brightness/contrast adjustment layer or a curves layer to make the digital file darker. Repeat any adjustments you need to ensure you get to a point where the screen really does match the print (when the print is viewed in good light).
Make a note of every single one of these adjustments, including the amount you adjusted things by.
Delete all of the adjustments.
b) The Adjustment:
One by one, add adjustments that do the EXCACT OPPOSITE of your Difference adjustments. If you put the brightness down to -10 before, you need to increase the brightness here to +10.
Repeat for every single adjustment. Do not leave any out.
TIP: Turning these adjustments into an action will save you a lot of time in the future.
Do not be concerned if your screen image now looks like some sort of extraterrestrial mess. This is fine, no issues there. When you are convinced you’ve done your exact adjustments, and you are happy. Repeat Step 2 and come back here…
Step 6: Re-print
Just like before, ensure any options to allow the lab technicians to colour correct the image before printing are turned off.
Now, send your adjusted file to print one more time, on the same paper you did the whole process above with.
When this print comes back from the lab, the print and your screen should be pretty damn close (when the print is viewed in good light!). Remember always that screens are backlit and prints are not, so try not to judge brightness too much!
Step 7: Repeat as needed
And that’s literally all there is to it. I do this process every time I use a different printer, a different paper or a different photographic product. It’s important that my work looks how I want it to look, so I take the time to make my version of a perfect result!
Happy printing, and enjoy the process!