Help me prep photos for printing
March 1, 2009 10:34 PM   Subscribe

I have a Nikon D50 dslr, iPhoto, an old version of Photoshop Elements (3), and three empty 11 X 14 frames (black wood/glass). How do I process the photos for printing before I take them to... Kinkos?

I picked up three 11 X 14 frames, and I thought it would be fun to hang some of my photography, but since I do so little printing, I'm clueless.

How do I get the best (affordable) results?
posted by 2oh1 to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
- Ring them up and ask what file formats they are able to print. Don't know too much about this topic but I know TIFF or JPEG 2000 are preferable to regular JPEG files.

- As for adjusting things like colour and contrast, you really can't tell unless you've prior printing experience with Kinkos. Even if your monitor is correctly callibrated for colours you can't guarantee Kinkos will print to that callibration. Give them a ring and they might be able to offer some advice.

- Try not to make drastic changes to colour, contrast and sharpening in Photoshop because doing so will damage the information in your photo files. Raw/NEF files will have more room for adjustment. There should be heaps of online tutorials to help you with the curves/levels, dodge/burn and sharpening tools. You can also touch up things like chromatic aberration, vignetting and lens distortion in Photoshop. Unfortunately, i'm not familiar with PS Elements 3.

- Downsize your files to somewhere between 220-300dpi (dots per inch) in resolution if they are too large. For 11x14 this means between 2420-3300 pixels wide by 3080x4200 pixels tall in portrait format.

- Go in and have a look at the types of photo paper they stock. Everybody has different preferences and different photos demand different treatment. One thing to keep in mind is to avoid glossy paper if you wish to frame the photos with glass in front. The two reflective surfaces can obscure the photo.
posted by quosimosaur at 11:22 PM on March 1, 2009

Does Kinkos really have good photo printing services? I never hear them mentioned as a suggestion. I'd try Costco or Searching here will produce many other suggestions.

As for processing...

I can't tell from you're question--you've processed photos before, but just not for printing? I guess I'll assume that...Did you take jpegs or RAW files? If RAW then you'll have to use iPhoto to process them since PSE 3 won't deal with RAW files. (I don't really know iPhoto so if you have an old version of that maybe it won't deal with RAW files either.)

It's pretty easy to find (at, say, Aaron Brothers, some other frame shop or place with a good precut selection, or someplace online) precut 11x14 mats with 8x10 openings. Custom cut mats at a frame shop will probably be more than you want to spend.

Crop your full size pictures to 8x10, resize to 200-300 dpi and process as you'd like. You should get fine 8x10s out of full resolution photos from your D50. Then save the files as high quality jpegs and upload to Costo or Mpix. Then stick your 8x10s into your 11x14 mats, frame, and you're done. All this is pretty simple and you should be able to get nice prints and mats for $15 or less (each.) I buy 11x14 mats in bulk from since i do this a lot. Their website is pretty 1990's, but I've never had any problems. In bulk you can get prints (I use Mpix) and mats for ~$5 each.

(Now it's true that 11x14 mats with 8x10 openings aren't symmetrical but in my experience no one notices or cares.)
posted by sevenless at 11:23 PM on March 1, 2009

Response by poster: "I can't tell from you're question--you've processed photos before, but just not for printing?"

I post photos on the web. Flickr, mostly, and sometimes on my blog... but as I said, I have no real printing experience beyond printing text (reports, resumes, etc).

Also, it's a 16 x 20 frame with a mat for an 11 x 14 photo.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:33 PM on March 1, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, and I'm working with RAW files. Like I said, it's a Nikon D50. I haven't decided what I want in the frames yet, so who knows. On the next sunny day, I might head out and take a series of photos to hang. I realize I need to call the place I'll have them printed at. Kinkos, for example, wants photoshop files, jpgs or pdfs. I'm mostly concerned with figuring out how to get the picture I take with my Nikon to look its best on the wall. I guess I was hoping for some processing tips - but any info is helpful.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:37 PM on March 1, 2009

You're hanging three of your photos on your walls; might as well do it right. Go to a real photo lab (e.g. not a Kinkos or a Walgreens, but one that prints photos for people who do this for a living). I can't recommend something in Oregon, but The Google might help as may others here. They can print your pics on quality papers (and offer you a choice of matte/glossy and borders and other options). Talk to them about your options and what will give you the best results. They can show you samples of the various borders and papers.

Any good lab should (make sure) be doing color and tone corrections on the totality of your images. If you want to do more detailed work to adjust specific parts of your pictures, you'll either need to do that yourself or pay the lab to have a tech do the Photoshop work for you. Generally, I'd say go with your best images rather than try to salvage a so-so one. A bad Photoshop job hanging on your wall will bug you to no end.

This doesn't have to be particularly expensive; my local lab does prints on fine art papers for around $20-30 for 11x14s. Skip the fine paper and you're in the $7/print range, for photos that have been professionally toned and printed. Could you do this for less at Kinkos or Costco? Sure. Will you get advice from actual professionals and have one working to make your prints look their best? No way.

Kinkos, er, FedEx Office is a copy shop. In a pinch, you can rent a computer there and run off a few B&W laser prints. On a good day, they can manage to fold or laminate something. Beyond that, do not use them for anything approaching the level of art. They simply don't care or don't know how to do it right.
posted by zachlipton at 11:37 PM on March 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

What do you plan to process your RAW files with? I'm not certain that Elements 3 can handle RAW files from a D50. Your lab probably doesn't want raw files or they may charge you extra to convert them. the D50 takes great photos on its own; by using RAW you're throwing away much of its image processing features.

The only exception is that RAW files can sometimes help you salvage a few extra bits of detail out of over/under exposed images that might not be possible with a JPEG. Again, shoot it right in the first place instead of trying to salvage a mistake.

Be sure that you really want to be shooting RAW. If you don't know why you're shooting RAW, you (in my opinion) probably don't want to be doing so. See Ken Rockwell (who often appears to know what he's talking about) on RAW vs. JPEG.

If you must (and have the memory card space), shoot RAW+JPEG. The vast majority of the time I do this, I prefer the resulting JPEG image from my camera.
posted by zachlipton at 11:48 PM on March 1, 2009

Response by poster: Zack: I use Elements 3 for Mac. It works with RAW.

Thanks for the tip on RAW vs. JPG. I'll definitely look into that! I've been shooting in RAW because I like the level of control when importing the image into Photoshop... but then again, I tend to prefer using iPhoto (meaning, I prefer to do less editing of the photos. I feel like iPhoto keeps me more honest, whereas in Photoshop, it's too easy to go crazy with the editing).
posted by 2oh1 at 12:22 AM on March 2, 2009

Best answer: I've done quite a few 16 x 24 inch prints from D70s images. Some of them were JPEG out of camera, some NEF, all processed in Lightroom, which uses the ACR convertor. I've been more than happy with the results. (The D50 uses the same sensor as the D70s and should deliver similar results if you shoot RAW.) If you take a lot of shots, Lightroom is worth a look, it's what iPhoto should be, by the way.

In my case, I went to my local camera place and asked them what would give best results. They suggested TIFFs with slightly higher saturation and sharpening than works on computer screens. The resulting prints were excellent.

My experience suggests that you're better off going to a place that deals with photographers regularly.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:02 AM on March 2, 2009

Another "no Kinkos" vote. Use an actual photo lab. I have been thrilled with Costco's services. It's worth the membership just for their photo printing services. I can upload my images after doing all my color correcting and tweaking in iPhoto, and then check the "do not color correct" checkbox. My prints come out exactly as I intended, every time.

(Disclosure: in my work, I use the same kind of laser printing equipment as our local Kinkos. Even though it prints great photos for use in books and reports, they are definitely not anywhere near as good as an actual photo on photographic paper. Do it the right way. It doesn't cost any more.)

Your Nikon D50, at 6.1 MP will easily print a high quality 11x14, as long as you haven't cropped it too much.

I can't get into too many specifics here; you'll have to experiment a bit. But here's my basic workflow:

I shoot RAW (with a Nikon D40) and use iPhoto to adjust levels, convert to black and white if needed, adjust saturation, etc. iPhoto will also take care of small blemishes. When the image looks how I want it to, I export it as full size, highest quality JPG, and upload it to Costco.

Whatever lab you end up using, you might want to first send a test image, which will show you how the print compares to what you see on screen.

AS far as Photoshop, I do use it for more major issues: creating composites, or doing extreme effects, or removing distracting background elements. But iPhoto does 95% of everything I need.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:58 AM on March 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'll add to the RAW vs JPG debate...

I shot in JPG only for years. Mostly because using RAW required additional processing, and it just wasn't worth it. But, now iPhoto works seamlessly with RAW files, and I will never go back to shooting JPG.

Although I agree with a lot of what Rockwell says (despite the undeserved hate he gets here often) I don't agree with the premise that RAW is only good for rescuing grossly bad mistakes in exposure. There is so much more latitude in tweaking a RAW file that the only reason I can see for not using them is if storage space really is an issue. They are 3 times bigger files, but I have much more control and latitude in adjusting my levels without introducing noise and "fake" looking files.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:07 AM on March 2, 2009

Don't take them to Kinkos to be printed. Depending on the store, you may get prints done on a really sub-par inkjet. I've had work done there that looks pixellated and crummy. You're better off going to a store with a light-jet machine that prints on actual photo paper.

11x16 really isn't all that big; most places with a Fuji Frontier machine can probably print it. (Examples: most Walmarts, most Sam's Clubs, most Ritz Camera stores... Costco uses Noritsu machines that are similar.) Just do your final file up as an 11x16x300dpi @ 8bpp TIFF, and if it's black and white make sure to make the file greyscale, and take it down there. If you want, have them make a small version of it first so you can get an idea of the output quality — look for color casts or anything else that might suggest bad chemistry.

Sam's Club and Costco are going to be the cheapest options, Ritz Camera-type places much more expensive. For one print it's not going to be a huge deal though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:14 AM on March 2, 2009

<soapbox>Can you have this done at Wal-mart or Costco or Ritz? Of course. If you're having lots of prints made to send to family or friends or stuff in a box, that's probably just fine. Here, we're talking about just three photos to be framed for your wall. Since you asked this question, I assume you want them to look good. The extra $5-$8 per print (at most) you'll spend at a pro lab is well worth it in terms of both the quality of the output and the advice and control you'll get from having someone who does this for a living involved in the process.</soapbox>
posted by zachlipton at 5:57 AM on March 2, 2009

Can you have this done at Wal-mart or Costco or Ritz?

Just a point of clarification: I have no experience with Ritz, but Wal-Mart and Costco are not even in the same league. I will never, ever, use Wal-Mart, having sent a test run of prints to them once.

Costco on the other hand has never done less than a stellar job, including printing black and white prints without color-cast.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:00 AM on March 2, 2009

Best answer: (D50 owner, RAW shooter, and drugstore photolab guy here.)

Lots of in-store photo labs (I would wager most of them) won't be able to print 11x14" -- the lower-end digital machines that places like Costco or Walmart are using only go up to 8x10".

Why not just order prints from Flickr? I've been happy with them in the past.

And if you're processing RAWs, just save JPEGs (at max quality since size isn't really an issue). Make sure you're using the sRGB colorspace. Photoshop probably uses that colorspace by default, but using something funny like Adobe RGB could lead to iffy results when you print.

I'd also disadvise (is that a real word?) against changing the resolution of the photos at all. Assuming the photo prints at 300 dpi, there will actually be a bit of upscaling involved at the printing end, but let the machine worry about it -- it probably does a better job at it than you would. Do be sure to crop properly for 11x14" proportions. (That'd be, uh, 2545x2000 for a D50.)
posted by neckro23 at 4:00 PM on March 2, 2009

Best answer: the lower-end digital machines that places like Costco or Walmart are using only go up to 8x10".

Please check facts first. Costco and Wal-mart are NOT in the same category. My local Costco prints up to 12x18 inches within one hour. Larger sizes are mail order.

I'm a little passionate about Costco, because they have been the savior of my photo-printing needs.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:03 PM on March 2, 2009

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