How to Prepare Photos for Printing (and Artworks too)

Whether you're using your own photo printer or a commercial service, here's the best way to ensure your photos and artwork come out looking amazing.

While the internet is great for spreading your photos (or artworks) to the masses, a printed photo has something special about. It feels more valuable, more crafted and many levels above the mass of Instagram fodder that’s out there.

But how do you ensure that your images come out looking their best – whether you’re printing them yourself on a pro-quality photo printer such as Epson’s SureColor P600, or sending them to commercial printer for output at quantity or scale.

You could print your photos or artwork directly from Photoshop, Lightroom or Illustrator – but here we’re going to use InDesign, which is included with Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Using InDesign to create a PDF that you’ll print gives you more control over the cropping of your image and a better idea of how your work will come out on paper.

So here’s a step-by-step guide to how to prepare photos for printing.

If you’re preparing images for print, it is critical that your screen is showing you accurate colour information. Investing in a display calibration tool – such as a Spyder5 – or a display with a built in calibration sensor – such as the Eizo CG277 – will allow you to be far more colour accurate, avoiding any expensive print mistakes from monitor colour casts or working on a screen that is too bright/dark.

Once you’ve shot and edited your images (or artwork), its time to export them preparation for InDesign. Always preserve as much colour information in your images as possible by working on them in the largest colour space accessible to you. Whilst ProPhoto is the largest colour space, Adobe RGB is more universally supported right now.

Whichever you choose, you don't need to convert your images to CMYK for print, no matter what you've heard. Even if your work's going to be printed using a four-colour press – for example, if you're creating a brochure or magazine for large-scale printing, leave CMYK to the last-possible moment in your workflow (so you don't lose information along the way).

And if your photos/artwork is being printed using more than four colours – such as the 10-ink SureColor P600 – you'll want to let the printer do the colour conversion so that the maximum range of colours is printed.

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During export, make sure you also set a print ready resolution of 300 Dots Per Inch (DPI). Anything lower than this may result in your image looking blurry in print.

In InDesign, Go to File > New > Document... to bring up the New Document tab. Choose Print from the Intent Dropdown box the number of pages you need. You can also choose page size, orientation and whether or not you need facing pages (for magazine/booklet style layout).

If you have any double page spreads in mind, be conscious of the centre fold of the publication as you are likely to lose information in the folds of facing pages, also known as the gutter. The width of the gutter will vary for each publication and is dependent on the binding process.

If you know what the Gutter measurement is likely to be, you can enter it here. Alternatively, an easy way to avoid losing important information is to compose your shot using the rule of thirds as mentioned in How to shoot images for a multi-channel campaign

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Any images that will be printed to the edges of the paper stock with no borders will require something known as a bleed. This refers to a small additional area of overprint – usually 1/8th of an inch on each outer edge – that goes beyond the intended size of the page.

The bleed allows for any misalignment when the page is cut – making sure there are no white edges around the page. With this in mind, you need to make sure no vital details of your image sit at the very edges when you send the image to publication. A 2-3mm bleed is usually recommended around your document.

Click on the Rectangle Frame tool (F) and click and drag across your document to create a placeholder for your image. Remember, if you want a full page image, your placeholder will need to go all the way out to the bleed guidelines shown here in red. You can also go to View > Grids and Guides > Snap to Guides to snap your placeholder to the bleed and make your design process much easier.

Once your placeholder frame is in place, go to File > Place OR Press Cmd/Ctrl + D and locate your chosen file/s. Click on the placeholder to load your image into the space

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If you need to reposition your image within the placeholder, double-click on the image to bring up the brown boundary box of the placed image – then move, rotate and resize as needed.

If at any point you want an idea of how your images will look in print, you can always turn on Soft Proofing, which will simulate what your image will look like on paper. You can do by going to View > Proof Setup and selecting the colour profile that matches your chosen printer (or what your print service tells you to select).

Then go to View > Proof Colours to toggle this setting on and off.

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If you're exporting for commercial printi, it's always best to ask your printing company to provide a set of artwork guidelines for you to follow. These will vary from printer to printer, but as a guideline, choose Press Quality from the Adobe PDF Preset dropdown box. Also do this if you're printing yourself.

Also for commercial printing, go to the Marks and Bleeds tab and tick the All Printer’s Marks, as well as the Use Document Bleed Settings. 

As for colour conversion, you can convert your photo or artwork to the suitable profile in the Output tab – whether a profile chosen by your commercial print service or one specifically for your desktop photo printer.

Export and you'll then have a PDF ready for printing.

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