Prep Your Files for Great Prints - school
Brought to you by the photographers at SmugMug

Ready to print big? The topic of file prep may not be exciting for everyone, but there's a few very important things you should watch out for before you send your file to the lab.

Here's a checklist from our in-house print experts to help you turn your favorite image into a perfect print, and to help avoid seeing your mistakes blown up super-sized on the wall. 

1. (File) Size Matters

A key factor in getting stunning large prints is having enough high quality information in your starting file. Image file size is measured two different ways: 

• MP (megapixels) are a representation of the dimensions of the file (length and width) and are determined by the size of sensor in your camera. If you don't crop your original file, then your photo will have the same number of megapixels as your camera sensor. 

• Mb (megabytes) is a representation of the quantity of data in the file. A colorful image will be larger than a black and white image, for example, and a busy street photo will be a larger file than a photo of a plain blue sky. 

The bigger you want to print, the larger the file size needs to be. As a rule of thumb, you need a minimum of 1 Mb and 1 MP  in your file to print small standard print sizes up to 8x10 inches. 

How to check file size:

On your computer, open Image Properties and check Image Details on your photo.

In your SmugMug gallery, click the image information icon that appears under the photo.

On your computer, open Image Properties and check Image Details.

Tip:
Image size does not trump image quality. If your original image is out of focus, no number of pixels will fix that! Your final print will still be a hot, blurry mess. Always start with your very best quality photo.

Advanced Pixel Peepers! Try This Photoshop Trick to check your image quality: 

1. Click: Image > Image Size

2. Set Image Resolution to 90 pixels/inch

3. CHECK Resample Image

4. Set Image Size to your desired print size

5. Click OK

6. Zoom viewing magnification to 100% This should give you an accurate representation of what the printed image will look like. If it looks pixelated then you will need to choose a smaller print size.

7. Make sure that you do not save these settings to your file!

2. Shape is Everything

Your digital file will have a shape that's been determined by either the camera sensor or by any  cropping you do to the file. 

All print products also have set dimensions and specific shapes. They range from squares to rectangles, and every variation in-between.

If your digital file does not have the same shape as the print product that you want to order, you will need to crop that image so that they match. 

Confused? Be sure to read more about the SmugMug crop tool for more details. 

3. Be Wary with Borders and Text

Is your image finished with a border or has overlaying text?

• Make sure your borders are at least ¼ inch wide, or they are at risk of getting cut off and/or appearing uneven on the finished print.

• Make sure text is at least ¼ inch away from any edge of the print (or within the crop box for mounted prints) to prevent it being cut off during the printing process.

• Double check all text for typos!

• Check out our tips for perfect wallet prints, since they can  be applied to other print sizes, too. 

4. Color Matters

Get those Whites White

Our eyes judge all colors by using black and white as the reference points. Make sure you have a true white point (255,255,255) and/or a true black point (0,0,0) in your images.

Watch Those Skin Tones

In portraits, pay close attention to your skin tones. You'll want pleasing skin tones, generally warm rather than cool. After all, no one wants their portrait to resemble The Walking Dead, or a Smurf. 

Don't Be Fooled by Screen Brightness

Our computer monitors, tablets, phones and camera LCDs are all backlit devices. They will always display our images brighter than any physical print. Be sure to correct for this, otherwise your prints may end up much darker than you expect.

Tools to Help

• Color Calibrate Your Monitor, either with a calibration print (our preferred method), your computer's system preferences or by using an actual color calibration device.

• Use the print labs supplied ICC color profile.

• Editing software histograms, levels and curves tools for editing color and exposure.

Tip:
Does all this talk make your head spin? The good news is, SmugMug's Color Correction Service is available to all of our account holders, whenever you order a print through our four print labs.

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