Making Fine Art Prints: Preparing

Making Fine Art Prints

With fine art prints, preparation is probably the most important step in the process. So many things are dependent on other things, it’s imperative that you have a clear path defined. The end product is your goal, but the process is the path you must take. If that path is ill-defined, your final product will be something less than fine art.

In this article, we’ll simply talk about the preparation that must take place before producing your final work. Taking the photo is only the seed. Producing a high quality print for display is the fruit of your efforts. Read on, and keep these things in mind as we explore the rest of this discussion.


Creative Commons License photo credit: ViaMoi

Often times, you’ll be making a print for a specific customer or event. Maybe it’s a private buyer, or maybe it’s for an exhibition or show. Whatever the case, you’ll likely have a set of requirements to fulfill. These requirements, or boundaries, should be the foundation of your print making. If you don’t meet the basic requirements, the print is practically worthless to the final recipient.

These requirements may include things like size, paper, mounting, matting, etc. If you start your planning around these boundaries, you’ll find that you often have some degree of freedom in the other aspects of the print.


If you’re new to making fine art prints, this will make more sense to you at the end of the series. But the main takeaway from this tip is to have a perfect vision of what your final print will look like. This includes paper selection, print size, signing, borders, matting, mounting, framing, shipping, and hanging. The final display should appear exactly as you envisioned — no exceptions.


Creative Commons License photo credit: striatic

For the aspects of the print that you have creative freedom, you’ll need to think about the reasons behind your decisions. You may have complete freedom, or you may have strict boundaries — but chances are, you’ll be somewhere in the middle.

If you do have some freedom, you’ll need to keep in mind things like print size vs. display size, how you’ll sign it and how that affects the print size and matting, whether or not you’ll be providing a matted and mounted print, and how you’ll get that print to the final destination. At the end of the day, you want to produce a quality product to the exact specifications you first envisioned. Having a well defined plan of attack will make things move much more smoothly.

As with many things, the old saying holds true: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”


This is mainly a lead-in to the next topic in the series, but it bleeds into this topic too. When working with digital photos, you’ll need to spend extra time getting them ready for print — even if you’ve already processed the image. Printing can really bring out the beauty of a photo, but it can bring out the ugly little things too. Dust spots, noise, poor sharpening, etc. All of these things can look fine on your monitor, but a print will reveal them instantly.

We’ll get into this stuff in the next article. If you have any specific questions about printing, be sure to ask here! And if you have any tips for preparing, also chime in!!!


8 thoughts on “Making Fine Art Prints: Preparing

  1. Andrew Ferguson

    This is a pretty big thing to ask you to cover, but this is my biggest stumbling block when it comes to printing my digital images;

    I don’t know what needs to be done to prepare them for print, workflow wise. I’m reasonably sure I need to convert to CMYK, but I don’t know how else to optimize my files (both b&w and colour) to ensure that what I see on the monitor is what I see on the final print.

    I know everyone processes everything differently, but are there certain basic steps to preparing a file for print that I absolutely should not ignore?

  2. Brian Auer Post author

    I’m willing to bet that you’re not the only one with those questions. These things should make for a great technical discussion in the next article. I’ll touch on this stuff in the article, but I won’t have the chance to dive into every little detail. Whatever I skim over, we can dive into the comments. I might even ask my professional printer to join the conversation and answer some technical questions.

  3. Jason

    I look forward to this next article. I have just started to do some printing and have been having a lot of trouble with photos that have highly saturated colors – all colors seem to print fine except for the greens. I’ve used two different print shops and both have the same problem – even the technicians were stumped, as they were seeing the same thing on their monitor as I was on mine, but something very different was printed. Thanks, Brian, for sharing this info.


  4. Tom

    Yup, had the same problem when I wanted to print sth. But the 1st time I did this I didn’t realise that it was a thing to discuss, and all of my photos were useless.. the printing company owner said that it’s my fault and I should deal with it. Well, don’t make my mistakes.

  5. Oscar Medina

    Responding to Jason and others that may have the issue he described with “greens” . . . most likely the problem is related to “color space”.

    It is possible to create a color, on your computer, that will display a particular way on your computer monitor but won’t print the same way. This is especially true for heavily saturated colors or saturated colors in the ‘blacks’.

    The color printing capabilities of many printing systems have difficulty with heavily saturated colors. As an example, my large format printer has a Red cartridge but if I create a color that is more red, than the red of the cartridge, it is impossible to print the “red” with accuracy. The printer will just get as close as it can.

    Most printing systems are limited to a colorspace of sRGB (which has the smallest color space). More sophisticated printing systems can handle Adobe1998 or ProPhoto. Both have larger color spaces than sRGB and you are more likely to get an accurate print from one of these printers.

    How much color saturation is possible is also partially determined by the media the inks are being sprayed on to. The wrong choice of media can severely limit what is possible.

    If you are using Photoshop to view your files, you can do a “soft proof” to get a more accurate representation of how your final print will turn out.

    The path is: View, Proof Setup, Custom, then select the type of media that will be used to print on. Also set “rendering” to “Perceptual” and put a check mark in the “Simulate Paper Color” box. Photoshop will then attempt to display your image the way it will come off the printing system. Some printing companies post ICC Profiles on their websites that can be used for “soft proofing” before taking them your files. Each ICC Profile is calibrated for one specific media.

    I hope the above helps. Colorspace is a whole discussion in itself. The above assumes you have a color calibrated monitor that was calibrated using a tool like the Spyder II Pro or Huey. Calibration of most LCD flat screens is only accurate to about 80% for purposes of printing. For higher accuracy switch to using a “glass” CRT monitor (95% accuracy is possible).

    On a related subject, images that are displayed on a computer monitor use a process called “additive color”. The phosphors or LCD screen “emit” light with color “added” to the light that our eyes see and interpret. Prints use a process called “subtractive color”. Subtractive color is dependent on the amount of light in the room and the color temperature of the light in the room where the prints are being viewed. Light in the room is reflected off the prints and some colors are absorbed or “subtracted”. What is left, is viewed by our eyes and interpreted. The color of the light in the room will affect the colors displayed in the prints. For most accurate color comparison, the lighting should be set to a standard like “daylight” – 5500 degrees kelvin. Not all printing companies using color calibrated lights in their viewing areas. Fine art printing companies usually do.

    Oscar Medina
    Professional Photographer & Fine Art Printer
    San Diego Photos and Prints

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