9 Key Steps to Prepare an Image for Print

How to Prepare an Image for Print Whether it’s for a website, an ad campaign, or personal enjoyment, it’s important to make sure images are well-prepared and tailored to their intended use. With just a few key tips, even amateur creators can turn out high-quality images that are perfect for a variety of purposes. There are several key steps you can take to prepare an image for print. Here, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make sure your images turn out the way you wish for printing. If you follow these steps, you can make sure your images truly pop.

Calibrate the Monitor

Job number one is to make sure that your monitor is able to represent your eventual final product accurately. A monitor represents images using lighted pixels, whereas your final printout will represent the image in unlighted ink on paper. That means the monitor has to be adjusted properly not for general use but so as to display the image as it will appear in physical form.

Let the monitor warm up for half an hour before manipulating your image. Set the monitor to its native resolution by selecting the default settings. Make sure you’re using moderate lighting in the room where you are working and get familiar with the monitor’s control display.

Use the Right Format

Using Photo Editing Software You are going to have to take the time to find and use the right image format. This might take some trial and error on your part depending on your operating system and photography hardware. There are two usual formats for image printing: TIFF and PSD.

TIFF – Tagged Image File Format

The TIFF file format was created by the Aldus Company for desktop publishing. It is a popular file type for most users and works well with Macintosh systems.

PSD – Photoshop Document

This is a high resolution format that supports images up to 300,000 pixels and handles file sizes as large as 4 exabytes. If you are developing especially large detail-heavy images, this is a good file type choice.

Choose CMYK Color Mode

Once you have decided on your image format, you will need to make sure you are using the correct Photoshop color index mode for high-quality prints. RGB (Red, Green, Blue) is the most common color index. However, CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) is of higher quality. This mode is used by professionals for final separations intended for use in the press. Switching your color index to CMYK will allow you to achieve a more professional look for your print images. Be sure to use a high-resolution magnifying app to get a detailed view of your image.

Understand Print Resolution

For most people, using a printer has become fairly uncommon, since so much communication — including document transmission — has become paperless. If you’re trying to print professional-quality photo images, most likely your best bet is to simply invest in a photo-quality printer. See below for a more detailed explanation of the use of DPI to discuss printing resolution.


DPI stands for “dots per inch.” This is the physical equivalent to the pixels on a screen. The more dots that a printer can cram into a square inch, the clearer, and sharper the image will generally be. Most standard documents containing images will look great at 300 dpi or perhaps 600 dpi. A professional photograph might be printed at 1200 dpi. Above 1200 dpi, it’s difficult to discern much improvement in image quality.

Resize and Crop the Image

This is something you will almost always have to do at some point. Resizing and cropping can help you get an image down to a smaller size if file size restrictions are a problem. Sometimes cropping and resizing can cause problems. Be sure to save your file in a separate location before manipulating it in this way. There are several things to consider when you are resizing or cropping your image.

Trim Line

The trim size is the final dimensions of the image. For some printed publications the edge of the image must either fall within a given frame or extend beyond it for reasons that have to do with ink bleed and color mixing. Make sure your trim line matches the needs of the final product.

Live Area

Printing a Newspaper The “live area” of the image is the space where the image will not be interfered with by borders or restrictions, such as the image frame used when a cartoon appears in a newspaper. This space is the area within which you can expect the image to appear as intended.


All liquids run, including the ink put down by a printer. Black borders are there to conceal bleeding, but the use of these borders has its limits. Bleeding effects can be unpredictable, so you may need to do some trial printouts to find the best paper and printer settings for your final product.

Add Borders

Your border is there to frame in the image nicely. It can also help to conceal bleeding, which is inevitable even if it is too subtle to spot. Choosing the right border can make all the difference in ensuring a high-quality image printing. Take the time to choose the right border for your image.

Sharpen the Image

Sharpening can help your image appear clearer with more defined lines. Calibration and color correction will bring your sharpness up to a certain level already, and then you may employ further sharpening techniques. Before you proceed, though, make sure you have addressed any resolution problems, choosing the correct dpi for your image.

Generally speaking, images used for print need to be sharpened more than ones that are used for the web — a level of sharpness that might seem absurd on-screen might look crisp, clear, and perfect in print. There are a number of techniques you should consider when sharpening your images.

Capture Sharpening

This is done to sharpen digital images as they are captured. Blur, color filters, sensors, lenses, and their quality, noise level, ISO, and the settings you choose all affect initial capture sharpness.

Creative Sharpening

Some areas of your image may require more sharpening than others, so you may need to get creative! Creative sharpening depends on your own perception just as much as it depends on what is going on in your picture. Are there numerous edges, patterns, contrasts? All of these variables need to be considered.

Output Sharpening

This means sharpening so the image is optimized for the output method you want to use. You may need to focus your efforts for a particular method, such as offset printing.

Send to Printing Press

Inspecting a Printing Press Image Next, you will need to prep the image for the needs of the printing press. For most professional presses, you will need to send your image as a CMYK file, though RGB might be fine for some applications. Different printing presses may also want different RGB formats, so make sure you choose the right option.

sRGB – Most Printing Labs

SRGB stands for “standard red green blue” and is the most common format used by mainstream printing operations. If you require a professional-quality image, consider working with a higher-end printing operation.

Adobe RBG – Some Printing Labs

This print image profile has been around since 1998 and is not in widespread use anymore. However, some labs stick with it, know this format very well, and produce exceptional quality work. If you’re working with a lab that prefers this type of format, it’s best to give them what they want.

Proof the Image

Before sending the image off to be printed, you’re going to want to be sure you’re sending the image as it is intended for final use, so you will proof it. There are two types of proofing: soft proofing and hard proofing.

Soft Proofing

Soft proofing enables you to temporarily imitate how the image will look on another device, like a printer, by using only your computer monitor. This is a very helpful tool for making more your prints conform to expectations, and reviewing your image in a soft proof is one of the most useful available applications for color management. However, proofing the image on a monitor requires a trained eye to know for sure how the image will look in print and detect any concerns. Additionally, if you are soft proofing, you will need to know how to correct the image if it doesn’t appear the way you wish.

Hard Proofing

Hard proofing is similar to soft proofing in that you are reviewing your image to make sure it appears the way you intend. It is different from soft proofing in that instead of counting on a monitor to display your image as it should appear in the final product, hard proofing means you are making a test printing on physical media. Soft proofing can save you time and money as long as the proof image is accurate, but only a hard proof can stand as sure evidence that you are going to get what you want at the end of the process.

Select a Paper Type

Now that you’ve gone through all the trouble of making sure your image is in the right format, properly colorized, and saved in the right file type, your job is only half done. You could have done everything up to this point properly and spoil it all by choosing the wrong type of medium on which to print your image. Paper is likely the most common medium on which to print images — it’s widely available and relatively inexpensive. However, it’s important to remember there is not only one type of paper on which you might choose to print your work.

The right paper type for your print job depends on how the print will be used. Different papers will display your image differently, responding differently to the level of sharpness of your image depending on a number of factors. If you’re working with a professional printing company you should ask them to help you select the right thickness, weight, brightness, and coating. Heavier paper will display an image differently from lighter paper, and the other factors listed can be just as important to consider.

Add a Frame

Frames come in many different forms and can make all the difference in the final presentation of your images. In most cases, the choice is completely subjective, but here are some options to consider.

Wood or Metal?

Picking a Photo Frame Since you’ve gone through the trouble of producing a professionally-printed image, picking the right frame matters. Wood and metal frames are the most solid choices. Your choice of a wood or metal frame might best be decided by selecting a frame that matches the decor of the room where the image will be displayed.

A simple frame made from either material will be a good match for almost any interior. If you choose a more ornate frame, then the style of the frame, whether it is wood or metal should strike a balance between matching the room and matching the style of the image itself.

Frame Color

In choosing how to display your image, the color of the frame can strongly affect how your image is perceived. Whatever color you choose should not overpower the color scheme of the image or clash with it — you may even choose a color that enhances the colors of the image itself. Of course, you still have to choose a color that is a good match for the surrounding space. Solid, mute, colors, and earth tones are strong choices. Chrome or flat matte metals are also usually a safe bet.

Canvas or Metal Prints

An alternative to paper prints is to print your images on canvas or metal. Canvas and metal prints can protect valuable images for years. How you choose to display your photographs is as important as how you choose to create them. Metal prints are the most durable and can be displayed with or without any additional framing hardware in some cases. Canvas prints are more traditional and present a softer, more inviting presence. Canvas generally requires more framing hardware to protect the image from dust, debris, and accident, but it is also more forgiving of a less sharp image.

Show Off Your Images With a Quality Print

In today’s information-drenched world, it can be easy to be cavalier about printed images, to be more accustomed to images manipulated and delivered via computer than ones delivered via physical media. However, taking care to prepare an image for print is a great way to get back in touch with the value that a beautiful image can add to our everyday lives. By carefully preparing and planning the printing, use, and display of your treasured images, you will create something that you can be proud of and that everyone will enjoy.