Making a good print starts with making a good file. Your digital files control what a printer produces, so if what you want is not in the file, it’s not going to be in the print.
The printer, paper, and profile/color management all play a role as well, but if those are done properly, your file should print the same on any printer anywhere in the world.
To paraphrase Ansel Adams, the file is the score, the print is the performance!
When we edit a photo, we are the composer. Our editing is the same as a composer putting down notes on sheet music for the orchestra to perform. As long as they orchestra is in tune and playing what is on the page, it should sound the way we wrote it.
So the core skill of making better prints is making better files. We need to learn how to build into the file the things we want to see in the print, and this comes down to the decisions you make in Photoshop/Lightroom/ON1/etc.
It’s very easy with these tools to make things too contrasty, to make shadows and highlights that are too dark or too light, to create oversaturated colors or unrealistic hues and color balances.
Just as a musician has to learn to produce notes that are on key, printmakers need to learn to make edits that produce the results they want.
Part of this is learning a new precision. We need to train our eye to be sensitive to small differences just as a musician needs to learn to hear notes precisely. Learning to see the difference in slider moves of +1 or -1 instead of +10 and -10 will produce more refinement.
How to produce better files is beyond the scope of a single post. But knowing that making better files is the key to making better prints lets you start working on that goal
Photographer, educator, and fine art printmaker Rich Seiling works to push the limits of printing technology to create beautiful Museum quality photographic prints for his clients and himself.