What do I need to tell the print lab to get good results?

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by justinweiss, Sep 28, 2009.

  1. I had some prints made at the local 30-minutes shack and got horrible results: Shadow detail lost, highlights blown, and subtle colors washed away.
    So now I'm going to try a professional photo printing lab for the first time. What, if anything, do I need to tell them about my digital photos to get good color fidelity? For example, color space, bit depth, monitor used for editing, etc.?
    Any other tips about getting good results from a lab would also be appreciated.
  2. Ask them what you need to do to match their machines. If you are ordering C-prints chances are they want 8 bit, sRGB files. If you calibrate your monitor you can tell them "Print with no corrections", and you'll get back what you see on your monitor.
  3. If you edit on a calibrated monitor, and the lab does due diligence in maintaining and calibrating their printer, you can expect very good results with NO ADJUSTMENTS. I get good results from both Adobe RGB and sRGB images, but the latter is probably safer.
    If the lab is careless about calibrating, or ignores your instructions, no amount of persuasion on your part will have any effect. Change labs!
    Cropping is another matter. The operator will always crop about 2mm from the edges for a borderless print, even if it is sized exactly. If it is not sized exactly, they will crop from the shortest side to make all edges borderless. It's hard to predict what they will do on bordered prints to get even borders. This is a real problem if you compose to the edges of the image - things get lopped off. The best solution is to crop the image exact size (but less than full size) and aspect ratio you need for composition, and place it inside a blank border (canvas) sized to fit their printer (e.g., 8x10 or 8x12). When they crop, only the blank edges will be affected. Give the lab an "heads up" on your strategy.
  4. save your image as Jpeg sRGB 10-12 quality, and ask NO CORRECTION..if youre image still suck..maybe you are the problem ; )
    Do you have a good -non laptop- hardware calibrated monitor to start?
  5. My suggestions:
    • Try mpix.com.
    • Use sRGB as your working space when editing your images.
    • When you save as a jpeg, use level 10 and do NOT embed the sRGB profile.
    • Allow mpix to make color corrections (Don't check the box that tells them not to adjust color. That way, if you aren't happy with the results, they will most likely do the job again. They're very good about that.)
  6. Use good ol jpegs in sRGB images and "beg no corrections".
    Most shops even Pro Shops dont use Adobe Color space. I use Wolf Camera and only the local Pro Shop Wolf here and they dont even use Adobe. They always say sRGB.
    There are a few labs that will read your attached ICC profile and print that. If thats the case, they dont make corrections to those....or it negates reading ICC profile of your image.
    Ditto everyone else...is your monitor calibrated. Its a must to calibrate the monitor to get results that match what you see. What does it look like on screen.
  7. Thanks for the tips everyone.
    I have a hardware-calibrated NEC monitor, and I've been shooting and editing in Adobe RGB. I'm going to talk to the lab about whether that's OK or if I should send them sRGB jpegs. I may even do a Pepsi challenge on a few of my photos to see if I can tell the difference...
  8. If you've been sending them Adobe files, I bet thats it. I've only seen 2 labs in my area that will read the embedded ICC profile and print that way. Most just use sRGB. Think about it. Probably 75% of the people out there are sending them files froma P&S and have no idea what color space even means.
  9. I always suggest that user make test to comfirm what they read, an im haapy you do it..but the sad truth is sending a Adobe RGB file to a lab would 9 out of 10 result in darker print with less vivid color or kind of not saturated one. If you want a problem free experience, send to any lab, in every country, pro or not a sRGB jpeg.
    You dont have to work in sRGB, you can and should work in Adobe RGB (as you do) and use Image Processor in the end (part of CS3-Cs4) to make those sRGB jpeg quality 10 -12, you can even resize the shot and apply them a action if you want. Should around 2sec per images..way faster than you doing it by hand manually.
    As for the Pepsi test, it will be more like a Pepsi vs Sprite one..easily spot the difference as the 2 print wont even look the same.
    Just remember to ask any lab not to color managed your image in any way..very important.
    I will never trust anyone, certainly not from a lab to color corrected my image for me..whats the point of using a color manage workflow yourself if someone else take the decision to make the shot warm / cold / red / blue for you..how could they know? right, they make a print that you dont like, they reprint it a second time..welcome the unwanted time lost ; )
  10. I get quite good and repeatable results from consumer mini-labs... Ritz and other stores, even the occasional CVS. I believe that many of these are using Fuji Frontier machines. Prints at 4x6, 8x10, 8x12 are very good and very cheap these days. Working with a pro lab might be different, but here's what works for me with consumer level photo print shops...
    I always:
    - Start with RAW, work in Adobe RGB, 16bit.
    - When I'm ready to print... Edit... Convert to Profile... sRGB. If rich saturated colors on your monitor come out as drab prints, I find that sending a file in Adobe RGB to the minilab causes exactly this result.
    - Finalize as 8bit, JPEG, 10-12 quality, and I create the file at exactly 300dpi for the print size I'm ordering.
    - Embed the sRGB profile in the image.
    - I do output sharpening. You'll want to experiment, but I find I get better prints when I have enough sharpening that the image looks "over cooked" at 100% the monitor.
    - I don't give any instructions with the order.
    - I generally upload my photos on their web-based facilities.
  11. My lab gives me their ICC profile. I edit the image, convert to their ICC profile and send it off to print. Colours are always accurate unless their printer is overdue for a calibration.
  12. Richards right, most of these do use the same Fuji Frontier machines for 4x6-8x12. Al Ritz/Wolf and CVS and Walgreens use these machines.
    Where the difference/problems come in is operator. At Wolf/Ritz, they have trained people working these machines. At Walgreens, some care and try, others are just your typical tennage thug from around the corner thats just there to earn a $150 paycheck every week. They dont know or care about it being Calibrated and they always seem to click the "adjust" button....you know because they click it on theirs when they do their personal prints(which need it)
    I have and still do use a particular Walgreens store when in a pinch, and when the girl that normally works is there, I get the same quality I get from Wolf. Perfect(if my image is perfect).
    The difference, she always calibrates the machine when she changes Print cartridges(seen her do it many times) and she never clicks the "adjustment image" button.
    As long as your monitor is calibrated, and you send sRGB jpegs to a lab that trys just a little to keep their machines in tune, you'll be good.
    When you go in to these stores, you'll spot immediatley which to use and which to just *run* not walk away from.
  13. Ask them if they have an ICC profile you can work to but failing that you should tell them what space you have been using - you've already guessed Adobe 98 v sRGB is a potential problem and it is. Since most of the PC world is sRGB then it's much safer to use that. I used to use Adobe but it caused me too many problems: it was fine if I was ordering big Epson prints but smaller photo-prints were different every lab I tried. It was The Darkroom UK Ltd that put me wise to the problem and I've stuck with them since.

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