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Preparing Files for Printing at a Photo Lab Using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom’s Export Module

October 17, 2011 | | Comments 47

There are two ways to turn your digital image into a printed masterpiece. Option 1: Deliver the file to a professional photo lab and have them print it out for you. Option 2: Do all the hard work yourself and put the image down on paper using your own inkjet photo printer. Both options have advantages and disadvantages. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom’s Print Module makes the second option–inkjet printing on your own equipment easy–for those with the right training but it is not always my preferred method. Having images printed for me at a professional photo lab is often the easiest and most cost-effective way to get my photographs out on paper.

Lightroom’s Print Module is great for those who want to feed their own paper into their own printer but often I prefer to hand the hard work off to a professional lab. For folks like me, preparing “print-ready” files using Lightroom’s powerful Export Dialog and then delivering these files to a lab is the easiest way to go. If you understand how Adobe Photoshop Lightroom’s Export Dialog works then you can build Presets (aka. Templates) to automate your photo lab preparation process. With the right Export presets in place preparing files for delivery to a professional lab is incredibly fast and easy.

It is worth reviewing the whole lab print preparation process before we talk about the specific buttons involved in the Export Dialog.

Preparing Files For Photo Lab Printing Using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

  • 1. Completely enhance your image using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom’s Develop Module and any other image editing software. Fix everything that needs improvement until your image looks perfect.
  • 2. Decide on the size of print that you would like to order from your lab. Reduce this paper size to a ratio. A 4″x6″ print, for example, is the product of a 2:3 ratio. An 8″x10″ print is the product of a 4×5 ratio. We need know the ratio of paper width to height to see if it matches up with the ratio of your original capture.
  • 3. If the ratio of the paper and the ratio of original digital capture match then we can skip cropping to fit the intended output paper size. If the ratios do not match then we will need to use Lightroom’s Crop Tool to fit part of your image within the boundaries of your target paper size. Cropping with the appropriate fixed aspect ratio helps to ensure that you get the right shaped image back from your photo lab.
  • 4. We need to to create a copy of your image that is ready for your photo lab using Lightroom’s Export Dialog. This print-ready file should be sized appropriately to fit your paper choice and it may also need a new filename, a new color profile, and the appropriate type of output sharpening.
  • 5. Deliver the print-ready file to your photo lab along and wait for them to do all the hard work.
  • 6. Hang the finished product on the wall and enjoy!

I am going to cover the steps involved in preparing a 4″x6″ print in my first video tutorial. I will cover preparing files for this size paper first because this paper size is a perfect match for my camera’s 2:3 aspect ratio. I do not need to crop any part of my original capture away to fit the target paper size since the ratios match. Now I could crop in tighter on my subject if I wanted but I don’t need to crop anything away because the capture ratio matches up with the ratio of my output paper size. This makes life easier but it is not going to succeed with some of the other common reproduction sizes.

I would like to make one more point before you watch this video tutorial. The true beauty of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is in the power of templates and presets. Lightroom’s Export Dialog is just a fancy “Save As” button. Plugging in the necessary settings for your print-ready file–this size, this file format, this color space, this resolution, etc.–each and every time you want to order a print is inefficient. Lightroom is an incredible tool for the busy digital photographer because it can be trained. Teaching the software to automate a repetitive process, meaning building an Export Preset for 4″x6″ lab printing, is the best way to improve your efficiency.

Building an Export Preset for 4×6 Photo Lab Printing in Lightroom from David Marx on Vimeo.

If you just watched the video tutorial on 4″x6″ print file preparation then you might have noticed that I built and saved two different types of templates. I built a Filename Template first so that my print-ready files are automatically renamed. In this video I built a new Filename Template so that Lightroom will automatically append the words “4×6 Print” onto the end of my existing filename.

4x6 Filename Template Screenshot

Adding a clear description into the new file’s name prevents confusion. Appending the purpose, and the size, onto the filename is particularly helpful when I need to order copies of the same image in multiple print sizes: ie. when a client requests a 4″x6″ print, a 5″x7″ print, and an 11″x14″ copy of the same original capture. It is easy to confuse myself, and my photo lab, if I neglect to give each file a clear descriptive name.

Appending more information onto the file’s name is just one of the steps involved in the Export Dialog. It is an important step, but I also need to instruct Lightroom to create the right type of file. For most photo labs, we need to deliver images saved in the Jpeg file format. This is especially true for photographer’s working with digital camera Raw files. Raw file formats are a great way to store your original capture information but you need to remember that Raw file formats are not printable.

Camera Raw is a starting point. Raw is a wonderful initial capture format but it is not an acceptable choice for your print-ready output file. Check out our article on the differences between the Raw and Jpeg file formats for more details. Thus, my print-ready files are often a Jpeg copy derived from my original Raw capture. Thanks to the power of the Export Dialog producing this copy is easy.

Here is a screenshot of my entire Export Dialog window configured for 4″x6″ print-ready file creation. I closed a couple of the panels–watermarking, metadata, etc.–to make the Dialog fit on my screen. You can leave these features turned off since they will not do anything to improve the quality of your printed image. The critical questions are where should the new file be saved, what should it be called, what file format should it use, and what physical size should it be.

4x6 Print Settings Using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom's Export Dialog

Again, the goal here is to set everything up and then to save your work by building a new Export Preset. Filling in these blanks once is not terribly hard, but doing this again and again is inefficient. Building a template for 4″x6″ printing makes the whole process super fast and easy!

Now 4″x6″ prints are easy for me since my 35mm digital camera creates images using a 2:3 aspect ratio. 2:3 scales up to 4×6 perfectly. I need to add an additional step into my routine though when I want to order a 5″x7″ print. For 5″x7″ printing, I must crop off a piece of my original image because this paper size does not scale down to a 2:3 aspect ratio. This video tutorial explains how to crop using a fixed aspect ratio with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom’s Crop Tool. Gene McCullagh has a great in-depth article on all of the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom’s Crop Tool features over at lightroomsecrets.com.

Cropping to a Fixed Ratio with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom from David Marx on Vimeo.

I need to point out here that I can crop my original image in Lightroom without any fear of doing permanent harm because Lightroom’s image enhancement system is always non-destructive. Nothing that Lightroom does to an image is “ever set in stone” and the parts of the image that I am cropping away are not being permanently removed from my original file. Setting a 5:7 crop in Lightroom, or making any other change in the Develop Module, can be undone at anytime!

Our final video tutorial covers the steps involved in the Export Dialog once your file has been cropped to the appropriate ratio. Again, the goal is to set everything up once and then to save all of the settings as a new Export Preset. Automating repetitive tasks makes your workflow more efficient and preparing files for photo lab printing is the perfect place to harness this power!

Building an Export Preset for 5×7 Photo Lab Printing with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom from David Marx on Vimeo.

Here is a screenshot for my complete 5″x7″ Export Dialog settings in case you need it.

5x7 Print Template Using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom's Export Dialog

Repeat the Export Preset creation process for all the paper sizes that you frequently order. Building Presets for all of the paper sizes that you frequently order is one of the best ways to speed up your Lightroom workflow!

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About the Author: David Marx is a digital photography instructor whose engaging teaching style inspires photographers of all skill levels. David is an Adobe Certified Lightroom Expert. To learn more about David's Adobe Photoshop Lightroom software training seminars and digital photography field workshops please visit www.davidmarx.com or follow David Marx on Google+.