Make my photos print-ready

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Your clients want awesome prints, and we at SmugMug want to help you make that happen. Below are the biggest lessons we’ve learned from our many years of helping you deliver prints to your customers.

How do I fix prints that are…

Why are prints returned?

We’ve read the same books and posts you have about resolution, compression, and color spaces as likely culprits for poor prints. But your clients give dramatically different reasons for returning prints.

The biggest reasons your buyers return prints are skin tone, under exposure, and contrast.

The easiest way to avoid these issues is to use color correction. But if you’d like to learn to solve the issues yourself, read on below for ways to solve prints being too dark, washed out, too red, or too blue.

Just because it looks good on your monitor doesn’t mean it’ll look good in print. Monitors are very bright and illuminate your photo from behind. Prints depend on reflected light, usually from subdued lamps in homes. One way to get a feel for how different your monitor is from prints is to order a calibration print.

Compare the calibration print with the original file on screen and you can start to learn how to better adjust your editing workflow to get the print results you want.

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Prints are too dark.

Photos can look very bright on our monitors due to the built-in illumination, but using Photoshop, Lightroom, or a similar program can reveal how dark or light your photo might be.

For example, this photo might not look very dark on your monitor.

But using one of the programs above to view the photo’s histogram levels shows how dark it really is.

The levels go from dark (left) to light (right). The big bulge to the left is how much black there is in the photo. There’s usually black in every shot, and almost every shot also has white. But the histogram shows no white in this photo, even though her glasses and shirt should be. That means they’ll look gray in print, and nobody wants that.

To lighten the photo for a good print, adjust the histogram by sliding the right-most triangle (representing white) to the left, all the way to the brightest pixel. That will ensure her glasses and shirt are white in print.

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Prints are too red.

Fair-skinned subjects can be dismayed to learn that on-camera flash makes their faces go bright red—the second-leading cause of returned prints.

Thankfully, there’s a quick way to fix this using Photoshop and a trick courtesy of Lee Varis, who wrote the book Skin. It works beautifully for reducing the appearance of rashes and blemishes, too.

  1. In Photoshop, make sure the Layers palette is open (Window Layers). Then click on the adjustment layers icon and select Hue/Saturation.
  2. The Hue/Saturation dialog box will appear. It has a pull-down menu that defaults to Master. Select it and choose Reds instead:
  3. Look for the eyedropper on the Hue/Saturation dialog and click it.
  4. Now find a good-looking patch of skin, hopefully one that doesn't need any adjustment, and click it.
  5. Slide the Hue slider all the way to the left. The reddest patches of skin will turn cyan.
  6. Now slide the right gray-triangle slider at the bottom of the Hue/Saturation dialog (highlighted in green below) to the left to limit the areas being corrected to the spots that are too red.
  7. Finally, slide the Hue slider back to zero and a bit so the skin tones become natural. We find somewhere in the range of +4 to +20 works well.

Tip: Some photos look even better if you do this again, but this time choose Yellows from the Master drop-down in the Hue/Saturation dialog box.

Want to get a bit more advanced? Check out our pleasing skin tone article.

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Prints are washed out.

The camera could be fabulous and the lighting divine, but the awful reality is unedited photos from your camera rarely produce great prints.

For example, look at the difference between the straight-out-of-camera shot (top) and after processing (bottom).

The first thing to check to avoid washed-out prints is that your photo is in the sRGB colorspace since this is the colorspace all our print labs use. We’ve also got a few simple tips you can try to give your photo the contrast it needs for a stunning print.

  1. Try using SmugMug’s built-in color effects, which can perk up washed-out photos.
  2. Adjust the histogram levels as described in the “too dark” section to make whites white and blacks black.
  3. Adjust the curves using Photoshop. (Go to Photoshop’s Image menu Adjustments Curves.) You'll see a curves dialog like below, but yours will have a straight line sloping at 45 degrees. The lower left point of the line represents black. The upper right represents white.
  4. Click your mouse on the line to create three points, then adjust each point. Pull the left point down a bit, then pull the right point up (hold your mouse down and drag a point to move it). Adjust the points until your line takes on an S-shape like the one below.
  5. This S-curve will make the shadows darker and the highlights brighter. You can also grab the center point and raise it to make the overall exposure lighter, or drag it down to make it darker.

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Prints are too blue/green.

Your clients might report this as gray or even greenish skin. And this photo has a bad case of it.

The most common cause of blueness in photos is shade. Direct sun doesn't land there, so shade has more blue relative to yellow than direct sun does. Even if you manually set your camera’s white balance to shade, the camera’s guessing about your shade; the deeper the shade, the bluer it is.

Choosing color correct in the shopping cart will help get rid of most of the blue, but it won't make all photos perfect.

To fix a blue tint, we’ll show you a quick way to do it in Photoshop using Curves.

  1. In Photoshop, make sure the Layers palette is open (Window Layers). Then click on the adjustment layers icon and select Curves.
  2. The Curves dialog box will appear. It has a few eyedropper icons on the left-hand side. Select the one at the bottom, which allows you to sample a white point from your image.
  3. Now find an area that should be white, like the girl’s T-shirt, and click it. (To get a more precise white area, hold down the ALT key on your keyboard—the pure-white areas will be highlighted for you as you hover over your image with the eyedropper.)

You should notice the blue cast vanish immediately!

For more advanced tweaking, check out our pleasing skin tone article and further refine your editing before printing.

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Is there a print guarantee?

Absolutely! We have a 100% print guarantee.

What’s that mean? If you're ever unhappy with your prints or gifts, SmugMug will reprint or refund your order, whichever you prefer. Simply send us an email within 30 days of receiving your order and we’ll help you out.

Note: If you've completed your purchase using a currency other than USD, the refund amount may not exactly match the purchase price due to fluctuations in the exchange rate.

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