Photo Finish: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Printing, Showing, and Selling Images

Photo Finish: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Printing, Showing, and Selling Images

by Jon Canfield, Tim Grey

"A must-have book for all photographers."

—John Shaw,

If you're serious about digital photography, you know that taking a great photo is only the beginning. Ultimately you want to share your polished images with the widest possible audience but accomplishing this goal is no simple task. First you have to be able to optimize images for

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"A must-have book for all photographers."

—John Shaw,

If you're serious about digital photography, you know that taking a great photo is only the beginning. Ultimately you want to share your polished images with the widest possible audience but accomplishing this goal is no simple task. First you have to be able to optimize images for very different mediums—print, the Web, slideshows. Then comes the challenge of drawing people to your work.

In Photo Finish, digital-imaging experts Jon Canfield and Tim Grey combine practical know-how with inspiring examples to illustrate how you can take total control of your output. They introduce the technologies and techniques you can use to attain the finest results for any medium, and they reveal pro tips for attracting viewers. By the time you finish this book, you’ll be able to get your photographs the attention they deserve.

Inside, you'll learn how to:

  • Choose the right printer, inks, and paper

  • Produce consistently great prints from your desktop

  • Create proof sheets, albums, and border treatments

  • Get optimal results from print labs and online print services

  • Build an attention-grabbing photo website

  • Draw viewers to your website through search engines and advertising

  • Set up for Internet sales with shopping carts and payment systems

  • Prepare compelling digital slideshows

  • Apply the finishing touches—mount, mat, and frame your work

  • Get your photos displayed in exhibitions and galleries

  • And more!

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"If you want to learn more about creating a photo gallery from scratch, Jon Canfield goes into detail on the subject in his book, Photo Finish: The Digital Photographer's Guide to Printing, Showing and Selling Images..." (Petersen’s Photographic, 1st August 2005)

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Photo Finish

By Jon Canfield

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7821-4348-2

Chapter One

Choosing the Printer and Medium

Chapter Contents

Choosing a Printer Specialty Inksets Setting the Mood Media Options Paper Properties

For the vast majority of serious photographers, the final print defines the photograph. We put a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort into capturing and optimizing images, and most of these images are shared and enjoyed in the form of a print. Choosing the right printer and print medium for a particular image is a key step in producing a print you'll be proud of.

Choosing a Printer

When photographers think of output, the first thing that comes to mind is a print. The defining moment for photographers working in the digital darkroom is when the ink meets paper. To get the best results, make sure you use a printer that includes features that will make your workflow efficient and will produce the quality you demand.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of excellent printers capable of producing exceptional photo-quality output. Most photographers will want to use a photo inkjet printer because of the excellent quality and flexibility offered. Dye-sublimation printers have some advantages, such as durability and a highly "photographic" appearance. However, we don't consider them to be the best solution for most photographers because they tend to be more expensive and don't support a wide range of print media (papers). You should consider using a photo inkjet printer to produce prints of your images (see Figure 1.1). With a good inkjet printer, you can exercise greater control over the printmaking process and save money. Generating your own prints is less expensive than using a high-quality print lab to produce them.

When choosing a photo inkjet printer there are quite a few issues to consider: the size of the output, the type of ink used, the number of inks, the size of the droplets of ink, the resolution of your output, the media supported by the printer, and the capabilities of your software. We cover each of these items in turn.

Output Size

Most photo inkjet printers fall into two categories of maximum output size: 8.5"x11" and 13"x19". There are also other printers that offer larger output options, including wide-format printers with widths up to 44?. When deciding on the right printer for you, consider how large you'll likely need to be able to print both now and in the future.

Ink Types

The basic choice here is between dye-based inks and pigment-based inks. Pigment-based inks last longer, but they have a narrower color gamut than dye-based inks. Still, the latest pigment-based inks, such as the UltraChrome inkset from Epson, provide vibrant colors that come close to matching dye-based inks. We recommend using pigment-based inks if you are producing prints for sale or for long-term display. If you don't need your images to last terribly long, and color vibrancy is more important, then dye-based inks might be an excellent choice. However, with the cost of pigment-based printers coming down nearly to the level of current dye-based printers, the choice to favor longevity in prints is even easier.

Note: Just because pigment-based inks last longer than dye-based inks doesn't mean that dye-based inks will necessarily fade quickly. Many dye-based inks, when used in conjunction with appropriate papers, are able to produce prints that will last many decades. For details on print longevity estimates for a variety of printers, visit the Wilhelm Imaging Research website at

Number of Inks

Inkjet printers produce various tonal values for each color by adjusting how large the droplets are (if possible) and by adjusting the spacing between the droplets. The smaller and further apart the droplets are, the lighter the color will appear (see Figure 1.2).

To maintain the finest detail, many printers utilize "light" ink colors in addition to the standard cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) inks so the droplets don't need to be spaced as far apart as would otherwise be necessary. These diluted inks (usually light cyan and light magenta, with some printers using a light black as well) provide for higher quality in the final print, while maintaining the ability to produce a wide range of color and tonal values. As a general rule, printers with six or more ink colors will produce the best results because the lighter inks provide broader tonal range while maintaining the ability to produce fine detail.

Note: Epson has a new UltraChrome Hi-Gloss inkset that uses red and blue inks instead of light cyan and light magenta. Because the ink droplets are so small, the diluted inks are no longer necessary to produce excellent quality. The red and blue inks help to expand the color gamut of the printer by offering additional hues that would otherwise be difficult to produce. Unfortunately, these new inks are not compatible with previous printers that use the original UltraChrome inks, and they are optimized specifically for glossy papers.

Ink Droplet Size

The smaller the ink droplets, the wider the range of tonal values and the finer the detail is that the printer is able to produce (see Figure 1.3).

Anything below 6 picoliters is very good, with 2 picoliters currently the smallest droplet size available.


For all practical purposes, you can pretty much ignore this specification. That's because any recent model photo inkjet printer will be able to produce output at 1,440 dpi or higher. In fact, even if your printer offers a higher quality setting, we recommend using the 1,440 dpi setting, which will still provide excellent quality indistinguishable from the higher settings. It will also print faster and use less ink. Keep in mind that this resolution specification is not the same as "image resolution." The printer resolution should be thought of only as an output quality setting.

Media Support

The variety of print media to which a printer is able to print to successfully isn't usually included in the specifications provided by the manufacturer. With some ink formulations, the types of paper you can print to with good results can be limited. We recommend checking reviews in magazines or on the Web to determine the range of papers and other print media supported by the printer.

Software Capabilities

Getting information from manufacturers about the flexibility and ease-of-use of the dialog boxes you will use to configure their printer settings is difficult. Again, refer to reviews in magazines or on the Web for information on whether the printer settings allow you to adjust the output to get the most accurate colors and to see how easy a particular printer is to operate.

Specialty Inksets

The vast majority of photographers use the inks that were specifically designed for their printers. However, if you're willing to deal with the limitations and possible complications of using third-party inks, the results are often well worth the trouble, particularly when your goal is to produce perfectly neutral black-and-white prints.

Staying with the manufacturer's printer-specific inks is certainly the safest approach, as printer manufacturers develop inks for the printers that will produce optimal results and ensure compatibility. Using third-party inks does introduce concerns about clogging, and it voids the printer manufacturer's warranty. However, most of them are engineered to work well with a wide variety of inkjet printers. Although most specialty inks work with a relatively large number of printers, the list isn't exhaustive. You'll need to confirm that your printer is compatible with the inksets you plan to use. Many of the more recent printer models utilize special chipsets for their ink cartridges that make it difficult or impossible to use third-party inks with those printers. Check compatibility before you plan to use third-party inks.

Note: Specialty inksets are available from a wide range of sources. Some of the most popular inksets include Lysonic from Lyson (, Piezography from Cone Editions (piezography .com), Generations pigmented inks from Media Street (, and a variety of inksets from MIS Associates (

The most common type of specialty inksets are those known as "quadtone" inks. This name comes from the fact that these inks originally included four shades of black (tones) to replace the four colors of early printers. New printers have six or seven ink colors, and some of the newer specialty inksets include more than four inks.

Note: Although most quadtone inks now include more than four shades of ink, the name has stuck.

Inkjet printers with standard inks create grayscale images by using only the black ink or by blending all of the ink colors. Using only the black ink means the printer won't be able to produce the wide range of tonal values we expect in an image, and the resulting print will lack smooth gradations of color. Blending all of the color inks ensures smooth gradations of tone; however, if the inks are not mixed in perfect balance, the result can be a grayscale print with a very strong color cast. In our experience, most printers are simply not capable of producing a perfectly neutral grayscale print.

Because quadtone inks have multiple inks of varying tonal values, they are able to solve both problems at once. Multiple shades in the inkset ensure smooth gradations of tonal values within the print, and the fact that all of the inks are perfectly neutral ensures the print won't exhibit any color cast.

Of course, there are situations where you want to produce a grayscale print that isn't perfectly neutral. This option is also available from most of the quadtone ink suppliers. The inks are offered in both warm and cool versions that provide a consistent print with a slight cast that adds an element of depth to the image. Inksets are also available to produce a realistic sepia-tone print on your inkjet printer, using a stronger color cast than the warm or cool quadtone inks.

Note: When using specialty inksets, you will generally need to flush the printer when changing inksets and periodically after certain usage intervals. To ensure optimal performance with your printer, be sure to carefully read and follow the instructions for using specialty inksets.

Pigmented ink is another type of specialty ink that provides archival capabilities for printers that are designed to work only with dye-based inks. A popular example is the Generations series of inks from Media Street ( Some versions are designed to allow dye-based printers to use pigmented inks. Other versions replace the pigmented inks of certain printers with less expensive pigmented inks.

Note: Because of the challenges involved with switching between ink types on any inkjet printer, we strongly recommend that you purchase an additional printer to use exclusively with specialty inks if you are going to use them.

Setting the Mood

When you view a photographic image on display in an art gallery, the elements surrounding the image are often carefully planned. The walls are generally plain and neutral so that your attention is not drawn away from the image. The image itself is adorned in a frame that both complements the image and draws you into the photograph. The lighting isn't typically a harsh spotlight; it is usually a warm illumination source that glows as an aura around the image.

The photographic image itself stands at the center of this shrine, at the focus of attention. All the other elements such as mat, frame, and lighting are added to emphasize the photograph, not to draw your attention away from it. To be presented in such a manner, the image must be printed on some form of print medium.

Just as a painter can choose a canvas type for the specific image to be created, photographers have many options when it comes to the media on which an image is printed and displayed. The paper you use to print an image can make an amazing difference in the final presentation. Each paper has different properties of ink absorption, different color, and different texture. While this provides variety that appeals to many photographers, it is important to remember that the print medium sets the mood for the image. Therefore, rather than simply choosing a material that you like, the print medium should be matched to the image to complement it.

Glossy or Matte?

As you decide which paper types are best suited for a particular image, the first issue to consider is the surface type, which is generally categorized as glossy or matte finish. This is an obvious simplification of the wide range of possibilities, but these two basic categories provide some direction to begin the decision-making process.

With glossy papers, the inks tend to sit up on the surface of the paper rather than soaking into it. The result is that colors are more vibrant, the contrast is higher, and the final print contains more detail. Glossy papers are, therefore, appropriate when you want to emphasize those properties in an image.

Matte papers absorb the inks more, so that they don't stay at the surface (see Figure 1.4). Also, matte papers tend to cause more dot gain, which is the amount the inks spread once they come in contact with the paper (see Figure 1.5). Because matte papers are more absorbent, the inks are able to spread more easily. As a result, the colors are more muted, the contrast is lower, and some detail is lost. These characteristics can complement subtle or ethereal images and enhance images for which you are trying to achieve a more "painterly" appearance.

These general rules offer some guidance in determining the general type of paper that is most appropriate for a particular image. However, the distinction between the different types isn't quite so clear. Many new matte-surface papers now include special coatings to optimize them for inkjet printing. These coatings reduce dot gain and keep the inks on the surface, resulting in a matte surface without reflections that retains vibrant colors, high contrast, and excellent detail in the printed image.

Media Options

If categorizing your basic print media options as either glossy or matte is a bit simplistic, the actual range of available options is mind-boggling. Each printer manufacturer offers a respectable selection of papers, and third parties offer a virtually unlimited variety.

We encourage you to experiment with different media types. While an image may seem perfectly suited to a particular paper, exploring other options is a good idea. You may be surprised to see how images look on different materials.

There's no such thing as the perfect medium for a given photographic image. Instead, each type of media allows you to present a particular interpretation of the image. It isn't a matter of deciding which media is the right one for a particular image, but rather which medium creates the intended interpretation for an image. When you match the right medium with the right image, the result is a print you'll be proud of (see Figure 1.6).

Note: Selecting the right media for your images is very subjective. We each have our own tastes and preferences. There is no "right answer" when it comes to choosing the right media for your images. Evaluate a wide range of options, and decide which achieves the look you prefer.

Traditional Papers

Many digital photographers started with film photography, and so they tend to think of the traditional papers when it comes time to make a print in their digital darkroom. The traditional papers are the basic options that you can find at any retailer that stocks photo inkjet supplies. These include the glossy, semi-gloss, and matte papers, all with a relatively smooth surface. Each of these categories of papers is best suited to a specific type of image:

Glossy papers are best for images that require maximum impact. Because these papers maintain vibrant colors and high contrast, they are ideally suited for images with highly saturated colors. (However, the glare associated with the gloss may actually make it more difficult to see the detail within an image, depending on the lighting conditions where it will be viewed.)

Matte papers work best with images with soft, muted colors, or where you don't want to emphasize detail. If the image contains muted colors to begin with or you want to tone down the colors in the image for effect, a matte paper is a good choice.

Semi-gloss papers are a compromise between glossy and matte papers. They are well-suited for images that fall somewhere between the vibrant images that work best on glossy papers and the muted images that work best on matte papers. Semi-gloss is often the choice of photographers who would normally opt for a glossy paper, but who want to avoid the distracting glare and reflections that tend to occur with glossy papers.


Excerpted from Photo Finish by Jon Canfield Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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