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Preparing Your Images for Printing
By James M. Theopistos


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We receive a lot of e-mails from both regular customers and new customers regarding image file preparation for printing on canvas and fine art paper prints.

What Happens to your Image when You Place an Order

First, let me give you a brief behind-the-scenes overview on how we process the image files that are uploaded after you place your order. Most of what happens after you click “submit”  is handled by software with little actual human intervention required. This helps alleviate mistakes and keeps prints looking as consistent as possible over time. When you upload your image files, the unaltered image file is stored securely on one of our many storage servers. At the same time, a small preview file is generated and stored for visual reference (generated in the preview window as you are selecting and setting up your image for printing). Everything you do online to set your the print is recorded in the form of a series of relative numbers and coordinates. In non-technical speak, this means options, sizes, crop points, etc…

This allows us to print the image sized and formatted exactly the way it appeared in your preview window during print creation. After the order is placed, the image is then stored in our database. Throughout the day our production staff transfers these images to a processing system which automatically opens and processes the image based on those numbers and coordinates. A final proprietary image file is saved and deposited into a print ready bin which our printing software recognizes and selects to print. Depending on the size, quantity and current space available on the roll of canvas or paper it will be printed on, the image is nested with many other images.

Once the printing software has determined your image is ready to print, a printing technician will make manual color/contrast adjustments if needed and send the print job to the appropriate printer. At this point the printing software re-samples (set’s the resolution ) for all the files to the appropriate ppi (pixel per inch) count using a series of advanced sizing algorithms. This is to ensure lower resolutions come out as sharp and crisp as possible while not hurting the resolution of the higher resolution files.

Best Files for the Best Prints

As for the best file types to submit, we recommend submitting jpg or uncompressed tif files. Our preferred format is a jpg at the highest quality setting since it is quicker for the customer to upload and does not sacrifice quality. You can submit tif files, however you should only do so if you are not compressing it and have flattened any layers. Tif files will be much larger because they are not usually compressed. Still, you will not see any benefits compared to a jpg file which has only been saved once or twice at its highest quality. Keep your files saved as RGB and stay away from CMYK. I usually tell people if they are not sure what that means then they should not have anything to worry about since usually requires an assertive effort to convert images to CMYK. For those who are under the false impression that CMYK is preferred by printers, this is true primarily with some of the older printing technology. Many of the newer printing technology for art and photography requires images to be in RGB which is typically what your digital cameras and scanners save images as.

If you choose color/contrast fix and are submitting artwork,  with the exception of white balance, we will often not change any tones, as we have no way of knowing what the original looks like. With photography it is different since our production staff is trained to watch for off-tones and to maintain looking natural tones and elevate brightness levels so the print is not too dark.

Your File Size

Believe it or not, larger files are not always better. A resolution of 300 is excellent, while 1200 is just ridiculously unnecessary.  Professional printing software we use typically sizes everything to around 300-360 ppi, depending on what it is being printed to. I hope this gives you a good idea as to how things work at FinerWorks. Many high volume printing services use a similar process with some variations but regardless of the workflow the most important thing is to submit your best quality images.

I hope this gives you a good idea as to how things work at FinerWorks. Many high volume printing services use a similar process with some variations but regardless of the workflow the most important thing is to submit your best quality images.

Category: An Artist's Guide to Digital Printing
Created: Tuesday, October 23, 2012, Last Updated: Sunday, November 18, 2012


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About James Theopistos Aside from being an enthusaistic promoter of the visual arts field as it relates to individual artists' success, he also serves as the acting Chief Development Officer for FinerWorks.com, an online color print lab for artists and photographers.
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