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In this tutorial you'll learn all of the steps to make gallery-quality prints on aluminum, from preparation to print.
It's one thing to have a well-stocked catalog of images on your computer; it's even better to print your favorite images and share them with the world. Thanks to online printing outfits like CanvasDiscount (the sponsors of this post), you can print on a wide variety of materials. The prep steps I recommend in this tutorial will help you get the most from printing your images. Let's dive in!
This tutorial was commissioned by CanvasDiscount, and written and edited by the Tuts+ team. Our aim with sponsored content is to publish relevant and objective tutorials, case studies, and inspirational interviews that offer genuine educational value to our readers.
Prepare Your Images for Printing
Spending a little time in the digital darkroom leads to better results in the finished print. In this section of the tutorial, I'll show you the steps it takes to take your image from capture to print.
I use Adobe Lightroom for all of image management and correction processes. I'll share screenshots of adjusting images in Lightroom, but the adjustments are similar in most applications. I selected several images that I thought would lend themselves well to the aluminum format. These photos included images with bright colors and high contrast, which work well with the glossy finish. Let's look at the steps I followed to get them ready for printing.
1. Resize and Set Resolution
Many printing woes come from not setting the correct resolution on the image file. And there's nothing worse than going to upload your finished image and finding out that your favorite part of it is cut off due to differences in aspect ratio.
Aspect ratio describes the shape of an image. You might see aspect ratio expressed in a format like "16:9" or "4:3". The way to read this is that the image is "16 inches wide for every 9 inches tall," for example. Modern printing shops like CanvasDiscount can print in a huge range of sizes and aspect ratios, usually in standard sizes. The problem is when you have a mismatch between your digital image and the finished print format. Therefore, I recommend you crop the image file to match the printer's specified dimensions and set the resolution before uploading to the online printing platform.
Start by choosing the size of your finished images. Starting with the finished product in mind ensures that you crop to the correct aspect ratio and don't inadvertently trim or cut key parts of the image off in the print process.
I had the chance to try out two 8'' by 12'' prints through CanvasDiscount, but they offer a variety of sizes for the aluminum format. For example, you can print a square metal print in 8'' by 8'', or a 1:1 aspect ratio.
In Lightroom, you can open the cropping tool by pressing the letter R key on your keyboard. Underneath the histogram, you can change the Aspect dropdown to match the aspect ratio of the print. I typically choose Enter Custom, and then input the size of my finished print in the pop-up box.
Now, you can simply drag the rectangle around the part of the image that you want to print. Just reposition it and drag the handles to resize the selection area down as needed.
In the case of my 8x12 print, my DSLR captures photos in the same aspect ratio, so no cropping was needed to adjust for the print. I simply selected the part of the image I wanted to print, but it matched the aspect ratio of the original image.
Check out the tutorial below for a more in-depth guide to cropping and creative crop ratios:
2. Correction and Adjustments
Now that we've selected the correct part of the image, let's change the look and feel with correction and adjustments steps.
At this step, we aren't yet trying to add a lot of style to an image. Corrections and adjustments are the "good enough" tweaks to right any deficiencies or problems in an image—we'll make the image perfect later. Here are the steps that I apply at this stage:
- Adjust exposure: if the image is a bit under or overexposed, the digital darkroom allows for corrections; in Lightroom, start with the exposure slider
Adjust contrast: too much contrast starts to become a creative adjustment, but RAW images need a bit of additional contrast just to bring them to a neutral view. I typically increase contrast up as part of the RAW processing
Correct white balance (temperature and tint): the white balance of your camera usually doesn't match actual conditions (even on auto white balance), and in some pictures it is important that white areas don't have a color cast: no red, green or blue where we expect to see white
Lens corrections: apps like Lightroom can correct for common lens imperfections like distortion or chromatic aberration
Another important part of this stage is ensuring that your monitor is calibrated. Monitor calibration levels the playing field to ensure that your print matches the on-screen version of your image. Check out Chamira Young's course lesson to learn how to calibrate.
Check out a quick before and after for one of my selected images to see how these corrections changed the look of an image:
At this stage, you might look at your photo and think: "yep everything looks good, ready to print" but hold on, we have a few more things to do.
3. Stylized Adjustments
In the previous step, we applied corrections to neutralize the image. Now we want to do any creative and stylistic adjustments, whether that's making a little, subtle tweak or applying a bold, hard-edge style.
When I apply stylized adjustments to an image, I start by imagining what I want the final edit. If you don't know what you want the finished product looks like you'll likely wind up wasting a lot of time twiddling the sliders. It also helps to keep notes in a print journal, so that you can come back to your work right where you left off.
Here are a few things I adjusted in my example images:
- Vibrance and saturation: I don't always pull these sliders up, but the colorful look of my image lent itself well to increasing both to bring out the colors in the boats
Clarity: the details in the foreground and trees come to life with a modest bump in clarity
- Hue/Saturation/Llightness panel: I had a lot of fun playing with the color balance in this image. I felt like the green foliage overwhelmed the detail of the image, so I pulled the saturation down. I also wanted the blues in the sky to life, so I made a saturation bump specifically for blue hues.
4. Print Preparation Adjustments
At this stage, I also recommend applying what I call "printing adjustments." I don't typically apply tweaks like sharpening until the very end, when I'm nearly ready to print.
Make sure to check out Chamira Young's tutorial below to learn how to apply noise reduction and pre-sharpening that preps your image for printing:
If you have a photo printer of your own, I recommend you make a test print at this point. Sometimes aspects of an image don't really show themselves until you have the print in your hands. It's also helpful to bring your test print to wherever you're going to hang it, to see how it looks in the space. Is it too big? Too small? Too dark? Better to find out with a test print now than with the final print later.
Alright, time to export or save the image. Look up the requirements of your printer: they'll tell you what resolution works best for their machines. 240, 300, and 360 dots-per-inch are common resolutions to use, but it varies by printer.
6. Upload and Print
Now, it's time to let the printing experts handle the rest. In my case, I uploaded the print using the CanvasDiscount upload tool and selected my print side.
At this stage, you'll want to check the cropping issue that we talked about earlier. Make sure you're not trimming off any key details. If you set your crop options up correctly, your print area should match perfectly.
That's it! I placed my order and got a confirmation email that my images would arrive soon.
The Big Reveal
Just a few days later and my example prints have arrived in a well-padded envelope. Pulling them out, I was impressed with the print quality. To be clear, the images aren't printed directly on the aluminum plates. Instead, the image is printed on high gloss paper with a metal backing plate. It's a clean, crisp look.
My favorite thing about these aluminum prints is that they can stand on their own. Simply lean them against a surface and the sturdy construction showcases the image without hanging it on the wall or mounting it. For apartment dwellers like me, it's hugely helpful to show an image without having to put yet another hole in the wall.
More Photo Printing Tutorials
There's a learning curve to printing images, but it's worth taking on. I'll bet that after you start printing your images, your house or apartment will quickly start to fill with even more.
I've taught myself everything I know about printing with tutorials that we've published on Envato Tuts+. Here are several vital tutorials that can help you build your understanding of the photo printing process:
- Printing Your Photographs Professionally for the First Time: 10 Things To KnowGrace Fussell12 Sep 2016
- Understand the Different Ways of Printing Your PhotographsChamira Young17 Jan 2017
- How to Pick the Best Way to Print Your PhotosGrace Fussell26 Sep 2016
- How to Enhance Your Images With Noise Reduction and Pre-SharpeningChamira Young01 Nov 2016
Have you ever printed on mediums like canvas or aluminum? Let your fellow Tuts+ readers know in the comments section below if you have any essential tips.