How many megapixels do we need? What do we have to consider already out on location, that we are able to print big afterward? How do we choose the right printing material, and how can we be sure to get the best possible printing result in the end?
In my latest video on YouTube, I showed you some of my recent special edition prints, that I printed bigger than A0. As photographers, we are used to putting a lot of effort into our photographs and as printing big costs money, we want to make sure that we get the best possible result. So, how did I manage to get my prints on point?
The Right Material
The printing material is an important thing for me. It should fit the scene I have photographed, it should support the story or the message my images tell, and most importantly, it should also fit the interior of the house or the apartment where the image gets hung up. So, how can we achieve that?
There exist so many different materials and generally, there is no right or wrong answer. We should consider the different behaviors. Metal surfaces look fantastic, I really like them. But on the other hand, you are very limited with Dmax. So it is not possible to print each photograph well on metal. Acryl glass looks great, but it doesn’t fit into each room or to each type of interior. I'm not saying that these materials are bad, but it is something that I want to consider. But, there is one material, that fits best to nearly every type of interior in my experience: canvas. And this is why I decided on canvas for my special edition prints this year.
Differences Between the Printing Labs
I’m quite happy with my Espon SC-P900 printer, which I use for my open and limited edition prints. But with this printer, I’m not able to print bigger than A2. So, whenever I want to print bigger, I print over at a printing lab.
It's important to consider is that there is a difference in quality between all the labs. This is why the price is never the first criterion for me. I may have put a lot of effort into taking the photo in landscape photography — it is often hard to get to a photo spot — so I’m definitely not interested in saving a few bucks. I’m more interested in getting very good quality for my prints.
What I do is: I download the ICC profiles from different printing labs and compare the behavior while I’m soft proofing with them in Lightroom or Photoshop. This gives me a quite good idea of the possible dynamic range — the Dmax — of the material. Dmax is even more important for me than the printing resolution, as this has a bigger impact on the result in my experience. And a good tip here is not only to consider the big printing labs, by the way. Have also a look at the small one around the corner in your local area. It could be that they are a bit more expensive, but it could also be that they offer much higher quality.
The Printing Process Starts Already Out on Location
I don’t think that it would be a good idea to take your printer to your photo location though, but what I always do before I press the shutter release button of my camera is to check if everything is in focus. This might not be the most important thing, if you share your photos just on Social Networks, but if you want to print big and with high resolution, you need to nail the focus. If your photo is a tiny bit out of focus, it could be that you will come away having to print smaller or with a low resolution. But when it comes down to XXL printing, you want to fight for each pixel.
How Many Megapixels Do We Need?
I use a Sony a7R IV, which gives me 61 megapixels and as I don’t tend to crop in all too much, I usually don’t come into any megapixel troubles. But for some of the images I have printed for my special editions, I just used my Sony A6500 with a 24-megapixel sensor. And the shocking truth is, that this is also enough in most cases. But we need to be sure. Printing big costs money, we want to get it right.
What I always do is divide the number of the horizontal pixels of my digital image by the desired width of the print in inches. This gives me the dots per inch (DPI). Your printing lab will offer you detailed information about their printing resolution for each material, but in my experience, labs tend to print canvas with around 200 dpi. So, when you get 200 or more for your images, you are fine. If you are a tiny bit below, it is also not the biggest problem, as the viewers are farther away from a bigger print, compared to a smaller one, which compensates for the loss of quality. But you should not go too low, of course.
If you are unsure, you could simply upscale your images with any upscaling software, that uses an AI. Topaz Gigapixel is a fantastic software, but also Adobe Photoshop offers an upscaling tool too.
Don’t Rely on Your Soft Proofing Talent
First of all, it is important that you work with a calibrated monitor. I calibrate mine every few months, using the Spyder X Elite. This is important because your monitor will show the image quite close to the final result on paper or canvas; the print always looks a tiny bit different in the end. This is why I prefer to hard-proof my images as well.
This could mean that you order a smaller version of the final print first, just to be sure that there are enough details in the shadows, that the texture of the material interacts with the image well, and how the haptic experience of the final product feels. For canvas, it is a big difference which stretcher bars you use, for instance. If they are too thin, the whole print looks cheap for me. If they are too thick, it could also look strange, but it could work if it fits the image and to the room. I decided on a depth of 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) for my XXL prints, which are around A0. This is not too thin and not too thick and should fit into most living rooms.
Many more tips about printing big are revealed in the above video. And feel free to tell us your preferred printing material and printing habits in the comments.