These Reasons Will Compel You to Start Printing Your Photographs


Forgive me for being a little nostalgic. I was brought up in the days of film, the days of one hour mini lab printing on the high street of every small town, a time when having a physical print or slide sent shiver of satisfaction down your spine. But don’t get me wrong. I think digital is, quite frankly, superb – the best thing to happen in photography since Louis Daguerre found new things to do with silver in the early 19th century. The problem is that in today’s instant, digital world, we tend to look at our images on a computer monitor or an iPad. We have lost both the need and the desire to print our photos, and to me that is a little sad, so today we are going to look at some ways to re-inspire our desire to print and some ways to do it.

The Visual Impact of a Print

To me, if you need any push that printing images is a great thing to do, go to a photographic exhibition. Whilst an image may look good on a 27” monitor, nothing compares to the sheer visual impact of a well framed, beautifully composed 30×40 inch print hanging on a wall. We might flick through images in Lightroom or Aperture almost nonchalantly but an exhibition print is something that you can analyze in depth, looking for the nuances of the composition, admiring the technical abilities of the photographer, in short it draws you in and provokes thought. To see dozens of large framed prints, is for me, both a thrill and an incentive.

Photos by night
Seeing big prints at an exhibition should inspire you. Image by Ari Bakker on Flickr

The Tactile Feel is Special

Another way to inspire yourself to print is simply to pick some prints up. They may be your own, they may be a peer’s but the sheer tactile feel of photographic paper should be more than enough to make you want to print more of you own images. There is something special about the weight of a print, it’s gloss or matte surface, the way it gives depth to your images. In short it is photography.

Prints are Forever

If there is one other thing to inspire you to print your images, think about this. How often do we hear stories of boxes of old prints being found in attics? Boxes of beautiful images from undiscovered photographers from yesteryear, images that bring alive the history and understanding from many different parts of the world, Now think of our grandchildren finding a dusty old hard drive or box of DVD’s sometime in the future. Will they bother to load it onto a computer? Will they even be able to look at the images given the way technology changes?

Print Your Images at Home

Ok, so much for lamenting the loss of the print, what can we do about it? Well the irony is, that these days there are some great options for getting printing done. First of course is to print yourself using an inkjet printer. The quality of both color and black and white prints from inkjets these days is superb (see our pick for the best photo printer here). Of course not all printers are equal but with a little research you will find A4 printers capable of photographic quality images for extraordinary low prices. For those wanting A3 or even A2, even the price of these printer is not exorbitant. What is exorbitant is the price of ink. However, again with a little research, you can find good quality, third party inks or if you are looking to print a lot of images, external bulk ink tanks are a good alternative.

Get Them Printed Online

For those not wanting to delve into the world of the inkjet printer, the internet age has bought us a plethora of online printing services. These are very often highly cost effective and extremely quick. One company in the UK that I have used frequently, will return printed images to you, by post, the following morning, so long as you upload before 4pm. You can choose from a bewildering choice of sizes and paper types from simple 4×6 inch glossy prints up to poster sized canvas wrap prints. There are consumer level print companies for those on a budget and professional level printers for the ultimate quality.

Of course to get the best quality for a print you will need to do a little post production work yourself. Make sure you work from a calibrated monitor, do all your image adjustments first making sure you use the same color space as your chosen printer, then resize to exact dimension that you want to print at, preferably at 300ppi and lastly sharpen the image for print. There are great tutorials for all these steps right here on Lightstalking.

Prints are a physical, tactile link to our photography but one that we are in danger of neglecting. Next time you take an absolute stunner of a shot, get it off that screen and have a big print made from it. You won’t regret it.

More Resources on this Topic

A Brief Guide to Color Management for Photographers
Sharpen Your Images With These Photoshop Techniques
How to Get Great Prints from Your Digital Darkroom

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

I can imagine a day, hopefully a long time from now when someone has to go through my stuff. I suspect that no one will go through my picture hard drives but if i had a picture box, a part of my family history will be preserved for the next generation.

Wow, thanks for this post. And thanks for your comment Joanne. I never thought about no one looking on my hard drive after I’m gone. I need to get printing so I can share today forever!

Hi Jason
last night I was completing the last session in our Understanding Your DSLR course and I make this point as strongly as you do. You are just not a photographer if your work only exists in screen based media. Make prints, make books make something physical is my advice. I found that home printing tends to be more expensive, your points are well made, but once you factor in that most people probably make 5 to get one they are happy with and the costs of ink when used for head cleaning which seems a mandatory activity on any occasionally used inkjet printer each print is a factor of 6 of the cost of getting one. I recommend getting someone else to make your prints and champion either high street or on line printers Photobox is my preferred supplier and with their regular discount sales I can get 30 x 40 in prints for less than £10 which is so cheap. These are of course C-Type prints rather than archival inkjet but modern technology still gives a life of up to 50 years if displayed properly. Excellent article, keep up the good work

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