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This is a summary of my digital image workflow for printing bitmap or vector images (photographs and graphic art). I receive no compensation for the trademarks mentioned here, these are simply products with which I have had very good experiences. A 25-megabyte color saturated (bright reds, blues, and greens) target is available here Because of its size, it may take a few moments to download. A “thumbnail” of the target can be seen at the bottom of this page. Before you print the image, take some time to study your printer’s settings and options. We will be discussing “printer drivers” in greater detail below. When I print this image on my MFC-J5845DW ledger (11×17 inch) inkjet printer using high-quality glossy photo paper, the print looks just like the image as seen on my monitor. All the colors, contrast, and brightness are nearly identical. Granted, a print cannot display the luminance offered by a computer monitor, so we must have realistic expectations. Ed Ruth teaches photography in Bakersfield, California. Please text me at: 661-303-9210 (preferred) or email me Here for a camera class appointment.

An example of my workflow is included here. The image “Yellow Chalk,” below, was cropped from a much larger image. What you see is 1/25th of the original image. Imagine that! The image was taken using a Nikon Z 7II and Z 14-30mm f/4 S lens: 24.5mm, 1/800s, f/7.1, ISO 100.

How did I process this image? I use DxO PhotoLab Elite as a Raw processor. In PhotoLab I first cropped the image. Then I adjusted tones, increasing Highlights and Midtones about equally, reducing Shadows slightly, but leaving Black alone. I adjusted Microcontrast and Fine contrast just a bit to bring out detail. Yellow saturation was increased just a tiny bit. Lens sharpness was increased by 9 points and Sharpness was accepted at default. Under PhotoLab Elite’s “DxO Denoising Technologies” I selected DEEPprime XD. This noise reduction option may take a little longer to process, but its results are beyond extraordinary. The image was Exported into Photoshop as a 16-bit .tif.

In Photoshop, I used a Levels Adjustment layer to nudge the black point slightly to the right. This deepened blacks just a tad. I then used a Curves Adjustment layer to create a classic “S” contrast adjustment, that is, ¾ tones down slightly and ¼ tones up just a bit more. I also used a Curves Adjustment layer to color correct by using the white “eyedropper” over a white area. So black point, white point, and brightness have been adjusted. I could use the Camera Raw filter’s Clarity and Dehaze sliders to further resolve detail but that would be a bit over the top. Resize Image to 1600 pixels at the wide side and save a copy as .jpg using compression level 11. The image is about 1.4MB but here, WordPress has further compressed the image. Workflow all done for an Internet image! I frequently convert an image to the sRGB color space for the Internet but here I left it in the Adobe RGB color space for no real reason. So that is a “workflow.” But for me, every image gets a different workflow. Its all a matter of style. Don’t believe those who say you must conform to zealous scientific standards. These guys need to be given a puppy for Christmas. Use the force!

Some background concerning camera sensors and pixels will help us see the workflow process clearly. The more we understand a tool, the more effectively we will use it. Sooner or later, as digital photographers, we begin to think of digital images in terms of pixels and pixel dimensions. A pixel, short for “picture element,” is the smallest identifiable color component of a digital image. Typically, in photography, pixels are square. Each pixel is a combination of red, green, and blue (RGB) hues because every photosite in a camera’s sensor has a tiny RG or B lens attached (twice as many G lenses by the way because that’s how we see). The RGB photosites are arranged in a pattern or “mosaic” designed by Bruce Bayer of Kodak in 1974.

One photosite in a camera’s sensor generates one pixel in a Raw file after “demosaicing” the Bayer mosaic. The sensor is very much like a solar panel. It converts photons into electrical current. The sensor’s response to light is linear. More light produces more current. This “solar panel” records 75% of its data from Midtones to White Point (maximum luminance). This is why we may choose to “push highlights” or “expose to the right” as this practice captures more useful data. When we determine exposure, we are really regulating voltage in sensor photosites. When we increase a camera’s ISO setting, we are turning up the “gain” in the sensor data collection function. But there is no free lunch, as we increase ISO beyond a certain point the “signal to noise ratio” decreases to an unacceptable level. For the curious, solid white is maximum RGB photosite voltage, solid black is minimum RGB photosite voltage.

From camera to print, pixels are important. You can save Raw data files, JPEG images, or both when shooting. But Raw files provide maximum opportunity for image alteration in post-production. JPEG not so much. For example, a Raw post-production program, such as DxO PhotoLab, will allow you to change a Raw file’s white balance setting effortlessly and without any loss of image quality. In a Raw file, white balance is a metadata (data about data) attachment. This is not locked into the Raw file’s color data. A JPEG image is a “finished” image file that may suffer a loss of tonal data more readily than a Raw file depending upon the extent of post-production alterations. In truth, a JPEG image fresh from the camera is already compromised as all JPEG images are compressed to some extent. TIFF and Raw files are “lossless” unless compressed by choice.

If you intend to progress in digital photography, learn to use Raw files. It is not so difficult. The Nikon Z 7II produces a Raw file of 8256 x 5504 pixels. That is, 45.4-megapixels (MP) at an aspect ratio of 3:2 or 2:3 if you wish. Aspect ratio options, image cropping, and possible framing considerations are all challenges for another day.

If our printer could print a 36 x 24-inch poster (also 3:2 aspect ratio), we would ideally like to have 10,800 x 7200 pixels (77,760,000MP) as 300 pixels per inch (PPI) is a good average for data sent to a printer (although any individual printer may use from 240 to 360 PPI of imaging data). But I bet our poster will look very good (have acceptable resolution) up to 30 x 40 inches, especially given modern enlargement and sharpening software such as Topaz Photo AI. Of course, larger prints are intended to be viewed from some distance. Those of us who scrutinize larger prints for pixelation at close range are called “Pixel Peepers” and are in the same category as tourists who use a flash in the Louvre. Pixels are power but only to the extent that they capture colors accurately. If your hand is bumped as you snap the shutter, the resulting image will still have a full complement of pixels, but their colors may well amount to nonsense.

My technique for internet images when I want the viewer to be able to zoom in a bit, is to change the image size (Photoshop: Image, Image size…) to +/- 1700 pixels along the long edge and save at a JPEG compression of 11. This produces an image of about 800KB to 1.4MB or so. Acceptable for email.

How do I get an image to look almost exactly as it does on my computer monitor? I have a 27″ NEC MultiSync EA275UHD (4K, sRGB at 100%, Adobe RGB at 81%) monitor that has provided excellent service since 2014. Using the monitor’s onboard menu, I set the brightness level of this monitor to 29%. In truth, I should set it a tad lower. A monitor that is too bright (as if it were a television) may not be helpful for delivering printed images as bright as you desire… a bright monitor may cause darker printed images, while a darker monitor may cause brighter printed images.

Monitor brightness may be measured in nit or lumens (one nit is equal to 3.426 lumens). One nit is also equal to one candela per square meter, symbol: cd/m2. Candela replaced candlepower as a standard unit of measurement in 1948. Many photographers find that 120 cd/m2 (120 nits) monitor brightness is useful. From here it gets complicated. Light emitted (candela SI) and light reaching a surface (lux Ix) are two different things. “One lux is the amount of illumination provided when one lumen is evenly distributed over an area of one square meter.” Photometers can be expensive, but I have a photometer phone app that serves my needs if only to provide a standardized measurement in lux of any changes in brightness I make to the monitor. An observant lowering of our monitor’s brightness over time may be wise. I lower the brightness of my monitor gradually until it looks quite reasonable, that is, comfortable for general use while not too bright for processing images. In brief, I bet your monitor is too bright for dedicated photographic work and so is mine. Any changes in brightness will necessitate a recalibration of the monitor. Better some effort than none at all, a “normal” television has a brightness of 350 cd/m2. Ouch, where are my sunglasses!

I use DataColor’s Spyder to calibrate my monitor. This calibration tool includes both sophisticated hardware (colorimeter) and easy to use software. The colorimeter hangs over the monitor on a cord to analyze the display…thus “Spyder.” The process is rather intuitive and automatic. I choose 6500K for the monitor’s Kelvin “color temperature” which is quite typical. Degrees Kelvin and color temperature refer to the same thing. The scale starts at a theoretical absolute zero, 0K, where a total lack of heat would result in no observable color. We capitalize Kelvin in honor of Lord William Kelvin (1824-1907), a really smart guy.

Kelvin color temperature is a topic worthy of an additional web page but, generally, 6500K is daylight or medium white light. More technically, there are a fair number of standard illuminants, such as the D50 (5000K warm white) illuminant or the commonly used D65 (6500K daylight) illuminant (illuminant…a source of illumination). Photographers commonly adjust the white balance of their camera to correspond to the ambient (Latin, going round) light’s color temperature. In essence, this “calibrates” the camera to existing light. Higher Kelvin color temperatures are “cooler” or more blue, while lower color temperatures are “warmer” or more amber. White balance choices influence a viewer’s mood when viewing a photograph. If you encounter a “Gamma” option, 2.2 is most commonly used. Spyder allows you to name the calibration file, I name it using the date it was created. In sum, my monitor is quite capable and accurately color (hue and color temperature) calibrated with the brightness level under control. Attentive monitor calibration is the cornerstone of accurate and visually pleasing color prints.

DataColor has software updates conveniently located on its site. Always be certain your essential software is updated; this can have a significant impact on quality. I always download the latest printer driver. These may address a variety of issues discovered by users.

I used a Nikon Z 7 II mirrorless camera and Nikon Z 14-30mm S lens to capture the target photograph (25mm, 1/160s, f/5, ISO 200). A wide-angle lens is quite useful for such closeups and is not just a landscape lens. A quality camera, use of a tripod, and a sharp lens go a long way toward achieving inkjet effectiveness. While it is obvious that an inkjet with eight or nine inks (photo black, light black, light light black, cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, and yellow…for example) will outperform an inkjet with traditional CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) inks, your printer can only deliver quality output given quality input. I often shoot in M, manual mode, being careful to see that the histogram in my viewfinder teases the right-side white point. This greatly reduces digital noise, especially in a blue sky as those small blue frequencies scatter (Rayleigh scattering) among air molecules quite handily. However, I simultaneously observe to prevent highlights from being lost i.e., pushed too far right. This takes a little practice and attention, but the histogram provides vital information concerning exposure and I cannot imagine failing to reference the histogram either in the camera’s display or when using post-production software.

Bit depth is also an important consideration in a print-oriented workflow. I set my camera to 14-bit depth or 16,384 shades per RGB color channel in the camera’s menu. I process my images at 16-bit depth generally. A TIFF file (.tif) can be saved as a 16-bit file. This is useful when a file must be stored or transferred between post-production software. JPEG images are 8-bit by definition. This is why, if we must have a JPEG image, say for the internet, we convert it to a JPEG and set pixel dimensions as a last step in image processing.

Printers come in a variety of configurations, with some having an attached scanner, FAX function, automatic or semi-automatic copier, and duplex printing (All-In-One business printers). Many modern printers have Ethernet, USB, and wireless connectivity. USB is easy if you have a spare USB port. Photo printers specialize in delivering the best possible photo image with very smooth tonal transitions and great detail (resolution). The better names in photo printers, such as Epson and Canon, come with a variety of ICC profiles for the manufacturer’s photo papers. These “printer profiles” match the manufacturer’s paper products with the printhead characteristics of a specific printer model. Printer profiles are loaded into the Windows operating system (Windows/System32/Spool/Drivers/Color) and become available for selection in the printer driver. Individualized ICC profiles for specific papers may come as something of a surprise to the novice. To add some confusion, there are also “print profiles” that a user may create within the driver window to specify a particular set of driver options and specifications for reoccurring print jobs. I have a profile that specifies a particular brand glossy photo paper, an 11 x 17 inch print, “Fine” printing, “Center” image, and “Fit to “Fit to Paper Size.” It saves a few steps. Professional Canon photo printers come with software available for Adobe Lightroom that makes ICC and Printer Profile selection easy.

I always use the printer manufacturer’s paper and ink. It may cost a tad more, but the quality results are apparent. Not all glossy photo paper is identical. The paper’s finish may be more or less porous and the “white point” of the paper may be different. Speaking of cost, the cost of quality paper and ink may drain the blood from your face! That beautiful big photo printer of your dreams may be anticipated for ongoing production and not a once-a-month adventure. If all you do is dabble in letter size photos every so often, a color laser printer may be cost effective sans some tonal imperfections. But the cost savings may make the compromise appealing. In my experience, toner cartridges for laser printers last a lot longer than stated by the manufacturer. Here again, I always use the manufacturer’s toner. A slave to fashion, I know…

With printers, there is a lot of competition in every imaginable price range. I like to consult and for reviews and ideas. Reviews and consumer ratings may be our best guide here. But I am quite pleased with my Brother MFC-J5845DW ledger (11×17-inch) inkjet printer at a very reasonable price. By the way, do not disregard laser printers as inferior instruments for photographic work. For images having more distinct transitions in tone (not portraits), these printers can excel and at a lower cost per print. For more information see my recently updated Kindle book LaserJet and Inkjet Printers.

For post-production, I have chosen to use DxO PhotoLab to process Raw images (.NEF Nikon Electronic Format) from my camera. However, Photoshop’s Camera Raw will work just fine as well. While processing Raw files, I often add contrast globally or locally, saturate or desaturate a color or two however slightly, and use “denoising” technology amply provided by DxO in four strengths: DxO Denoising: High Quality, PRIME, DeepPRIME, and DeepPrine XD. The software also remedies lens aberration (color fringing) and distortion. Arguably, all post-production options can be overdone. This is especially true for contrast, color saturation, and sharpening. Moderation is wise. But, having said this, an individual printer may respond well to sharpening that may look overdone on our monitor. Experimentation is our guide here. In fact, an openness to tinkering is often productive. By the way, PhotoLab will “Export” (File, Export to application) a DNG file (Adobe Digital Negative) that will open in Camera Raw…very convenient. Also explore DxO FilmPack as an eye-opening adventure in traditional film rendering.

One thing I really like about DxO PhotoLab is its contrast options under Customize, Light. These provide Contrast, Microcontrast, and Fine contrast options AND the ability to control the extent to which these options apply to Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows (using the “Advanced Settings” options). These features may be used to add considerable detail to an image reducing the need for sharpening. However, some output sharpening is desirable EXCEPT for stock images where we leave sharpening to the editorial staff. I also like to use Topaz AI Sharpen, which can be installed as a Photoshop Filter if you choose.

Almost universally in my workflow, I ensure that images have the white balance (Kelvin color temperature) I think best and are as bright as intended. In Photoshop, I use the Levels and Curves Adjustment Layers to set a black and white point. The Curves eyedroppers are very functional for this and provide a host of options. Histograms in Lightroom and Camera Raw provide an excellent opportunity for mouse-dragging image tones as desired. Think of your image in terms of tones that range from Black point, Shadows, Three-quarter-tones, Midtones, Quarter-tones, Highlights, to White point. We might include Specular highlights just before White point. These are shiny points of light such as those calling for our admiration from the chrome bumper of our restored 1957 Chevy. Such are easily lost by too aggressively “pushing highlights.” I tend to deepen Shadows to emphasize Quarter-tones and Highlights, but this is a personal preference. Those steeped in tradition are appalled by this. Somewhere they have been indoctrinated to believe that a photograph must have at least some detail in shadows. Photography is art not dogma. If you want to become famous in art, you must cultivate a singular style.

In brief, a professionally calibrated and brightness adjusted monitor plus a thoughtful post-production workflow can result in a print that is very close to what you see on your monitor. Of course, a printer (not to mention printer paper) may or may not be able to produce all the colors of the Adobe RGB “working color space” (Photoshop Edit, Color Settings…, Working Spaces) but for many images, you probably won’t see a great deal of difference between a printed sRGB or Adobe RGB image. The below image was saved in the Adobe RGB color space which is, of course, within the RGB Color Model. All photographic and vector images should have a color space. Most digital cameras give us the option of selecting the sRGB or the much larger Adobe RGB color space. Color space options are one reason why Photoshop is my post-production choice for photo printing or other photo output. In Photoshop, I use Edit, Color Settings…, Convert to Profile to examine or change an image’s color space as needed. And, sorry, you cannot provide an image with additional colors by converting it to a larger color space.

When printing I always select more than a few options in the printer driver. First, I make certain the paper type (glossy, luster etc.), paper dimensions, and print orientation (portrait or landscape) are properly selected. Selecting the proper paper composition prevents too little or too much ink (dot gain) from being applied. Look for a Scale to Fit Media option in the printer driver. It may well be a very good option unless you want to use an available “Borderless Printing” option. “Center,” meaning to center the image on the user’s chosen paper is quite useful in many circumstances. I always use Black Point Compensation and choose a Rendering Intent of Perceptual (a “visually pleasing rendering”). I select “Dithering” as an option as this has some resolution benefit for rendering 8-bit images. Such images, especially if highly compressed, may exhibit color banding in continuous tone areas of an image such as the sky.

Review your printer driver settings three times and print one copy (a “proof” perhaps at 5 x 7 inches) to check your work. Some post-production programs provide a visual “soft” proof that may alert you to a disaster in the making. After you select the paper, the printer driver either applies the manufacturer’s interpretation of an ICC color space or you may enter a manufacturer’s provided ICC for a given paper especially when using more advanced printers. Of course, everything has a color space. Paper, printers, monitors, and even your refrigerator has a color space. Your refrigerator has a very small color gamut…I suspect.

There are times when we may send our printer an image (vector graphic image or photographic image) with colors that print “out of gamut” or beyond the color space (color range) of the printer. This may result in unexpected and displeasing colors or color shifts in our print. Bright reds, greens, and blues may cause this as the color gamut of our monitor may be much wider than that of our printer. Consequently, a graphic artist must choose colors carefully. Photoshop (Edit, Color Settings…) does a splendid job of using your chosen rendering intent (Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric for photography) to bring out of gamut colors under control.

Professional level photo printers are often marketed with an illustration of the printer’s color space with the Adobe RGB and sRGB color spaces overlapping for the sake of comparison. Bottom line, documentation that comes with a photo printer will describe the color spaces that can be used with an image file sent to the printer. You may not find this for a business printer. I typically use Adobe RGB as a working color space and image output color space with no issues. Many Photoshop users prefer the very large ProPhoto RGB color space as their working color space. We were once told that every image destined for the Internet should be in the sRGB color space but, more recently, some web browsers are Adobe RGB aware. In Photoshop, select View, Proof Setup and Proof Colors to see potential color rendering.

DxO has recently (PhotoLab 6) created a new working color space that edges past ProPhoto RGB in serviceability. DxO Wide Gamut is a remarkable working color space promising to reveal all the colors your monitor may deliver. But that does not change your printer’s color space. And there is little we can do to expand any printer’s color space. Someday all monitors and all printers will be able to deliver all the colors we humans can see.

In the printer driver under Color Management (or similar) I always select Photoshop Manages Colors if this option is available. Be certain to disable any printer driver option that may thwart this choice. Sometimes, you must search for a hidden Color Management “None” in driver options to reassure the driver that we genuinely intend to use Photoshop’s color management. I have never encountered a situation where the selection of Photoshop Manages Colors does not produce optional results. Always test any setting of which you may be uncertain by printing a 5 x 7 before committing to a larger and more expensive print job.

If we are using a professional photo printer, and ICC color profiles are offered in the printer driver, select the appropriate ICC profile for the paper being used. If your printer manufacturer gives you the option of using a Printer Profile, that is a good thing. You may have a printer driver that allows you to choose Photoshop Manages Colors, but an associated drop-down Printer Profile menu contains few options. Here, I select Adobe RGB if available else my latest Spyder color calibration file from the drop-down menu. This has worked well for me…your experience may be different.

Printer drivers are not very different functionally but their layout and approach to choosing options can be quite different. It is wise to study the printer driver options very carefully, often there are “hidden” options that can be quite useful. With some printers, the user can control the volume of ink, contrast, and brightness. However, I suggest that contrast and brightness are best adjusted in your Raw converter or Photoshop. For darker prints, I often use Photoshop’s Curves tool to increase brightness. The Curves tool is ubiquitous in post-production software, takes a little practice to master, and produces excellent results. You could also, or rather, notch up the Exposure setting in DxO PhotoLab, Lightroom, or Camera Raw as well. However, it is always best to get a proper exposure using your camera or camera and artificial light than to attempt to make up for lighting deficiencies in post-production. Professional photo printers supply both ICC for paper and a Printer Profile for their printers. Their printer drivers offer more print options, and the entire process is streamlined. “For a price, Ugarte, for a price.”

Color printer target including cyan, yellow, magenta, and black

When using a properly calibrated monitor, astute post-production techniques, and applying dedicated attention to the printer driver we can obtain consistently high-quality results. A second target is available at Because of its 38-megabyte size, this target may take some time to load. After printing the image, I hope you will be able to read the tiny (and upside-down) word “CERTIFIED” just above the acronym DOT (Department of Transportation) on the black helmet (center right). If not, perhaps you have not chosen “Fine” or similar output resolution in your printer driver (printer operating software).

It is helpful to take notes when you first start learning post-production. After a time, you will almost instinctively know where a touch of digital help will bring out certain tones, or emphasize an element within your photograph, or add a touch of controversy. Have fun with your photography. Experiment and push the limits. There is no such thing as a bad photograph…only art in progress that awaits a constructive review.

I find DxO PhotoLab an excellent tool for inspecting and ranking a batch of photographs. For myself, post-production for everything from small JPEG images for the internet to 24 x 36 inches prints begins with inspecting individual tonal areas (Black Point, Shadows, Midpoint, Highlights etc.) with an eye to the detail and brightness I want in those tonal areas. DxO PhotoLab and Camera Raw provide many tools for crafting individual tonal areas. Photoshop is very handy for selecting (masking) specific areas of an image to apply adjustment changes. Largely neglected, Photoshop’s Burn and Dodge tools are remarkably effective for local, rather than global, changes. Selective sharpening may be much more beneficial than universal sharpening. One color saturated at one location may be much more effective than overall saturation. A cake with one candle offset to one side is much more intriguing than a cake with twenty symmetrical candles. The bottom line is, how do your changes aid the visual communication of your photograph’s subject of interest?

I cannot provide a “step-by-step” guide to my post-production workflow because I use individual tools such as white balance or clarity or vibrance intuitively and after long study and experimentation. Much of what I do is visual and, consequently, limited by individual taste and ability. Hopefully, you have better taste and greater ability! How do I respond to critics? Attentively, if constructive, else I listen to this!

Last minute considerations: 1) Canon and Epson provide papers and ink of archival quality. That is, your print will last a long, long time if kept cool and dry. 2) Tools for further calibrating your printer’s color accuracy are available but, at some point, the quest for perfection falls on a deaf wallet. Some professional printers have onboard calibration functions for color optimization. 3) We did not discuss DPI “dots per inch” as an inkjet printer attribute because I believe it is largely meaningless. You might as well count the hairs on your kitty cat as explore inkjet dots per inch. Well regarded reviewers will provide us with far more information regarding print quality than any reference to dots. However, in my experience, DPI is an observable characteristic of laser printers. By the way, do not confuse PPI (pixels per inch), with DPI (dots per inch), or LPI (lines per inch). A printing press may print a newspaper at 85 LPI.


Photography can be fun, profitable, creative, and technically superior at the same time. Contact me for a custom one-to-one camera class in Bakersfield, California. Please text me at: 661-303-9210 (preferred) or email me Here for an appointment.

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This page is provided for educational purposes. This review and summary of my workflow is provided for educational purposes only. No intention of commercial use is anticipated by the author. In this critique, Photoshop, Camera Raw, DataColor Spyder Pro 5, DxO PhotoLab 5, Topaz AI Sharpening, Epson, Nikon, Canon, Epson, Windows, NEC MultiSync, Brother, Adobe, and Nikon 7 II Z are all trademarks and recognized as such herein. Image may only be used for educational purposes. The author is not responsible for errors or omissions in the text. Reference to any product does not constitute a recommendation for serviceability or warranty.