Get Gorgeous Prints From Photoshop

This set of tips comes from Martini Hour 074, in which Deke and Colleen talk (Photo)shop. Their recommendations? Get better prints from your desktop printer by being highly experimental: Try different approaches, write down what you did, and be willing to use up some ink and paper in the process. Once you find your favorite settings, you’ll be able to rely on those settings to achieve proven results from that point on.

Getting gorgeous prints from Photoshop

In preparation for printing, there are a few steps to take, and one that you definitely should not.

  • Pick good paper. You’ll never get decent prints out of 2-lb. bond or laser printer paper.
  • Make a flattened print version of your file. (Layer > Flatten Image.) Then choose File > Save As to save a TIFF file. You can use LZW compression to keep the file smaller.
  • Do NOT convert your image to CMYK. That’s for commercial printing and it’s death for your local inkjet and laser devices. As far as Photoshop and your printer driver are concerned, your printer is an RGB device, just like your monitor.

When you print, Photoshop handles one part of the process, and the rest is handled by your printer driver and operating system. The Photoshop part is consistent regardless of the operating system you’re running, whether it be Mac or PC. The printer driver and OS stuff varies widely, and can get pretty hairy. So let’s get into it:

Phase 1: Page layout stuff

printer page layout
  1. Choose File > Print from the menu bar (Mac: Cmd-P, PC: Ctrl+P) to open the print dialog box.
  2. Select your printer from the menu at the top.
  3. Enter the number of copies that you want to print. (Presumably, 1.)
  4. Click one of the orientationbuttons to switch between portrait and landscape, if need be.
  5. Optional: check the box marked Scale to Fit Media. This changes the sizeof your print on-the-fly. It’s not going to resample your file or changethe parameters you set in the Image Size dialog box.

Phase 2: Color management stuff

This part can be pretty scary, but it really boils down to a fork in the road: Either theprinter is going to manage the color transformations, or Photoshop is. Which is fun, because this is where you get to experiment. More on that in a minute.

print color mgt
  1. Choose Color management from the menu at the top of the right-hand section
  2. Click the radio button next to Document
  3. See that Color Handling option? Now you have a quandry; Do you change it to Printer Manages Colors and let ‘er rip? Or set it to Photoshop Manages Colors and choosea rendering intent?

Start with the latter (Photoshop Manages Colors). But even then, what’s a “rendering intent” and which one do you use? Rendering intent is a strategy to translate the gazillions (well, as few as 17 million) of colors in the gamut of your photo into the limited colors (maybe a few tens of thousands) available to your printer. There are two rendering intents that are relevant to photographers, and the difference can be subtle. So you should try printing with both whenever you have something special that you want to print at its very best.

The Perceptual rendering intent tries to preserve the relationships between the colors. The result is less risk of color breaks known as banding or posterization, but sometimes individual colors can change noticeably.

Relative Colorimetric preserves any colors that the printer can produce, so those colors don’t shift, but it picks a substitute for any colors that the printer can’t print, and that can mess up color gradients in your photos.

When you have Photoshop manage colors, you’ll also want to select a printer profile from the menu. There are two courses you can take here: The first is to select sRGB from the menu and ignore Photoshop’s suggestion to disable the printer’s color management.

print color mgt3

The other is to disable the printer’s color management (discussed below) and choose a profile that matches your printer. The profile name may be abbreviated, but some part of it should relate to your printer. Color profiles from Epson start with an abbreviation of the model followed by the type of paper (e.g. “SPR2880 Premium Glossy” for the Stylus Photo R2880 loaded with glossy paper). One example of a profile for a Canon multifunction printer is “Canon MP970 Series Fine Art Photo Rag 2.” Whatever you choose, do not select any of the following:

  • Do NOT choose Lab color, Adobe RGB, any of the monitor profiles, and so on.
  • Do NOT choose any of the Coated or uncoated FOGRA, US Sheetfed, US Web,etc. profiles. These are CMYK professional press profiles.

Phase 3: Print Settings

This can get tricky, because even though the button is in Photoshop, the dialog you see next will be from your printer driver, and it’s going to look and behave very differently, depending on the make and model of your printer and whether you’re on Mac or Windows. Because ofthat, there’s only so much specific advice we can give. You’ll need to consult with your manual or the manufacturer’s web site for more. You’ll interactwith the dialog, and then save the results with your document.

print settings
  1. Click the Print Settings button
  2. Locate the printer’s color management controls if you can —  some printer drivers do not offer that option.
  3. If Photoshop is managing colors and you have chosen what you think is the right printer profile, you should set this to something like “Off (No Color Adjustment).” Otherwise, it should be on.
  4. Adjust other settings such as media type, print quality, and high speed printing as needed.
  5. Click Save to store the settings in your document.

Click the Print button to do a test print and write the settings you chose on the print when it comes out. Make as many test prints as you need, changing one setting at a time, and writing down the settings.

When you compare the prints to what you see on screen, you’re likely to see significant differences, even in the best cases, but one will look best overall. Write those settings down somewhere for safe keeping, and use them as your go-to settings, at least until you decide to do another round of tests when better paper or profiles come around.

Naturally, there’s a whole lot more information on printing (and all kinds of other stuff) in Deke’s book, Adobe Photoshop CS5 One-on-One.

Next entry:Who Wants Some All-Natural Hand Turkey?

Previous entry:dekeSpeak November 23


  • Masking

    Still trying !!

    Hi Deke,

    Love your tutorials, but how about some of the advance stuff

    for masking .



  • Print

    Thanks for the info.. I have a pretty bog standard HP printer and the colour settings are ColorSmart III - which doesn’t allow me to turn it off when Photoshop manages the color… so I guess I should upgrade? smile

  • ACE

    Hi Deke - me again… I’m going to take the ACE exam for Photoshop CS4 in December… wondered if you could point me in the direction of some sample questions? Apologies if you get this question ALLLLLLL the time smile

    Many thanks


  • Part 2 Number8

    Hello Deke,

    Sorry to be a nit-picker but :-

    What do I do with the quandry I now have?

    Where do I keep it? How do I use it?

    You’ve left me in a quandary.

    Or are we still two countries separated by the same language?

    Apart from all that: thanks for all your photoshop tutorials that have helped me over the past five years. Great stuff.


  • Photoshop Elements 9

    Hello Deke, I hope this is the correct place to ask this question. I assume that you will be bringing out a ‘One on One’ manual for Photoshop Elements 9. I was just wondering when. Thanks for all your help. Bert Noir. (Former Boulder Resident)

  • Newby

    After us Photoshop for many years I have purchased CS5 I am lost with the layout

    How can I set it up so it look like CS3?

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