How to Prepare Your Images for Print and Display


If you’re into photography at some point you’ve probably had the desire to print and display your work. Whether it be for exhibition in a gallery or local community center, to hang on your own wall, or to give a print as a gift to a friend or loved one, you want to present your work in the best way possible. Treating it as the piece of art that it is. Displaying your printed work can sometimes result in a lot of angst, due to problems printing, decisions with regards to matting and framing, and finally, lighting.

Displaying Your Images

Many photographers believe an image isn’t fully realized until it has been printed and hung.

“The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.” – Ansel Adams

While situations, intentions, and desires may vary from one photographer to the next, here are a few things to consider when preparing an image for print and display.


Monitor Calibration

Before you even choose which route to go with in terms of printing your images, you have to address the biggest issue facing photographers today – monitor calibration.

The settings you have applied to your computer screen can drastically affect the way the image looks on screen. And while you may have edited the image to look fine onscreen, when you go to print it, there is a very good chance your printed output will look nothing like what you saw when editing. To solve that issue, you have to match your screen to a known standard. One that sets the color and brightness so that what you see on screen will translate to what comes back from the photo lab, or out of your printer.

Calibrating Your Monitor

Unless your monitor is properly calibrated, you can’t be sure that the vibrant colors you see on screen will be the same as those seen in a print.

There are several available options for monitor calibration, but they all do the same thing. They get your monitor set to a known state that the printing engine can translate to similar output. In other words, what you see onscreen is what you get out of the printer or lab! Finally, it’s important to realize that the lighting under which your print will be displayed will affect the way the image looks. Too cool lighting will make it look bluer, while fluorescent lighting will make it greener, and tungsten lighting will warm the tones.

Finally, it’s important to realize that the lighting under which your print will be displayed will affect the way the image looks. Lighting that is too cool will make it look bluer, while fluorescent lighting will make it appear greener, and tungsten lighting will add warm the tones.

Type of Print

Obviously, if you plan to display one or many of your images, the first thing you need to do is have it printed. You have several options available, and while none are wrong, some are better than others. The simplest option, in terms of work for you, is to use a photo lab or print service. If you like more control, you can choose to print the images yourself on your own photo quality inkjet printer. Even then, there are things to consider.

Making Prints

When you do decide to print an image, you have several choices to make, include what process to use, what media to print on, and how it should be finished.

There are two main printing methods prevalent today, depending on where you go for your prints of digital images:

Inkjet prints:

Inkjet prints are produced by placing tiny drops of ink on paper or canvas to produce an image. Professional inkjet printers tend to have more colors than consumer models, with high-end printers now featuring up to 12 different color inks to create a richly colored image.

Inkjet printers use inks that fall into one of two categories; pigment or dye-based inks. Pigment inks are made of tiny particles that sit on top of the paper, while dye-based inks are absorbed into the paper. Pigment inks are archival and can last up to 200 years or more in the proper conditions (under museum-quality lighting and framing). Pigment-based inks are more expensive but also suffer two main drawbacks. First, pigment based inks can suffer from metamerism, which appears as a shift in the color when viewing the print at an angle. The second drawback is that pigment-based inks are not as vibrant as dye-based ones. Dye-based inks tend to fade more quickly, though some are rated to last up to 75 years or more in proper conditions. Professional printers will usually use pigment-based inks.

Digital C-Print (Lightjet):

This method of printing involves using a laser to expose chromogenic paper, which is then processed in chemicals, similar to a traditional photographic print. It’s a continuous tone print, unlike inkjet which produces tiny dots of ink on the paper to create the image. The laser produces true photographic quality with continuous gradations and tones. Kodak Endura and Fuji Crystal Archive are the two most popular papers used in this process, and both produce archival prints that will last up to 200 years under proper conditions.

Displaying Your Work

While it’s fun to show off your images online, there is nothing quite like having one of your images printed and framed.

Choosing a Lab

Labs offer some decided advantages over printing images yourself. When choosing a lab, you want to find one with a reputation for good quality control and customer service. I’ve found getting recommendations from other photographers to be incredibly helpful when looking for a lab.

Other things you’ll want to consider are their products. Do they print using the method you want? Do they offer the sizes you want? Do they print on media other than photo paper, such as canvas, acrylic, or metal? What kinds of finishing options do they offer? Is the canvas gallery wrapped? Do they offer mounting or framing? Do you want or need those services? Answer those questions, knowing what you want or need, and that should give you a good answer as to whether the lab will fulfill your needs.

Answer those questions, knowing what you want or need, and that should give you a good answer as to whether the lab will fulfill your needs.

Displaying the Print

If you choose to go with a print on metal, acrylic, or canvas, once the print is made, you probably won’t have much else to do. These options are generally finished and require no framing, though a decorative frame can be added to canvas if desired. If you’ve printed on paper, you still have a little work to do.



Paper prints, to be properly displayed, need to be matted and framed. You can find various qualities of mat board, using terms such as “Buffered pH Neutral” or “Acid-Free”. These are basically the same thing, meaning the acid has been removed from the paper to avoid harming the prints. Acid-free mats have a protective lifespan of about 7-12 years.

The next grade of mat board is known as “conservation grade acid-free” or sometimes “museum rag”, which is what you’d want to use for a serious art display in a gallery. In addition to removing the acid, another component harmful to paper, called lignin, is also removed from the mat board. Conservation mats that are acid and lignin free have a protective lifespan of 50 years or more. Conservation grade mats aremore expensive than simple acid-free ones.

Which type of mat should you choose? It really depends on your purpose. If you’re planning to display the print as art in a gallery and possibly for sale, conservation grade mats are the best choice. This helps add value to the print by preserving it, and lets the buyer know you are serious about your work and their potential investment in it. If the use is something less important, such as a temporary display that won’t be for sale, you can certainly save some money and go with a simple acid-free mat.


Framing prints can present you with some difficult choices, depending on where the print will be hanging. Since you never know where someone may hang a print, for galleries and art shows I suggest a simple, understated black frame, that lets the image breathe and speak for itself.

Framed Print

A matt and frame finish off an image and complete the piece for hanging.

One of the big mistakes I see new photographers and artists make when showing work in a gallery or exhibition is framing their work in overly ornate or colorful frames. When an art buyer purchases a new piece of art, if it is framed already, that frame becomes part of the consideration. By keeping the frame simple and understated, it allows the buyer to view the art neutrally without considering the frame. They won’t feel the frame has to be married to the image and can feel free to consider their own framing choices.

If you want to get really serious about the frames you use, you’ll want to use museum quality framing. Like conservation mats, it is designed to preserve the print for as long as possible. Museum quality framing includes UV filtered glass to reduce the UV rays from the sun that are a print’s worst enemy and keep it from fading. It should include conservation matting as described above, and will have a final layer of archival backing to further protect the print.

The Finishing Touch

Signing Your Prints

An artist should always sign his or her work, on the print, in the corner.

As with any artwork, you should always, without fail, sign your images. Signing your images signifies that you created the image, personally took responsibility for it from capture to print, and lets whoever is hanging the print on their wall know who created it. It adds value for art collectors.

There is always some debate, it seems, but I will go on the record as saying that it is always the print that should be signed, and never the mat. The mat can be removed, and thus, so can your signature. Choose either the bottom left or bottom right corner and sign your prints with a neat, clear signature that identifies the image as your own. Again, you’ll want to use archival ink that won’t harm the print, in a color that will stand out. For darker prints, silver or gold metallic works nicely, while for lighter colored prints, a black ink will suffice. I prefer the Deco Color Liquid Fine Paint Markers to sign my prints, canvases, metal prints, and acrylics. There are several thicknesses available so you may want to experiment to find what works best for you.


Your photos are meant to be seen, not just take up space on a hard drive! So take these tips and start showing your images off. What are your favorite tips for displaying photos?

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Rick Berk is a photographer based in Freeport, Maine, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick leads photo tours for World Wide Photo Tours and his work can be seen at and you can follow him on his Facebook page and on Instagram at @rickberkphoto.

  • flossie.stickel

    I currently get paid approximately 6k-8k bucks /month doing an internet task. For those of you who are ready to finish easy freelance task for few hours each day from ease of your home and make decent salary for doing it… This is ideal for you…


  • Olli S.

    All those images seem to be heavily processed, with Photomatix or something similar. Maybe it’d be better to learn composition and shooting technique first so that photos can stand on their own, with not much need for processing.

  • My photos stand on their own very nicely, thank you very much. I have many customers with my art happily hanging in their walls and plenty of clients paying me for my work. There is nothing wrong with processing an image. In the days of film did you take a picture and not do the darkroom work?

  • Olli S.

    I’m sorry if I offended, not my purpose. Some processing is fine of course and everyone does with their photos whatever they want but it makes me feel a bit sad every time when I see a photo that would be so much better with less sharpening, less clarity, less this, less that. What I meant was less is usually more. But everyone has the right to walk the path they have chosen and pursue their vision for each work.

  • This is a great article with a lot of useful tips 🙂 Thanks so much! and I find that the previous comment is a little uncalled for and not particularly relevant to the content in this post. I think your photography is great! I would love to be able to sell my pictures, but I’m still very much in the learning process.

  • Thanks Elishia!

  • Isaac Ramirez

    Thanks for the article, Rick.
    In terms of printing methods, which one (inkjet or lightjet) would you recommend for regular photo shoot printing (weddings, etc @ 4×6, 5×7 for example) and which one for artwork printings to hang on a wall?

  • I prefer lightjet, mainly because the print is a continuous tone print versus individual ink droplets, but that is not to say that inkjet is bad. Lightjet is what you’ll find in most labs doing high volume, as it can be less expensive for smaller prints than inkjet.

  • kimberly.colgan

    I usually get paid something like $6,000-$8,000 /every month from working on the internet at home. For anyone considering to finish basic freelance tasks for some hrs every day from your sofa at home and get valuable checks while doing it… Then this work opportunity is for you…


  • Isaac

    Thank you, sir

  • Katie Groves

    Great article, beautiful photos 🙂

  • me

    methods of calibration? You mention that it should be done, but not how.

  • Trish MinogueCollins

    Very informative. The difference between inkjet and light jet was particularly interesting. Would you say light jet is the way to go? It seems more similar to old school chemical processing.

  • Brian Becnel

    Great article; Thank you! Regarding the idea of signing printed work, does your recommendation change for the type of print…i.e. canvas, metal or glass?

  • Brian Becnel

    You may not have seen in the paragraph under the Calibration heading is a jump-link to an article on How-To. I’m very interested to learn myself. I’ve done to a long time ago on my laptop by borrowing a friends device. It may be time again on my desktop machine.

  • luis abarca

    Great article, on signing the work, what about a digital signature? thanks and congrats

  • MaryAnn

    There is a calibration device you purchase and attach to your monitor. Spyder is one brand. Search for monitor calibration. There are lots of how-to’s on line.

  • Jessica Farmer

    Great article thanks! Are there any tips when it comes to printing and framing cropped images, such as with panoramic images?

  • I linked to an article that goes into detail on how to calibrate a monitor here:

    You’ll need to purchase a colorimeter, such as the X-Rite i1 Display or Colormunki, or the Colorvision Spyder. They essentially do the same things. The higher priced ones offer more professional options for various types of workflows.

  • Nothing specific, other than that you’ll need to order custom mats and frames for odd-shaped prints. Not a big deal. There are several framing and matting suppliers online that will allow you to order custom sizes very easily.

  • Absolutely not. I never ever use a digital signature, here’s why. A digital signature can be done by anyone. A hand-signed print indicates that you as the artist and creator of the image, inspected the print, and approved it for display. It personalizes the print, especially when we’re talking about selling to art collectors. It adds value. A digital signature does not carry the same weight.

  • I’ve used the pens I mentioned on all of those, and they work fine. Depending on the image, I may change from silver to gold or black, so the signature will stand out.

  • It is. Lightjet is just a different way of exposing photographic paper, because it more or less projects the digital image onto it, similar to the way you would a negative- this is a bit of oversimplification, but for our purposes, that’s what it is. It’s a continuous tone, as opposed to lots of little ink dots making the picture.

  • Thanks Katie!

  • OldPom

    Agree with you on keeping the processing from making the image look ‘unreal’ . Particularly in the area of saturation. Some of today’s photographers over saturate to the point where every shade is grossly too ‘loud’ and totally unnatural. Reminds me of early Kodachrome colours – brutally intense. In a string of well edited images they stand out – but not in an attractive way.

  • Salman Sayeed

    Great Article Rick.
    What would you suggest to use “Watermark” or “Photographer’s signature”!

  • Never watermark. Always sign your work by hand.

  • Salman Sayeed

    Thank You Very much. What setting would you recommmend like dpi, width, quality, Color space, format and size while exporting from lightroom.
    Is it different for different papers?

  • Tammy Chesney

    Learned a lot, Thank You.

  • Tammy Chesney

    Referring to signing your work, should you sign an acrylic piece? If so, how?

  • luis abarca

    Thank you for the quick and well explained answer, I never thougt of the personalized point. Gracias y suerte

  • Balabrahmeswara Sarma

    Good piece of information all through the article and the Q&A Sessions. Thanks

  • dabhand

    Perhaps you should learn to be LESS free with your comments.

  • Skye McKey

    i am a little disheartened- I thought monitor calibration didn’t include external hardware/software. My question would be- if I buy this stuff can it be used ‘monitor to monitor’ or does each monitor require a special piece of equipment or new software? My prints are, for the most part very OK- but some of the trickier lighting does not translate well through the process. Thanks in advance.

  • JD

    Thanks a lot for an informative article.

    However, I would like to know a bit more regarding proper choice of output resolution as a function of the picture’s size and the distance between picture and viewer. Would that be basis for an additional article?

  • Thanks JD. Much will depend on who is doing the printing, but as a rule of thumb, if you take the pixel resolution of the image and divide by 300(dots per inch, or what most printers tend to print at), that will give you the maximum size in inches that the image can be printed. So, for instance, an image from a Nikon D810, at max resolution is 7360×4912 pixels. That gives you a 16.3″ x 24.5″ print. However, as you go larger in size, you need fewer dots per inch. Some poster sizes will drop down to 150dpi for printing, since they are viewed from further distances. Ultimately, the lab should tell you the largest size your images can be printed.

  • There are some ways to do a calibration by sight, but this is not as exact and depending on how discerning your eye is, could be off by quite a bit. The best option is to purchase a colorimeter such as the X-Rite i1 Display Pro, Colormunki Display, or a Colorvision Spyder. Usually these will allow you to install the software on 2 computers with a basic license. If you need more, you would need to add a license that allowed for more computers. You can then move the colorimeter from computer to computer as needed. If lighting is kept consistent in the workspace, it doesn’t need to be attached all the time.

  • Absolutely. The pens I referenced will work on acrylic. Just allow them to dry before touching it.

  • It depends on the lab doing the printing. Most will ask for the full resolution file and work from that to get different sizes. I recommend letting the lab handle the resizing as needed as that will achieve the best results. If printing yourself, let the printer driver handle resizing.

  • Salman Sayeed

    Oh I was wondering that I had to grab the exported JPEG file in a USB or something to the lab or a printing place and print it by my own.

  • Most labs will let you upload the files to them. In this case, send the full resolution file. Many will even allow you to crop during the upload process. If you need to deliver a hard drive or flash drive, again, give them the full resolution file and let them handle the resizing.

  • Salman Sayeed

    Got it! Thanks! Will contact you again if I need to know something ??

  • Henri

    How about using my handsign as a watermark (high res scanned sign)? Who would see the difference between a penstroke and a “digigal”penstroke? Why my question? I’m less afraid of positioning my sign using a layer.

  • Skye McKey

    So what you are telling me is that my assumption of ‘once it’s calibrated, it’s done’ is wrong, too??? damn.

  • Yes. Monitors drift from the calibrated state over time. How much depends on the monitor. Ideally, you should calibrate your monitor every two weeks to keep it within tolerances so your prints look as they should.

  • Marg

    Loved the tips you gave. I personally print & frame some special ones. I have donated a picture yearly for an auction & each year my work is going for a higher price than the year before. it is nice to see that I had already been using some of your tips and going in the right direction!!

  • Tammy Chesney

    Thank you!

  • Steve Shubert

    Thanks for an excellent and insightful article! The tipping point that actually made me switch from simple iPhone pictures (that looked gorgeous on my computer) to a real DSLR camera was when I considered blowing one of my “beautiful” iPhone pictures up to hang on my office wall. Wow! Was I shocked and disappointed! But that’s what prompted me to invest in my first DSLR, and since then, I’ve taken several photos that I’m hoping to one day print/frame/display. Even if it’s only in my own home, I’d still like to display them. Your article gave me a lot of information that I never would have even known to consider, even down to the signing of the photograph. I appreciate you taking time to share your knowledge with us…and I also tend to agree that your photography is beautiful! Cheers!

  • steve

    what about digital signatures.

  • As I’ve responded to other posters, absolutely not. I never ever use a digital signature, here’s why. A digital signature can be done by anyone. A hand-signed print indicates
    that you as the artist and creator of the image, inspected the print,
    and approved it for display. It personalizes the print, especially when
    we’re talking about selling to art collectors. It adds value. A digital
    signature does not carry the same weight.

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