6 Steps to Creating “Print-Ready” Files

Elvis Elvis

Are your files “Print-Ready”?

No matter whether you’re going to print a digital picture at home, take it to a local lab, do it yourself at a printing kiosk or upload it to an online printing service, you need to do the best job you can before printing to make sure you get the results you want and expect. (NOTE: Some, if not all, of the following steps can be done at the kiosk if that’s where you’re going to do your printing. But for online or local lab jobs it’s always smart to do these yourself at home before turning your precious images over to someone else.)

It’s really difficult for me to lay out a clear series of steps to follow before printing … because different cameras have different quality capabilities and come with different software. And the way you set up a file to print is determined – somewhat – by where, how, and by whom it will be printed.

But here are a few general guidelines that I hope will help.

NOTE: The Quality setting you used to take the picture – usually stated as “Resolution” – is of primary importance. This is why I have said elsewhere on this site that you should ALWAYS shoot at the highest resolution your camera is capable of.

Okay. You have the image recorded on the media card, and it’s still in the camera. What do you do first?

Follow ALL of these steps, in order.

6 Steps to Creating Print Ready Files

1. Download the images to your computer. This is done using either the camera’s USB cable or by placing your media card into an external card reader that you’ve connected to your computer. This can be done using either your camera’s software or an image management program (Mac users know about iPhoto for example. PC people … well, you’re kinda at the mercy of whatever system version and operating environment you have to work with. Most PCs will place your images into a folder called My Pictures which is inside the My Documents folder.) Or you may simply drag and drop files to your desktop, preferably into a file folder that you have already named.

2. Open your image management software. Then open the first file you want to work on.

3. Adjust the file size. (This will be shown in the software as “Image Size” or something similar.) Some cameras record images at 72 dpi with dimensions like – oh, let’s say – 20×24 inches. (Yours will probably be different, so don’t take these dimensions literally.) Other cameras record images at 180 ppi or 300 ppi, and the dimensions, therefore, will be smaller. For example: 300 ppi at 6×10 inches, or thereabouts.

If your camera saves files in the 72 ppi format, now is the time to resize them. For best results, reset the resolution now to 300 ppi with “Resample Image” turned OFF. This will automatically change the overall dimensions – height and width – as well. Now you will see the file’s size in both inches and pixels. Ignore the pixels for now and look at the dimensions in inches.

Let’s say you have a file that’s 10.027×6.662 inches. That’s a little confusing, isn’t it? So let’s resize it now. For this example we’re going to create a 4×6. Click the Resample Image box again to turn it back on. Now you’ll see that the brackets connect only the width and height. Choose the smaller one (6.662) and change that number to 4. when you do this the other dimension becomes 6.016 – which is close enough to perfect for our purposes here.


If you want to crop the picture do so BEFORE making the image size adjustments above.

4. Make other adjustments – such as density (using Levels or Curves, if possible), brightness and contrast, hue and saturation, and, finally sharpness.

NOTE: ALL digital images need to be sharpened – at least a little – unless, obviously, you’re trying for a soft focus effect. The best way to sharpen is by using “unsharp mask” rather than one of the presets like “sharpen” or “sharpen more.”

5. Save your print-ready file on your hard drive – perhaps in a separate folder you’ll name “ready for printing” or some such.

6. If you also want to e mail this picture, you’ll need to duplicate this file and change its resolution to 72 ppi.
REMEMBER: A 4×6 inch image at 72 ppi is fine for the internet. But it’s going to make a lousy print!
So – right now – be sure you’ve saved the print-ready file. Then make a copy of it – by choosing either “Duplicate” or “Save As.” And when you do, be sure to give the copied file a different name – something that will tell you what it’s for.For example: Save the print-ready file as “Birthday1(4×6)”. And save the e mail-ready file as “Birthday1(72ppi).”

Follow these steps with each file you want to print. Then copy them to a CD (if they’re going to the local lab) or save them in a folder on your hard drive for later uploading to an online service or for home printing.


By the way! Here’s a very important cautionary note! Do NOT allow your computer software to erase the contents of your media card after downloading! Many programs offer this “service.” There’s usually a little box somewhere that you can click to choose this option. But DO NOT DO IT! NEVER! (Sorry for shouting …)

The only safe and sane way to erase images from your media card is in the camera. choose either “Format” which is kind of like de-fragging the hard drive on your computer, or “Erase All” in your camera’s system menu.

There’s a good technological reason for this. But just trust me. (You didn’t really want to know anyway, did you?)

Getting your files ready to print is time-consuming and somewhat tedious until you get the hang of it. But this is the only way you can be sure you’re going to get the quality and size print you’re expecting. And, after all, these are YOUR pictures, right? Who else is going to care about their quality if you don’t?