Printing 101 for a newbie

Printing 101 for a newbie

Hi everyone. I’m going to have a few of my images printed with a print lab but realised there is a steep learning curve with this.

I’m confused by all the different print sizes and formats. Is there any reason why you would choose A4/3/2 over something like 12x16/16x20 etc?

Does the size or crop of your image dictate this or do you crop and size according to your chosen format?

Also, say I choose 16x20 do I resize the image in PS to this exact size or do you make it smaller to allow for a border?

I realise that I’ve jumped around with questions slightly there but all help and guidance is gratefully received.

Many thanks

I know this can get very confusing, it baffled me for a long time. The main reason to stick with certain sizes is because there are standard frame sizes, which work better for 4x5 ratios rather than 2x3. So really the question is, do you plan to use a standard pre-made frame with a pre-cut mat? You could still use a standard size frame and have a mat cut to fit the print.

Frame Size Mat Opening Image Size
8" x 10" 4.5" x 6.5" 5" x 7"
11" x 14" 7.5" x 9.5" 8" x 10"
16" x 20" 10.5" x 13.5" 11" x 14"
20" x 24" 15.5" x 19.5" 16" x 20"
24" x 36" 19.5" x 29.5" 20" x 30"
30" x 40" 21.5" x 31.5" 22" x 32"

If you’re not going to frame it then all this goes out the window. If you do a plaque, metal, acrylic then these can all be custom sizes. But, in general it’s considered to be more pleasing to the eye to keep an aspect ratio. I know a lot of us don’t abide by this and crop to whatever is pleasing for the composition. Hopefully this all makes sense, it can be a bit hard to explain.

Also, framers prefer it if you leave at least 1/8" white border around the image so they don’t have to cover up any of the photo. Some print labs like Reed Photo offer this as a service so you don’t have to do it yourself. It’s not necessary, but preferred. If I’m ordering from a lab that does not offer this I will typically go to the next size up so the image size stays the same but has a nice large white border rather than bleeding it to the edge. I’ll be interested to hear what others do as well.


Thanks David, that’s really helpful. Apologies for putting the post in the wrong place.

There is a lot to it.
The reason you having prints made will help determine the method and considerations.
Why are you printing?

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Thanks Steven. A couple of reasons really I’d like some printed for myself but I was thinkong of offering prints for sale as I’ve been asked by a few local people on Facebook groups.

Since you’re going with a lab Chris, the first stop should be with them and ask for their guidance. We tried a lot of them over the 30 years we were in business, and each has a little different way of doing business. Some differences were good and some were decidedly bad. Good labs will have clear specs not only in file size for varying print sizes, but also details like color space and file formats that work best with their system.

You would probably need to be in business to access them and set up an account, but the best of the best we found went so far as assigning an “associate” to us, someone within the lab to serve as our primary point of contact. Our associate became a treasured resource who we could call or email for advice, but also a “safety valve” for times when one of our submissions looked different than previous work. They’d always call us before printing, just to make sure we really wanted what we were asking for. Nice beyond words to have that kind of personal resource within a big commercial lab.


What David said, especially or selling. The idea being to standardize so to lower costs and make them affordable.
If it’s for you, the choices are greater and more difficult in the world of frames. A canvas wrap solves many of them if you like the look. Avoiding glass and glossy paper avoids the interrupting reflections when viewing a print.
I recently saw prints face mounted (clear glue) on half inch plexiglass. The viewer looks through the plexi that added a kind of “depth” to the image, and protection.
Maybe visit some galleries to see what kind of framing is selling.
Get file prep instructions from the lab that is doing the printing. When possible, lend them a print for color match (to avoid discrepancy)
Depending on availability, taking a color printing course at a local college can produce many prints, exactly how you want them, at a very low cost.


Our lab gave us monitor calibration specs, while also putting us through a series of test prints before taking our first order. It sure paid off when color was critical, as in skin tones, but also even in natural settings. Just be thankful you’re not setting up for offset printing and working in CMYK color. After long years in RGB, CMYK can be a whole nuther world.

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Your aspect ratio will be dependent on what camera brand and sensor type you’re using. If you’re using the Nikon, Canon, Sony cameras then you’re probably on a 2:3 aspect ratio so in that case 16x20 would not be relevant unless you crop or have uneven borders. Most pro level labs should have 16x24 for example or you can pay for the next size up and have them trim it down.

If you add a 1 inch border then you’ll need a 18x26 inch print. 2 inch border = 20x28, etc…

The most common prints you’ll see at art festivals and many galleries these days is metal float mount prints. I personally can’t stand them because they look cheap and prefer looking at acrylic face mounts or paper prints with nice custom framing. Canvas was more common earlier in the decade but have fallen out of favor for metal it seems.

If you’re going to offer loose prints then keep in mind the buyer will have to figure out where to frame themselves which may or may not cause you to lose a sale if you don’t have other options available. Interior designers often have their own framers so it’s great for them. For an art collector though it’s an inconvenience to not offer ready to hang prints given that there are so many presentation options available these days.


Thanks for the advice everyone I’ll digest it!