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Help System > Tips for getting a good print

How to photograph your art for printing

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What you'll need

photo of a painting leaning up against a fence
Photograph your art outside on a cloudy day for best results.

Welcome to Indigo Image Lab! We're going to show you the proper way to photograph your art and get an image file that’s good enough to send to a fine art printing company, like us, to get quality prints of your work.

To proceed, you’ll need:

  • a bright cloudy day
  • a computer
  • image editing software like Adobe Photoshop
  • a printer
  • some tape, and of course:
  • a camera

If you have a good DSLR camera, by all means use that if you can. But if not, use a cell phone with a really good camera.

Print a gray card

photo of a gray card coming off of a laser printer
Print the gray card using only black ink. Color printer? Set the printing to "monochrome" or "black & white."

First, you’re going to make something called a “gray card,” which is just a gray square of paper that will help you make sure that the colors in your print are accurate.

We have a gray card all ready for you. You can download a gray card here.

Open it up and print it. If you’re printing to a color printer, go into the printer driver and set the output to be black-and-white, or monochrome, or something like that, to be sure that only black ink is used.

This ensures the gray card is a true neutral gray, and doesn’t have a color tint to it.

Set your camera's white balance

photo of white balance settings on a cell phone
Find the "white balance" setting on your camera and set it to 6500K.

Go into your camera’s settings and change to Pro mode, or a mode that lets you set something called the white balance or the color temperature.

(Both of those terms mean the same thing.)

When you’ve found the right setting, you’ll see the ability to choose the weather conditions, or set a number like "6000 K", or both.

On that screen, try to set the white balance, or color temperature to 6500K if you can. If there’s no such setting, then change the weather setting to cloudy.

Be sure the camera is not set to Auto white balance. You need to specify either 6500K if you can, or the cloudy setting.

Set your camera resolution

photo of resolution settings on a cell phone
Set the camera's resolution to the biggest numbers possible.

Go into your camera’s settings and make sure that the camera is set to the maximum possible resolution. Make sure the numbers are the biggest possible, of all the choices.

Then, prepare your art to be photographed. The art cannot have glass or acrylic in front of it. If your art is behind glass, you must take it out of the frame, there’s no other choice. If the work is in a frame with no glass, you can choose whether or not to remove it from the frame.

 

Photograph your art outside on a cloudy day

photo of a cloudy sky
Want the best results? Wait for a bright, cloudy day to photograph your art.

You’re going to take a picture of your art outside for the best results and the most even illumination.

Wait for a bright, cloudy day with no rain in the forecast. The picture shows what an ideal sky looks like. No blue, no sun.

A cloudy sky results in very even lighting for your art, which is important to get a good shot.

 

Position your art with the gray card

photo of a painting leaning up against a fence
Lean the work against a fence or a building, being sure the gray card is visible in the picture you'll take.

When the weather is right, lean your art up at an angle against something like a fence or the side of a building. Then, tape the gray card, the paper with the gray square, next to the art. It doesn’t matter if the gray card is tilted, as long as the gray square is visible in the shot. You’ll need that gray square later. It will help you make sure the color is correct in your photo.

 

Frame and take the shot

photo of a painting leaning up against a fence
Almost-perfect shot. The art is in the exact center, it's level, it's square, it's in focus, and the gray card is in the shot.

Now for the actual photograph. Move the camera so the art in your viewfinder looks like the picture here. The camera is close, but not so close that the image is cut off, the camera is over the exact center of the art, the artwork appears square and level, all four edges of the art are visible, and the gray card is visible in the frame.

 

Common mistakes

photo of a poorly composed shot
Poorly composed shot. The artwork is crooked, the camera is not in the exact center of the art, and the image is blurry. This picture cannot be used to make a print.

Here's an example of what not to do. The camera is too far away, the camera is not directly over the exact center of the art, the image is blurry, and the artwork is crooked.

Regarding blurry pictures, be sure to take a couple of pictures in case one is blurry.

We have a separate page and video dedicated to getting a good, sharp print.

 

Check sharpness and adjust the white balance

screenshot of a white balance tool
Use your image editing software's "white balance" tool to click on the gray card to fix many color issues.

Once you’ve picked out the best picture, open it up in an image editing program. We recommend copying it to a desktop or laptop, because a larger screen will help you make sure the image is sharp.

Open up the image and look at it closely. Zoom in to 100%. Make sure it’s clean and sharp. Make sure that it’s square and isn’t distorted.

Now you’ll use that gray card in the shot to make sure the color is accurate.

Find the command in your image editing program that lets you adjust, or set, the white balance. This command allows you to click on a part of the image that’s supposed to be neutral gray.

When you click on the gray, the program fixes the colors in your image.

In Photoshop, the easiest way to do this is to click on Filter, then Camera Raw Filter, then click the little White Balance Tool eyedropper at the top left of the Camera Raw Filter, then click the little eyedropper in the middle of the gray card.

The goal is to get to the point where the gray card in the picture is a completely neutral gray without any color tint to it at all. That’s how you know that the white balance is correct, when the gray of the gray card looks absolutely neutral gray.

When the program corrects the gray color so it's neutral, it also corrects all the other colors, too.

When the picture looks good, click OK.

Crop the image & adjust colors

screenshot of a cropped image
Crop your image so absolutely none of the frame or the edge of the print shows.

Now you’re going to crop the image. Use the crop tool to remove the edges so all that’s left is the art. A common mistake is not completely cropping out the edges.

Double-check along all four edges of the cropped image that you can't see the edge, or the frame, of the image.

Now you’re going to compare the picture of your art on the screen with the actual art. For best results, do this in natural light, ideally on a brightly cloudy day in a room with lots of windows. As best you can, put your art next to your monitor and compare colors. Then, use your image editing program to adjust the colors so they match as closely as possible.

 
comparing the real-life art to the imaage on your screen
Compare the image on your monitor with the real art, preferably on a cloudy day in a room with lots of windows. In this picture, the image on the monitor is lighter than the actual artwork. This must be corrected.

As you can see, the image we’re looking at in our image editing program is a little light compared to the painting. We can fix that with the Levels adjustment. Most image editing programs have a “Levels” command.

 

Fix overexposure or underexposure with the Levels adjustment

closeup of the levels dialog box in photoshop
Slide the little adjustment tabs (shown in circles) to fix image exposure.

In Photoshop, go to Image, Adjustments, Levels.

See the two adjustment tabs circled in green in the picture? The left one darkens a picture that's too bright when you slide it to the right.

The right one brightens a picture that's too dark when you slide it to the left.

 
photo showing screen and actual painting looking the same
The Levels command fixed the image exposure so the screen now closely matches the painting.

We slid the left-hand levels adjustment tab (circled in the above picture), and it darkened the photo so it closely matched the real-life painting.

Continue using your image editing software's controls so that your screen matches your art as closely as possible.

 

Save the image as a maximum-quality .JPG

closeup of the jpg quality save dialog
Always save as a .JPG with the maximum quality level.

When the image on the screen looks good, it’s time to save it. When you do so, save it as a .JPG file. You’ll see a quality slider come up that gives you the option of selecting a quality level.

Make sure that you set the quality to be the very best possible, all the way over to “Maximum” or “100 out of 100”, or "Largest file size," or whatever is the best possible quality and the largest possible file size.

Use that file to upload to us, and we’ll produce extremely high quality fine art prints of your work!

 

More info

Visit our help system for lots more articles that can help you get the best-quality print.

Also, check out our YouTube channel for lots of video tutorials!

Questions? We want to help.

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