Saving Images For Print in Photoshop

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One of the questions I get asked (a lot) is how do you go about saving images for print in Photoshop? This is very common task, but the results can be a bit of a shock if you don’t do a bit of work before saving out your file. There is more to it than just going to the Image > Mode > CMYK Color option and you can get pleasing results fairly easily and quickly.

My Workflow When Saving Images For Print in Photoshop

CMYK has a much smaller range of available colours than the RGB colour space. Generally, the colours are darker or ‘flatter’ too and this is the main reason why printed images leave people slightly disappointed with their printed images. (There is an article about Colour Space on Wikipedia that illustrates this if you want more information.) If you convert the images in advance and adjust the ‘problem’ colours, you can have more control over the final results, so it is a good idea to prepare your images before sending them out to a commercial printer.

If I know I am going to use an image for both print and for RGB/online, this is my workflow:

Before starting, make sure your Colour Settings have been set in Adobe Bridge and are synchronized across the Creative Suite/Cloud. Do this in Bridge by going to the Edit menu and choosing Colour Settings. I use the Europe General Purpose 2 option which disables profile warnings. Use one that suits your workflow and location. (I am often saving images for print and online too, so this setting suits me.)

Colour Settings in Adobe Bridge
  1. Open your image and save the image as a copy – usually with something in the file name to tell you it is CMYK or in a folder that has only CMYK images in. You don’t want to lose or permanently alter your original file!
  2. If the image is RGB, go to the View menu and switch on the Gamut Warning (cmd + shift + y). This will turn sections of your image grey and shows you which colours fall outside of the CMYK printable range.
    saving images for print in photoshop
  3. While you are in the View menu, check to make sure your Proof Setup is either set to Working CMYK or to to a device your printer has advised. This can be changed and set by choosing the Custom option and selecting a colour profile if one has been supplied (and installed) from your printer. You can ‘soft proof’ or get an onscreen simulation of the end results by checking the paper colour/black ink boxes.
    working cmyk colour space in photoshop
    custom proof setup in photoshop
  4. Use Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to shift the out-of-gamut colours closer to where you want them. With the Hue/Sat you can pick the individual colour ranges and then use the eye dropper to click directly on the grey, out-of-gamut areas. Adjust the sliders and watch the greys disappear.
    change specific colours in photoshop when saving images for print
  5. Once all (or as many as possible) of the colours are in range, you can switch off the gamut warning. I usually find that trying to bring back brightness with Levels/Curves is pointless, because the Hue/Saturation uses these as it recalibrates your colours.
  6. Go to Image > Mode and select the CMYK colour option. You will get a warning dialogue telling you that some adjustment layers will be discarded. This is fine, just click the Flatten button and your adjustments will be included. Now switch the Gamut Warning back on and see if you can use curves or levels to brighten the image a little and still keep it within range.
  7. Finally, save your image. If the printer is requesting a PDF with crop and bleed – see this video tutorial for how to do that in Photoshop.

If you want to have the most consistency between your printed on online images, you can now convert back to RGB and save out a version to be used in the RGB colour space.

I’m sure there are plenty of other things print professionals do when they are creating or saving images for print, but this is the workflow I have been using for years with the best results.

I would be glad to have input in the comments below from anyone else wanting to share their advice on this topic.

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