What Is Involved in the Photo Printing Process?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 14 January 2020
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Numerous techniques are used to produce images from film, plates, and digital files. The steps of the photo printing process can depend on the original medium and which method is being used to reproduce the image, whether someone is making a single fine art print or a brochure with photographs for distribution. Each step can contain potential pitfalls that might degrade the quality of the finished image, and must be performed with care.

Image acquisition is the first stage in the photo printing process. Photographers can expose film or sensitized plates, or they may use a digital camera. It’s also possible to scan an existing photograph and create a digital file that may be used for reproductions. A historian, for example, might want to reproduce historic images in a paper or book, and may not have access to the original film or plates used to make them.

The medium used to acquire the image can dictate the next stage in the process. Film and plates, for example, need to be developed before they can be subjected to a photo printing process. This process can be automated or manual, and involves exposing specially treated paper to light that passes through the film or plate. The paper can be sent through a series of chemical baths to develop, stop, and fix a finished image. Developed film can also be used to directly produce plates for a printing press.


Digital files can be processed on a computer. Processing may include adjustments to the lighting, removal of distracting objects, and other techniques to create a finished image. This image can be printed out on a standard inkjet printer, or it can be sent for commercial printing. Using the data from the digital file, a press technician creates plates or rollers with the data and can produce high quality copies of the image. Several photo printing process methods are available for commercial printers.

Print quality for desktop and office printers can be high enough to produce excellent copies of digital files. Photographers can also use printing stations at camera stores and similar facilities. These stations use a high-quality printer with good resolution to produce clean copies from digital files selected by the photographer. For tasks like making prints to sell and creating a set of images for a physical photo album, the print quality may be sufficient. If photos need to be of higher quality or are produced on a mass scale, like headshots sent out by celebrities to their fans, a commercial photo printing process can be a better option.


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