Magazine Article


Are You Getting Optimal Output from Your Lab?


How to Get Glorious Results
From Your Pro Lab

Obvious & Often Overlooked Ways to Help Your Lab Help You


CPQ was a newcomer in the digital arena when I joined in 1996. A lot of the information we have today was in the formative stages back then. At times we stumbled into some of our best solutions. As we navigated the initial learning curve, we had to learn to integrate what we were doing with digital into the overall lab environment.

As it turns out, most of what we do now has a parallel in the traditional optical side of the lab. Personnel who have come over to the digital area have been able to quickly grasp the concept because it's essentially the same.

Growing pains? Oh, yeah, we've had them. Just as you sometimes need to upgrade your equipment, so do we-better printers that allow us to make bigger, better prints, with newer software to make them go.

Maybe you've been apprehensive about "going digital" or maybe you've dived right in and now have questions. You want your pictures, and we want to print them-and we both want images your clients will be happy to receive.

From the vantage point of a pro lab, where we see the same sort of issues pop up day in and day out, there are some practical suggestions we can offer to help your lab help you get the photos you want.

Some suggestions may seem obvious, but they're often overlooked and worthwhile repeating:

  • Give clear, complete instructions
  • Avoid unusual characters in file names
  • Send text files with your images
  • Calibrate your monitor
  • Don't resize your files
  • Check your retouching at 100 percent
  • Avoid digital negs, go for a CD
  • Keep your stuff clean
  • Let your lab scan for you
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help

Give Clear, Complete Instructions
The first and best way to get what you want is to let your lab know. While this may seem obvious, a large number of orders come in without instructions. Sometimes the instructions are there, but are subject to interpretation. Other times the instructions are in several places, where they can be overlooked. All too often we have to open a disk and look for instructions, and many times it isn't clear what is being ordered, or how many. Give your lab clear, typewritten instructions, and they'll love you for it.

One of my favorite examples is a client who sent along several pages of instructions for Memory Mates and Trader Cards. The instructions had one column for the frame number, as he had numbered them on his disk; a column describing the subject, including jersey numbers and colors; one with the subject's name, one for the team name, and one for the products that frame would have printed, with quantities of each. This approach leaves no room for misinterpretation, and it's easy to check after the prints are made.

Also, since we sometimes cross platforms to open files, the names of your files may be truncated if they contain more than eight characters.

If you have included the size and quantities in your file names, that information may get lost. You can easily avoid this by providing a hard copy list of what you are sending, and what you want from those files.

Avoid Unusual Characters in File Names
Some unusual characters represent commands in the printing software, which may cause those files to be skipped over and removed from the run queue. Be sure to avoid those characters in your file names.

Send Text Files With Your Images
If you're sending your files to your lab via FTP, please include a text file with your images. The preferred text file is Notepad (PC) or Simple Text (Mac), rather than Word or Excel.

Calibrate Your Monitor
The limitations of color within an image are usually dictated by the exposure at the moment of capture, so be extra careful. It's true that you can improve the outcome with some manipulation software, but you'll usually find you're limited by what's in your image at capture time. If you're after a specific look in your color, feel free to provide your lab with a match print and label it as such.

If you're doing your own retouching, your monitor must be calibrated. It's quick and easy to do. Calibration kits are free; ask your lab for one or purchase one on your own. It makes life easier for you and us.

Don't Resize Your Files
Shooting with a digital camera will typically give you files that can produce up to 24x30 prints with no loss of quality. Capture the largest files possible, but don't resize them. Interpolation should occur only once, and that's through printing software. Interpolating through image manipulation software is a sure bet for those dreaded "jaggies" in your prints. Sharpening, too, should only be applied through printing software.

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