Photography has been transformed by digital. Thousands of images can now be saved to a $10 memory card. Hundreds of thousands can be stored on a $100 hard drive. Does printing even matter anymore? I say more so than ever!

The importance of printed photographs

The house I grew up in was full of framed photographs. Everything from black and white photos of our ancestors to portraits of the immediate family and landscape prints.

As my dad (the primary photo taker) transitioned to digital cameras, the framed print rotation slowed down and a computer hard drive started to fill up instead. Some images got posted to social media. Others might be displayed for a few seconds on a digital frame in shuffle mode.

But my favorite photos are those that were printed and framed. The ones I have walked by countless times, viewed at different angles, and appreciated from different perspectives in life. The ones I know will always be hanging on the wall whenever I visit.

Office environments are no different. A consistent display of artwork can have a powerful effect on the ambiance and remind people of the surrounding landscape.

Instagram is great, but printed photographs are still important.

The differences of printing vs digital 

Before digital cameras, most of us saw a photograph for the first time as a print. Because of calibrated printers, most prints looked the same regardless of which professional lab you used.

Now we get immediate gratification from an LCD on the back of our camera, which may look a little different than what we see on our computer monitor, which almost certainly looks different than how the image prints, especially if you’re getting those prints made at your neighborhood grocery store instead of a professional photo lab.

Making great prints requires a high-quality computer monitor that can be calibrated with tools like the Datacolor Spyder to display colors accurately and consistently. Images must be sharpened differently for paper versus digital display, and so you’ll want a nice tool like Sharpener Pro (now a free download from Google). Soft Proofing can even preview what a print will look like on different types of paper before spilling any ink.

The whole process can be intimidating at first, but with time – you will be able to confidently predict how your digital image will look once printed.

Do better than $0.19 prints from your neighborhood grocery store

It amazes me how many people buy a $1,000 digital camera and send those photos to a low-cost printer with cheap paper and random color-cast images, especially when high-quality prints are not much more expensive.

Printing at home is easier than you might think. I got a great deal (after rebate) on a Canon PIXMA PRO printer. After just a tad bit of manual calibration to adjust the brightness, it now produces professional quality prints up to 13″ x 19″. Cheaper options are available for smaller paper sizes.

Your town might also have some great local photo lab options. When I lived in Steamboat Springs, I was fortunate enough to have both the Photo Express House and  PhotoGraphicsArt using color-calibrated printers and professional paper at very decent prices. I also recommend Mpix.com and now trust them for my personal family photos and all fine art print sales.

At-home printing can also compliment the professional photo labs by running smaller proofs on your own before sending those landscapes out for large-scale printing, which can be expensive if done incorrectly.

Framing is expensive well worth the investment

Framing can cost twice as much (or more) as the print, but there is no substitute for a nicely framed photograph, especially if done with high-quality wood molding and a professional mat or linen liner to provide contrast between the frame and print. Once you invest in nice frames that match the surrounding decor, you can keep them forever while rotating the print displayed within.

DIY Framing

I was pretty intimidated by the framing process in general until photographer Rod Hanna walked me through the entire framing process. Doing the framing yourself can dramatically decrease the investment.

First and foremost is the molding. You can technically purchase this as raw materials and then pin the four sides together. But it’s much easier and not much more expensive to use a company like pictureframes.com for a fully assembled package. They even offer wood samples for each of their molding choices.

Next is the glass. I use pictureframes.com for this component as well. Technically they sell acrylic because glass is both expensive to ship and breaks easily. If you’re concerned about getting scratches in the acrylic, you can find regular glass at hobby stores or even purchase it standalone from a framing shop. Personally, I like the reduced weight of acrylic since nobody will be scratching a photo hung up on my wall.

You need to mount the photograph inside the frame and glass. For larger photographs, this is easiest if the print is adhered to foam core or similar, which also helps keep the paper perfectly flat over time and is well worth the small surcharge a photo lab will charge during printing. Smaller prints can simply be taped to the mounting paper that came with the frame.

Your photograph will look much nicer with some sort of separation between the print and the wood molding.  You can learn how to cut your own mats or order them pre-cut. Linen liners built directly into the frame molding are also very popular.

A special staple gun called a point driver is used to install those little metal tabs in the wood molding to hold the print and mounting materials in place. Paper can then be installed over the frame, mount, and points for a cleaner look, although this is not functionally necessary.

To hang on the wall, you simply install one D-loop ring on each side of the frame and run a metal wire between the two. Twist the wire back over itself quite a few times and pull tight.

The entire process is fairly simple, especially if the photo lab mounts the print to foam core and a vendor like pictureframes.com produces the frame and acrylic.

For smaller frames, you can pick up inexpensive kits from places like Hobby Lobby that include the molding, glass, mat, and hanger. These will often accept a 12″ x 18″ print or smaller.

The Result

Large or small, custom or packaged, I’m a big fan of getting your photographs off the hard drive and onto the wall. Ideally displayed within a quality frame on professional paper, but even taped or tracked to the wall beats an image burried on your hard drive!