Using the Lightroom Print to JPEGFeature

by Mar 22, 2021Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Using the Lightroom Print to JPEG Feature

In this tutorial, I’m going to explain how to use the Lightroom Print to JPEG feature in the Print Module. We will look at the different settings and how to use them. But importantly, we also look at why you might want to use print to JPEG. You might also know print to JPEG as print to file.

Why Use Lightroom Print to JPEG

Whilst there are many reasons why you might want to use the Lightroom Print to JPEG feature, probably the two most popular are:

  1. To add a border to an image.
  2. Prepare an image for sending to an online print service.

I’ve already published a separate tutorial explaining how to add a border to an image in Lightroom so we won’t cover that here. Instead, we will assume you want to prepare an image for sending to an online printing service.

Calibrate Your Monitor First

Typically, when editing an image, you will produce a finished photo that looks exactly how you want it to. But if you then try to print this image (using an online printing service), it’s unlikely the print will match what you see on your screen. One common cause of this problem is that your monitor may not be correctly calibrated. You should therefore ensure you calibrate your screen before going any further.

Soft Proof Your Image

Assuming your screen is now correctly calibrated, the next problem you face is that the paper and ink used by the printer will change the colours and tones in your image. This could mean that colours will appear warmer or cooler, or that tones could be darker or lighter, than the image displayed on your computer. Whilst your monitor may be correctly calibrated to show colours and tones accurately, the printing process will cause them to shift.

The solution is to alter our image to correct for these changes in colour and tone. This process is called soft proofing and ensures the colours produced by the printer match those on your computer monitor.

If you don’t know how to do this, see my tutorial explaining how to soft proof a photograph in Lightroom.

Preparing an Image for Printing

Let’s now assume that you have soft proofed your image using the ICC Profile provided by the printing company you are going to use. How does the Lightroom print to JPEG feature fit into this?

The answer to this question is that you use it to produce a JPEG file that’s optimised for printing online. This means you:

  1. Produce a JPEG format file that is relatively small and easy to upload.
  2. Ensure the image has been soft proofed so that the colours of the final print will match your screen.
  3. You have applied any necessary sharpening to the image so that it looks its best.

Contrary to what many people believe, most online print services do not soft proofing, colour correction or bespoke sharpening. Some will make automatic adjustments to images (which you may need to disable) but most of the time, you will pay extra for custom adjustments. Often, such custom adjustments aren’t even an option.

The best approach is to take control of the entire process yourself using the Lightroom print to JPEG feature.

Accessing Print to JPEG in Lightroom

At this point, we will assume that you are using a calibrated monitor and that you have correctly soft proofed your image. You are then ready to move to the Lightroom Print module by clicking the “Print” option to the top right of the interface.

Once in the Lightroom Print module, you will see the control panels on the right side of the interface. The bottom panel in this list should be “Print Job” which you can see below.

Print Job panel in the Lightroom Print Module showing the print to file option

At the top of the Print Job panel, you will see a dropdown option to control where you print to. Most of the time this is set to “Printer” so you will need to change it to the “JPEG File” option. When you do this, you will see the other controls in the panel change.

Configuring the Lightroom Print to JPEG Options

Let’s now work our way down some of the important Print Job options to understand each and what you might use them for. Here’s the top section of the panel.

Printing options when printing to a JPEG file in Lightroom

File Resolution

At the top we have the Filter Resolution (1). This determines the density of pixels in the image when printing and is measured in ppi (pixels per inch). The greater the number of pixels per inch, the greater the pixel density in the JPEG image that’s produced.

A general rule of thumb is that you need a setting of 300ppi to produce a photo quality print. You should though also check the recommended settings with the online print service you are using. When printing on some large format printers a lower file resolution may be recommended.

Print Sharpening

The Print Sharpening options (2) allow you to sharpen the image file to compensate for the image softening caused by printing. When you print an image, the ink is sprayed onto the surface of the paper where it’s absorbed. This spraying and absorption cause the ink droplets to bleed together slightly, softening the image. To compensate for this, we apply print sharpening so that the image appears sharp when printed.

When you tick the option to sharpen the image you can specify the level of sharpening to apply as Low, Medium, or High. For portraits and closeup shots of people a low setting is usually best. For images with lots of fine detail like a landscape, a high setting is better. If you’re unsure, a medium setting works well for most images.

The other important element of the sharpening is the Media Type. Here you can select the type of paper surface you are printing to. The two available options are Glossy and Matte. Typically, Matte surfaces requires more sharpening which Lightroom will automatically apply. If you are printing to a semi-gloss surface, picking the Glossy option is usually better.

JPEG Quality

You can use the JPEG Quality setting to control the level of compression in the exported JPEG file. Using a lower JPEG Quality setting will produce a smaller file size but at the same time could damage the image quality.

Providing the file size doesn’t become too large for your printing service (and your broadband is fast enough), try to use a quality setting of 90 or more. The JPEG file size produced is a little larger, but you can be sure of the quality.

Custom File Dimension

Finally, we have a “Custom File Dimension” option (4) where we can set the size of the image to produce. Earlier we looked at setting the File Resolution which works in combination with the Custom File Dimension.

When you don’t set a Custom File Dimension, the number of pixels in the image is unchanged when it’s exported to the JPEG file. All that happens is that the File Resolution is set for the image and that determines the physical print size.

But if we set a Custom File Dimension as well as a File Resolution, Lightroom will resize the image. For example, if you set a Custom File Dimension of 10” x 10” and a File Resolution of 300ppi, the JPEG produced will be 3,000 x 3,000 pixels.

As this can be a complex area, I’ve produced another tutorial to help you better understand how the file resolution and pixel dimensions translate into print sizes.

Removing Image Borders

Unfortunately, there is another problem you can encounter when setting a Custom File Dimension. You may find that you see a white border around your image and that the image doesn’t fill the “page” as seen here.

using a custom file size creates a border around an image

Here we can see a 10” x 10” print set as the file size but notice the image is a different aspect ratio. Also notice that the image sits in a square cell and that there is a border around that cell. When we print this image to a JPEG file it will produce the image with a white border around it.

I’ve found the best option when using print to JPEG is to use a custom file dimension that matches the file size I want to print. For example, if the aspect ratio of the image is 4:3 and I want an 8” print the custom file dimension would be 8” x 6”.

After applying those settings in the Print Job Panel, I remove any margins set in the Layout panel of the Lightroom Print module. It’s these margin settings that create the border around the edge of cell. I then also manually set the Cell Size to 8in x 6in in the Layout panel. Here is a screenshot showing the settings in both panels.

Print layout settings in lightroom

The key to producing an image without a border is to set all Margins to 0 and ensure the Custom File Dimensions and Cell Size match.

Colour Management Using Print to JPEG

This final section is arguably one of the most important when using an online printing service. If you don’t use the correct Colour Management settings, you could end up with very disappointing prints.

Colour Management settings for Lightroom Print to JPEG

Whilst this is an important section and may appear a little confusing, it’s also quite easy to set up. At least that’s if you did the Soft Proofing step correctly.

There are only two settings to change here which are Profile and Intent. Both relate to the settings you will have used when soft proofing. The Profile setting is the ICC colour profile the online printer recommends and is the one you should have used for the soft proofing.

When it comes to the Intent, there are only two options: Perceptual and Relative. These determine how “Out of Gamut” colours are handled and again should have been chosen as part of soft proofing. Be sure you use the same setting here.

You can read more about rendering intent in my ICC Profiles tutorial.

Print to JPEG

Having configured everything, it’s time to click the Print to File button at the bottom right of the interface. This opens a dialog where you can choose the location for the JPEG image produced.

After selecting a location to save your file to, enter the name of the file you want to create and click the Save button. Lightroom then prepares the image and “prints” the JPEG file. You can then select and print more JPEG images before uploading these to your chosen online printing service.

If you think you will use the Lightroom Print to JPEG feature in the future, consider saving your settings as a Lightroom Template. You can do this by clicking the + icon in the Template Browser panel found on the left of the Print module interface.

Saving a Lightroom Print Template

Then when you want to print another image file, you can click the template to return Lightroom to the saved settings.

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Summary

Whilst it may initially seem like a lot of work to configure the Lightroom print to JPEG option, the effort is worth it. When done correctly, the image print quality you achieve is far superior. The key points to remember are:

  1. Ensure you are using a correctly calibrated monitor.
  2. Take time to soft proof your images before printing.
  3. Configure the Print Job settings to the desired image size and quality.
  4. Remove any borders in the Layout configuration.
  5. Set the Colour Management to match the settings used when you did the soft proofing.
  6. Save the settings as a Lightroom Print Template to use again in the future.

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