Tag Archives: digital negative

Printing Digital Images – matching image and print sizes

Sizing your Photographic prints from digital images

Ever lost part of an image when you had prints made?  Wondered why?

One of the challenges you may face when printing digital images is getting the right size print from the original image file.  Many (most?) digital cameras have an image sensor that captures images at a 2:3 ratio.  What this means is that one side of the RAW image is typically 1.5 times the other side.  How does this impact prints?  If you want a 4×6 print (or some even multiple of the 2:3 ratio like 8×12, 16×24, etc.) then you will get a ‘full frame’ image.  If you want an 8×10 print then some cropping will occur (you will have to discard ~17% of the original image, usually from the top and bottom and/or sides.)

The photographic film print business relied on standard sized prints for years (and most of us are already accustomed to these print & frame sizes) but the arrival of digital images is both creating new print sizes as well as bringing some possible confusion into the mix.  Since most prints are destined for framing (esp. larger prints) then it makes some sense to simplify the matching of print to frame by using standard sizes for both images and frame mats.  Some terms:

  • Full frame image:  all of the image data is used
  • Cropped image: only parts of the image data is used
  • Print image size: what are the actual dimensions of the printed image vs the dimensions of the paper on which the image is printed; sometimes these are the same

Standard frame sizes usually include standard mat openings – when you print then you need to consider the size of the opening (unless you intend to cut a custom mat for each print – lots of work.)  It is simpler to use standard sized prints for standard sized mat openings.  In general you should subtract .5″ from each side of the print size to reach a mat size that will cover your print & paper size.  Note that by including/adding an empty border to your print you have additional control/options for the size of the image.

Pre-cut Mat

Mat Opening

Size of Print Area

Print Paper Size **

















** Print paper sizes will vary for custom prints; print paper size for commercial prints is usually the same as the print size, i.e. the image size of a full-frame 4×6 print is 4×6.  It is common to print with large borders on ink-jet papers, i.e. an 8×10 image on 11×14 paper would have 1.5″ left and right borders with 2″ top and bottom borders.  For large prints this allows space for an artist signature or other print-related information.

My solution when printing from Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is to increase the print size by 0.15″ based on the mat window opening.  So if the frame label in the store has a description like, ” 8 x 10 frame matted to 5 x 7″ I will:

  • start by cropping my original image to closely match my  destination print size, i.e. crop to 5×7 when printing 5×7, crop to 8×10 when printing 8×10, etc.)
  • size my print image layout to 5.15 x 7.15″ (or 8.15 x 10.15 when printing an 8×10)
  • select the ‘zoom to fill’ option (you will only ‘lose’ a very small portion of your image)
  • print on 8.5×11 photo paper
  • after printing, I will remove (cut) 0.25″ from each side of the print as well as removing 0.50″ from the top and bottom (make the print fit into the 8×10 frame.)
Image Print-SIZE & Matt Opening
Pre-cut Mat Mat Opening Size of Print Area Print Paper Size **
8×10 5×7 5.15 x 7.15 8.5×11
11×14 8×10 8.15 x 10.15 8.5×11
12×16 8×12 8.15 x 12.15 11×14
16×20 11×14 11.15 x 14.15 13×19

How does print size impact Image Capture & Editing?

As a photographer I consider the possible cropping scenarios when I capture images.  When working with a group I may add a fudge factor when framing the image in the camera (i.e. allow some space on the sides of the image so that a standard sized print can be easily cropped from the image.)  When I am preparing images for delivery to clients I may also crop the the images to standard sizes (i.e. creating full-frame image sizes of 5×7 or 8×10.)

NEF – Nikon RAW vs JPEG files

I recently posted the query below to the Nikon Discussion List (a list with quite a number of experienced Nikon users; the list offers email, web or RSS interfaces):

I tried searching for this with no luck. After reviewing the manuals for my Nikon gear (D200 & 8800) and some experimenting I am just looking for confirmation.

Based on the manuals, if you select many of the in-camera image ‘optimization’ (i.e. D200 Optimize image: Normal, softer, vivid, more vivid, custom,etc.) settings (at least for the camera models above) then the in-camera enhancements are limited by file types – I am looking for confirmation that:

– RAW files – are *never* tweaked/adjusted by such settings? (i.e. .NEF files are always ~equivalent to film negatives – simply reflecting basiccamera settings from the capture, ie.. ISO, shutter, aperture, WB, etc.)

– does the JPEG embedded preview embedded in the RAW file reflect ‘optimized’ settings?

– only JPEG/Tiff/other? file types are affected by such settings?

– something else/additional info on this?

For many photo sessions I will shoot RAW+JPEG (currently using ALR, CSx/Bridge.) I have seen web postings that indicate that only Nikon software will properly render these optimizations from RAW files?


My summary from the responses (which confirmed what I thought about Nikon NEF/JPEG generated files):

1) NEF (RAW) Nikon files are not directly affected by in-camera optimization settings (at least for relatively recent Digital cameras from Nikon.)

2) JPEG images do reflect in-camera ‘enhancement’ options (saturation, hue, sharpness, other image ‘quality’ options that you can configure using camera settings); the in-camera processing will apply these changes as the files are saved to storage.

3) A guess – each NEF (RAW) file includes an embedded JPEG preview image – I am guessing that this embedded image also reflects optimized settings – can anyone confirm?

Also, for standard camera settings, NEFS & JPEGS contain the same EXIF data for ISO, aperture, shutter speed, etc.

If you shoot ‘optimized JPEG’ + RAW then you may get ‘double goodness’ – at least that’s how I see it; I can have a very close to ready-to-use JPEG without too much editing and the the RAW file is available if needed. Note that the options for RAW+JPEG may vary between camera models – in some instances you have to choose between RAW or optimized JPEG (i.e. older model Coolpix like the 8800.)

An additional note – I previuosly found that some image editing software will alter RAW files (i.e. tinker with your negative!) and this includes prior versions of Nikon software – which would update the embedded JPEG in NEF files (not sure if current versions do this); just something to consider before you start editing your RAW files.   Newer versions of digital photo editing software tend to treat (or give you an option to treat) your RAW or JPEG files as negatives – no changes are made to the file; instead instruction ‘sets’ are created and a new image is ‘rendered’ by the software (i.e. Adobe Lightroom 2 and Adobe Photoshop CS4.)   If there is any doubt about this or if you are concerned about having your negatives auto-adjusted then simply create a backup BEFORE doing any editing.   If you use some of the auto-import features then there is also a chance that these tools may be altering your negatives…

Note that when you print an image you are NOT printing the RAW (.nef) file – you are printing an image that your software converts from the RAW format to either JPEG or some other, non-RAW format (i.e. .PSD, .TIFF, .BMP, etc.)  You may also be interested in my post about ink-jet Photo Printing using Adobe products.