How To Prepare Your Images For Display?

Have you ever wanted to print your photos and see them hanging on gallery walls for an exhibition?

Let me answer for you,“YES!”

If you’re a photographer, you must have had the desire, at some point, to print and display your work.

If not, then you will. Give it time!

Whether it is for exhibition in a gallery, or to hang on your own wall or local community center, you want to present your work in the best way possible, treating it as the piece of art it is.

But displaying your printed work can sometimes result in a lot of angst, due to problems printing, decisions with regards to matting and framing, and finally, lighting.

Do not worry, here is a detailed explanation of how to do it:

Calibrate Your Monitor

Before you even choose which route to take in terms of printing your images, you have to overcome the biggest issue facing photographers today – Monitor Calibration.

The settings that you apply to your computer screen can drastically affect the look of your photograph on it. While you may have edited the image to look fine onscreen when you go to print it, there is a very good chance your printed output will look nothing like what you saw when editing.

To solve that issue, you have to match your screen to a known standard. One that sets the color and brightness so that what you see on screen will translate to what comes back from the photo lab, or out of your printer.

In case you do not know how to calibrate your monitor, learn it here.

Print Type

If you plan to display one or many of your photographs, the first thing you need to do is have it printed. There are several options available, and while none are wrong, some are better than others.

The simplest option, in terms of work for you, is to use a photo lab or print service.

If you like more control, you can choose to print the images yourself on your own photo quality inkjet printer. Even then, there are things to consider.

There are two main printing methods prevalent today, depending on where you go for your prints of digital images:

Vintage C-Print (left); Inkjet Print (right)

Inkjet prints:

Inkjet printer inks fall are of two categories; pigment or dye-based inks. Pigment inks are made of tiny particles that sit on top of the paper, while dye-based inks are absorbed into the paper.

Pigment inks can last up to 200 years or more in the proper conditions (under museum-quality lighting and framing). They are more expensive but also suffer two main drawbacks. First, pigment based inks can suffer from metamerism, which appears as a shift in the color when viewing the print at an angle. The second drawback is that pigment-based inks are not as vibrant as dye-based ones.

Dye-based inks tend to fade more quickly, though some are rated to last up to 75 years or more in proper conditions.

Professional printers will usually use pigment-based inks.

Digital C-Print (Lightjet):

This method of printing involves using a laser to expose chromogenic paper, which is then processed in chemicals, similar to a traditional photographic print.

It’s a continuous tone print, unlike inkjet which produces tiny dots of ink on the paper to create the image. The laser produces true photographic quality with continuous gradations and tones.

Kodak Endura and Fuji Crystal Archive are the two most popular papers used in this process, and both produce archival prints that will last up to 200 years under proper conditions.

Choosing a Lab

Labs offer some decided advantages over printing images yourself.

When choosing a lab, you want to find one with a reputation for good quality control and customer service. I’ve found getting recommendations from other photographers to be incredibly helpful when looking for a lab.


Other things you’ll want to consider are their products. Do they print using the method you want? Do they offer the sizes you want? Do they print on media other than photo paper, such as canvas, acrylic, or metal? What kinds of finishing options do they offer? Is the canvas gallery wrapped? Do they offer mounting or framing? Do you want or need those services?

Answer those questions, knowing what you want or need, and that should give you a good answer as to whether the lab will fulfill your needs.

Print Display

If you choose to go with a print on metal, acrylic, or canvas, once the print is made, you probably won’t have much else to do. These options are generally finished and require no framing, though a decorative frame can be added to canvas if desired. If you’ve printed on paper, you still have a little work to do.

Paper prints, to be properly displayed, need to be matted and framed.


You can find various qualities of mat board, using terms such as “Buffered pH Neutral” or “Acid-Free”. These are basically the same thing, meaning the acid has been removed from the paper to avoid harming the prints.

Acid-free mats have a protective lifespan of about 7-12 years.

The next grade of mat board is known as “conservation grade acid-free” or sometimes “museum rag”, which is what you’d want to use for a serious art display in a gallery. In addition to removing the acid, another component harmful to paper, called lignin, is also removed from the mat board.

Conservation mats that are acid and lignin free have a protective lifespan of 50 years or more. Conservation grade mats are more expensive than simple acid-free ones.

Which type of mat should you choose? It really depends on your purpose. If you’re planning to display the print as art in a gallery and possibly for sale, conservation grade mats are the best choice. This helps add value to the print by preserving it and lets the buyer know you are serious about your work and their potential investment in it.

If the use of the print is a temporary display that won’t be for sale, you can certainly save some money and go with a simple acid-free mat.


Framing prints can present you with some difficult choices, depending on where the print will be hanging. Since you never know where someone may hang a print, I suggest a simple, understated black frame, that lets the image breathe and speak for itself.

One of the big mistakes is framing your work in overly ornate or colorful frames. When an art buyer purchases a new piece of art, if it is framed already, that frame becomes part of the consideration. By keeping the frame simple and understated, it allows the buyer to view the art neutrally without considering the frame.

If you want to get really serious about the frames you use, you’ll want to use museum quality framing. Museum quality framing includes UV filtered glass to reduce the UV rays from the sun that are a print’s worst enemy and keep it from fading. It should include conservation matting as described above and will have a final layer of archival backing to further protect the print.

Sign Your Prints

As with any artwork, you should always, without fail, sign your images.

Signing your images signifies that you created the image, personally took responsibility for it from capture to print. This adds value for art collectors.

I personally feel that always the print should be signed, and never the mat as it can be removed, and thus, so can your signature.

Choose either the bottom left or bottom right corner and sign your prints with a neat, clear signature that identifies the image as your own.

Again, you’ll want to use archival ink that won’t harm the print, in a color that will stand out.

For darker prints, silver or gold metallic works nicely, while for lighter colored prints, a black ink will suffice.

Your photos are meant to be seen, not just take up space on a hard drive! So take these tips and start showing your images off.

What are your favorite tips for displaying photos? Please do let us know by commenting below.

[via DigitalPhotographySchool] [Cc: MrMusicHead]

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