When a photographer wants their photos to look a certain way, they will often send in something for the lab to match. I want to share some valuable tips to get the best match you can.

1. Send in a physical print – not a digital file.

reason – the file you see on your monitor may not match the monitor of your lab resulting in a non-match.

2. If possible send in a print that is printed in the same department on the same printer the final prints will be printed on. (say that 5 times fast).

reason – every printer has a different profile and color processing algorithm. It may be possible to match the greens but not the reds, or blues but not the greens, or match the skin tones but not the shadow areas, etc… In addition, some labs use different paper types or color profiles in different departments which will also cause matching problems.

3. If you can’t print the guide at the same lab, try to print it through any lab (don’t print it yourself).

reason – it is easier to match a print when there are fewer variables. Matching photographic paper to photographic paper is easier than matching to inkjet paper (usually)

4. Try to get the guide on the same brand and type of paper as the final print.

reason – once again fewer variables. It is easier to match kodak paper to a kodak guide and fuji paper to a fuji guide.

5. If you must use an ink jet or laser printer for a guide, use photo paper not plain paper.

reason – photographic inkjet paper has many more characteristics in common with silver halide based photographic paper (the stuff photo labs print on). Less variables the better.

6. Objects other than guide prints may require some sort of digital art for the best color possible.

reason – cameras don’t always catch the light reflected from fabrics the same way skin tones do. This can result in off color fabrics. Without digitally correcting the fabric color the skin tones may look very funky (this is a technical term). If you don’t want or can’t do the corrections yourself (no photoshop skills or too many to photoshop) or don’t want to pay the lab to do them or your lab doesn’t offer this service, understand that the colors may not match and you will have to sacrifice those beautiful brides gown colors or the skintones of the women wearing them.

7. If you are printing from negatives, make sure the final output will match the guide printing method.

reason – Once again, I can’t stress reducing variables. Scanned film printed on a digital printer (using lasers or leds) should have the guide printed with the same printer. Film that is to be printed traditionally by shining light through the negative should have both the guide and final print printed in this method. Scanners usually do not match the color characteristics of traditional photo paper and will often require extensive efforts to get even moderately close.

These are the main recommendations to get the best match possible from your color guides.