10 steps to getting the job done right--the first time!
3. Set Your Color Space
Normally, we recommend setting your digital camera to the Adobe RGB color space (if supported) to help capture images with better color fidelity and a wider color gamut than the default sRGB space. Adobe RGB is the best setting for most photographers (although some prefer Wide Gamut RGB) when using Adobe Photoshop CS2 and inkjet printers with six or more color inks.
However, most digital minilabs are set to receive images that have been stored and manipulated by programs using the narrower sRGB color space (based on the color gamut of older Mac and PC monitors). So if you send images that were retouched in Photoshop and tagged as Adobe RGB, your prints will probably be one or two stops too dark, with muted colors. Since we had you turn off the autofix engine in Step 2, the minilab's auto exposure correction won't help, and even if it did, the results would be subpar.
To avoid this problem, set your color-managed imaging program to the sRGB working color space before opening digital photos. A warning should appear if you try to open images previously corrected in, or saved using a camera set to, the Adobe RGB working space. In the pop-up window, choose to convert the images to the working sRGB color space. Later, after retouching or cropping, save the images under different file names (so you don't write over the originals), and be sure not to select the "Embed Color Profile: sRGB" in Photoshop's JPEG dialog. With some digital labs and kiosks, tagged images can't be opened or don't even appear in their designated folders.
4. Do Your Homework
Before handing your photos to a local or online lab, spend time fixing them up. This should be easier now that you're working on a calibrated monitor. Try to remove any apparent color casts, tweak contrast to your liking, and apply mild amounts of sharpening as needed. Also, zoom in to 100% and look for any dust specs that might show up on your prints (especially enlargements), but don't spend too much time retouching fine details if you're only ordering a 4x6-inch print.
Some online labs offer free, downloadable retouching programs. They might not have all the sophistication of a program like Photoshop, but they could streamline fixing problems such as redeye or minor over- and underexposure. Just beware of the sharpening tools in free or online imaging programs-they tend to oversharpen.
5. Get Creative at Home
Your ability to create artistic borders and special effects is much greater when working from an imaging program at home. Most of the borders and special effects offered online or at photo kiosks are gimmicky, so only use them as a last resort. If you are adding creative borders to your prints, just realize that, if you select borderless prints, some of your creative border edges might be cropped.
On your home or office system, you'll also have greater text control (including text wraps, shadows, and colors) and a wider choice of fonts for adding messages or even watermarked copyright notices to your images. If you are adding text in Photoshop or any program that uses layers, make sure you rasterize the text and flatten the image file before saving the image.