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How to Edit Photos of People for Digital Newspapers

How to edit photos of people for digital newspapers

We print all sorts of designs every day at Newspaper Club, and our poor presses have all manner of fine patterns and delicate lines to contend with every day. However. One of the things we continue to struggle with the most is accurately reproducing images of humans.

The problem with printing people is that we all know very well what a person looks like, and what range of colours we think of as "normal" flesh tones. As a result, the tiny colour inconsistencies that you maybe wouldn't notice on say, a picture of a kettle, seem suddenly so huge when viewed in the face of a person.

I printed a newspaper at the end of last year as a present, filled with photos of my last year. I couldn't get the result quite right the first time, so I came back and tried to improve the results. (n.b. these images are all of Caucasians but the same advice does apply to all skin tones).

Here's an image I wasn't happy with from my first print. The image I sent to print is on the left, and the printed image is on the right:


You can see the original image looked pretty good. A little bit red, but it's not so noticeable on a bright, backlit computer screen. The printed image is a little bit more lobster-y. This is because our print process adds some extra magenta ink into the mix to try to make the dark areas darker. You see how the black bits on my t-shirt aren't really a proper black? That's because it's hard to get a really deep, dark colour in printing, and it's why we add the extra magenta in the first place – it makes everything a bit richer looking. The downside to this is my poor sunburnt face.

So how can I make this better? It's quite simple actually - just by removing some of the redness from the photograph.

Here's my adjusted image, and the new print. The image I sent to print is on the left, and the printed image is on the right:

There are pros and cons to this – the background is now very pale because it's too subtle to be printed. But the image of the person, which was the focus of this print, is much better – there's much more definition in the face.

How to make your images less red

Firstly, please note this advice is just for digital printing – traditional printing doesn't boost magenta levels to improve the appearance of blacks.

I use GIMP to edit my photography (it's free and does almost everything that Photoshop does, except did I mention that it's FREE) but you can use any other piece of photo editing software – the controls will be broadly similar.

GIMP doesn't support CMYK colours, so I'm working with these images in RGB. This is not a problem at all for working with photography before printing - you can let your publishing software convert the colours to CMYK for you when you export the final PDF.

First of all I opened up the Hue/Saturation dialogue, and selected just the reds in the image from the dialogue.

Then I reduced the saturation of the reds by just moving the saturation slider. This image was really red so I reduced them quite a lot!

I hit ok, and opened up the levels dialogue. You can use this to increase the contrast in your image. Very dark areas and very pale areas don't have so much detail in print, so I dragged the black arrow across to the first noticeable peak to make the blacks blacker, and did the same with the white to make the whites whiter. I then moved the grey arrow across towards the left to make the midtones in the image a bit paler, so the details will stand out more.

Further examples

Here are some other images from the same newspaper I've tried to improve.

bier22This image had lots of detail onscreen that completely disappeared in print. Printing newspapers just isn't great for dark images like this.

For photos like this boosting the contrast more to make the mid tones a lot paler can help to make details stand out.

This image was really red in print – much more than I expected. When you look closely at the first photo again you can see how orange it looks. A little tweaking to desaturate the red in the image and the final result was much better.

The sunset in this image was a little bit too intense in my first print so I really knocked back the reds in the image.

This image now looks much calmer, but with hindsight I maybe preferred the first image after all!

Sometimes it's good to just embrace your inner lobsters.

For any questions about printing colours in your newspaper, please get in touch with us at and we will try our best to help.

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