Photoshop: Master File Creation

Question –  

From Matthew S in San Diego, CA:  

“Once you capture an image in RAW (or a 16-bit scan), what is the best way to save the image for printing purposes? Or should I convert the image to another format? I typically convert everything to a max quality JPG.  Supposedly any “lossy” degradation will be unnoticed to the eye, or so I’ve been told. But, is this the best way? I’d love to have this clarified.”  

Answer –

Before I can fully answer your question, Matt, you should review the last few “Quick Tips” that I sent out in these posts:

Once you read through these, you’ll see why saving your important final images in JPG is not such a good idea – So now let me introduce you instead to the concept of a Master File – the “best way” to prep your important images for a multitude of uses, including printing.

The chart shown above is a visual representation of a proper Photoshop workflow for your important images – notice that everything is centered around the Master File.   

 So, what is a “Master File”? It’s a 16-Bit,  un-sharpened, un-cropped, un-resized, un-flattened file – designated as such in its file name – and saved as a “lossless” TIFF.

Creating a Master File is NOT for every image: it’s for those images that you want to spend time with, doing all that’s necessary to make your image “pretty”. Here’s where you pour your artistic “blood, sweat and tears” into your image, using Photoshop as your “brush”.

Why create a Master File?

  • It’s multipurpose and consistent: From your Master File, you’re able to create files for a specific print size or printer, for the Web, for magazine output, and so on.
  • It’s easily correctable: for color, contrast, cropping, enhancements, etc. non-destructively, due to the use of Layer Masks.
  • Sharpening is applied according to your print size: Let’s say that your Master File is created from a RAW file – It might be around 11″x16.5″ – If you sharpen for this size and reduce the file to prep for a 4×6 print, it will be over-sharpened.

So, bottom line, Matt: I’d strongly suggest you NOT save your final important images as a JPG, and consider the concept of a Master File for your important images – and thanks for the great question!


John 🙂



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