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Mastering the Print Layout Styles

Lightroom has three different print layout styles and each is designed for a different type of use case. However it isn’t always clear to all users which layout style will best suit their needs for a given project.

In the top right corner of the Print module you will find the Layout Style panel, and inside of it you can choose between Single Image/Contact Sheet, Picture Package, and Custom Package. As you select each Layout Style you will see the options in the panels on the right side, as well as the center content window, change to reflect what each of these styles has to offer. The names of the layout styles offer some clue into how each is intended to be used, but in my experience there is still a fair bit of confusion out there, so let’s see if we can put that to rest by taking a closer look at each style.

Layout Styles
Layout Styles

Single Image / Contact Sheet

The key to understanding this layout style is in the Layout panel, where you use the Margins, Page Grid, and Cell Size sections to create your layout based on a grid model where all of the photo cells you create are always the same exact size (this is where the Contact Sheet part of its name comes into play). For example, if you wanted to print a single 8 x 12 you would leave all the margins set to an equal value (this centers the print), leave Rows and Columns set to 1 each (to create a single cell), and set the Height to 8 and Width to 12.

Printing a single image.
Printing a single image.

Or, if you needed to create a contact sheet you’d increase the Rows and Columns sliders to create the desired number of cells per page and notice the Cell Size dynamically adjusts to fit the available space. You won’t be able to make the cells larger without decreasing the number of cells on the page (or using a larger paper size), but you can make them smaller by increasing the Cell Spacing or decreasing the Cell Size. Each slider affects the entire grid. In both cases you are creating a grid of cells (from one to however many will fit on a page).

Create a contact sheet.
Create a contact sheet.

The Use menu in the Toolbar, or Print > Content, tells Lightroom how to automatically populate the cells from the photos in the Filmstrip. You cannot drag and drop photos into individual cells in this layout style. If you want to change the print order you need to change the sort order of the photos in the Filmstrip.

Note: You can only do a manual sort when you are working within either a single folder or a single collection. So, if you want to sort images manually that are across a range of folders (or collections) you first need to put them into a single collection, then sort. Lightroom refers to this sort order as “User Order”. Once you are in either a subfolder or a collection, then be sure to grab the image itself, not the border, and drag and drop in the order you desire. You can do this from the Grid view of the Library module or the Filmstrip in any module.

You can create photo cells that are different aspect ratios than your source photo(s). If you want to ensure that every photo is printed without being cropped to fit the cell it is in (which means it may not print at the exact size of the cell), then uncheck Zoom to Fill in the Image Settings panel. If it is more important that each photo fit each cell completely no matter the aspect ratio, then check Zoom to Fill and Lightroom will fill the cell with the photo. With Zoom to Fill checked, you can reposition a cropped photo within a given cell by clicking and dragging the photo.

Picture Package

The purpose of this layout style is to give you an easy way to print the same photo at various different sizes, just like when you order school photos and get the same pose as an 8×10, 5×7, 4×6, and wallets. The key to understanding this layout style is in the Cells panel where you can add and adjust individual cells in the layout. Just click a button for the cell size you want to add and it will appear in the layout (you can reposition the cell by dragging to a new location in the layout).

Picture Package layout style.
Picture Package layout style.

Just like the Single Image/Contact Sheet layout style, the Use menu in the Toolbar also works here to control what photos are automatically added to the layout, so don’t try to drag and drop the photos into the cells. You can only print one photo per layout (a single layout can contain multiple pages), but you can select more than one photo to print each photo in the same layout, which is helpful if you are printing the same layout of a series of photos and want to do it all in one batch. As you increase the number of photos you include, the page count displayed in the Toolbar will increase accordingly.

The Zoom to Fill option also exists in this layout style for the same reason as I mentioned previously, but when checked you need to hold the CMD key (PC: Ctrl) while clicking and dragging to reposition the photo across all cells at once.

Custom Package

This layout style is for times when you want to print multiple different photos at different sizes in a single layout. It looks a lot like the Picture Package layout style in terms of the way the Cells panel can be used to add new photo cells at a set size to the layout, but a big difference is that you can only add photos to the cells by dragging and dropping them from the Filmstrip. You can even just drag a photo from the Filmstrip to an empty area of the layout to add it to the layout in a new cell. This is a very hands-on layout style and its flexibility can lead to some very creative layouts.

Custom Package layout style.
Custom Package layout style.

Zoom to fill doesn’t appear as an option in the Image Settings panel because it is always on. Check the Lock to Photo Aspect Ratio box in the Cells panel if you want to ensure a cell matches the exact aspect ratio of the photo within it, otherwise you can make the cell any size you want and the photo will always fill the cell. Cropped photos can be repositioned within the cell in the same manner used in the Picture Package layout style.

Print Templates

Lightroom comes preinstalled with a variety of print templates in the Template Browser under Lightroom Templates. These can be useful starting points, but it is not always clear what layout style is being used by a given template until you click on one. For example, if you click the template named (1) 4×6 you’ll see it uses Single Image/Contact Sheet, but if you click the similarly named (2) 7×5 you’re now in Picture Package. The templates that start with Custom are indeed Custom Package templates, and any with Contact Sheet in the name will employ the Single Image / Contact Sheet layout style. What I did was create 3 new folders via Print > New Template Folder, and named each folder after one of the layout styles. Now I keep my print templates organized by layout style and then try and include relevant info in the template name, and this makes my life much simpler.

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