Print Rights Vs. Copyrights

I commonly see confusion out there when it comes to understanding the world of copyright and printing rights, and no wonder, it’s a confusing topic for most people! So today, I’m here to lay it all out for you.

What really is the difference between printing rights and copyrights?

Print Rights

Well for starters, let’s talk about print rights! Printing rights are either purchased separately from the photographer, or included in the session package. They give you the right to print as many copies of your images as you’d like, without purchasing prints through your photographer. This mean that you can print your images through consumer labs at places like Shutterfly, Costco, etc, as well as printing albums, wall art, and the like. This is a great option for couples who are on a tight budget and can’t at necessarily afford to have tons of prints done but you know you will want to have many of the images printed.

The downside with choosing to purchase a print release is that the photographer cannot guarantee that the file they give you will look the same when it is printed at a consumer lab. This is because we photographers spend a good amount of time properly calibrating our editing monitors so that they match the color profile at our chosen professional lab, this ensures that the colors in a printed image are the same as the original file. Since each lab calibrates their printers differently, skin tones, whites, and other colors may appear to have a more pink, orange, green, or blue tint to them.

In addition to the color profile issues, many consumer labs do not give you an option to print without their “Color Correction”. This is usually meant to enhance the look of photos from phones and point and shoot cameras that have not been edited, but when layered over the top of a professionally edited image, it can change the overall look of the photo and leave it looking overprocessed. This can be a frustrating issue as when you send the image to print the lab will go ahead and change the color tones and all of the hard work that we have spend into getting the edits on each photo just right! Clients hire me for my experience as well as my particular way of photographing the world, so why risk printing with a consumer lab and having the photos not turn out the way they were intended to?

Another reason to choose to work with your photographer for your prints is the quality of the print. We all have photos that we took to Walgreens or the local print shop to be printed as kids, and if you dig through those boxes of old photos, not only will you find that you’ve often printed far too many to ever do anything with, but also that the prints have significantly deteriorated over time! The quality of the paper and inks that are used in the production of the prints have a huge impact on the lifespan of the image and how well it holds up over time, as well as the clarity of the image.

Professional labs use high-quality inks and archival quality papers so that your precious photos can be passed down to future generations and appreciated.


Moving on to Copyrights, heads up, this is where it tends to get a bit more confusing! When you are hiring an artist to create a work for you, you may own a copy of the art piece, but you do not own the copyright, this stays with the original artist. This copyright allows the original creator to share their work in their portfolio, their advertising, and allows them to decide how the work is shared. For example, requiring posters to credit the original artist when they share online, requiring sharing on social media to have watermarks, etc.

A great example of when a photographer would consider selling the copyrights to images would be if a corporate company wanted to do a session of photos for their marketing department to promote the company with. If they are looking to use those photos in advertising for commercial gain, then they would need approval or copyrights from the photographer in order to use that photo in advertisements. If it’s a one-time use, then the photographer might simply charge a surcharge on top of their normal rate, or if the images are intended to be used multiple times for many different campaigns, they might wish to have unlimited use of the images for creating different advertisements. In which case, they might make an offer to purchase the copyrights for the original image, however, purchasing copyrights is usually a significant financial investment, as the original creator no longer has any say about how the image is used. This can be a big risk for a photographer, as poor crops, filters added on top of editing, and odd effects can grossly misrepresent the original artists work and their brand to others, and thereby damage the value of their brand.

If privacy is your concern, and you simply don’t want to have your photos anywhere on social media, you can bring this up with your photographer, and you can usually come to an agreement with them to not share the images publicly, without needing copyright ownership. I’ve gone ahead and created few lists to help you keep the differences straight, check back for this list whenever you need a quick refresher!

Usage Rights

  • Ability to share files with family and friends, and on all forms of social media.

  • Not allowed to edit, add filters, or crop images. (The exception usually being Instagrams 4:5 crop ratio for vertical photos)

  • Not allowed to enter the photo into competitions, or for commercial gain without permission

  • Printing through photographer + their professional lab for best quality prints.

Print Rights

  • Unlimited use of the digital images for printing at professional or consumer labs to print digital files that you have in any form. (Prints, albums, wall art, calandras, blankets, t-shirts, etc.)

  • Ability to share files with family and friends, and on all forms of social media.

  • Not allowed to edit, add filters, or crop images. (The exception usually being Instagrams 4:5 crop ratio for vertical photos)

  • Not allowed to enter the photo into competitions, or for commercial gain without permission.


  • Full rights to share the photo, use in portfolio, marketing, competitions.

  • Allowed to edit, add filters, and crop images.

  • Decides requirements for how images can be shared.

  • Can allow or restrict commercial use of image.

I hope this was a helpful rundown for you folks on the differences between copyright and print rights. Usually once the difference is explained, clients realize they don’t need the copyrights, and rarely need printing rights for their images. I’d love to hear about any questions that y’all have about the photography industry and anything that you’d like to learn more about it, so make sure to leave your questions in the comments!