This is a common question, and I have a pretty simple answer. First, it is important to have a calibrated and profiled monitor (a.k.a. display). Without going too far into that topic, the next step I recommend is to use a “target,” or test image, as a benchmark to help determine whether your monitor is displaying images properly. By printing out the target on different days and possibly on different papers, such as gloss, luster and metallic, you’ll be able to compare them side-by-side. You’ll also see whether there are significant changes from day to day.
The following 4×6-inch test file can be downloaded at the link below:
The file contains color and black and white images sized to 280PPI on a 4×6 canvas and saved with the sRGB working space.
You should then save the file as a JPG file (quality 9, 10, 11 or 12 is recommended-12 is best, but will create a larger file) and send the target image to your lab to print.
Because this tip is primarily for continuous-tone printers like those found in professional photo labs, the file is in the sRGB working space and Photoshop PSD format. Saving a JPG on top of a JPG is a no-no because you will keep introducing more artifacts as you save a JPG on top of a JPG. The image includes some text, which also helps to judge the sharpness of the lab’s output.
Note: It is very important to instruct your lab to turn off any color correction, or you won’t be able to properly control the color and density of your prints!
I have a similar file here with the same test image in AdobeRGB color space, which is ideal for inkjet printer testing.