Printing your own photos at home can sometimes have a disappointing result.  You may be making some mistakes that are easy to correct. Most inkjet and thermal dye printers today can print photos at drugstore quality or better with little or no work on your part. Here are tips on what to expect from your printer and how to get some of the best results possible.

  1. Choose between direct printing options. If your combination of printer and camera gives you a choice between printing directly from the camera and from memory—which includes cards and USB keys in this context—be sure to experiment with both. The two choices can yield significantly different output quality for the same file, with noticeably different colors and retention of detail based on shading in dark and light areas. It’s well worth investing a little time and effort to print several photos both ways to see how great the differences are and which one you like better.
  2. Get familiar with your printer’s auto fix feature. Most current dedicated photo printers, and some standard inkjets, include some variation of an automatic fix feature that analyzes the image and may adjust several settings at once. These may include anything from contrast, brightness, and gamma (which changes contrast differently at different levels of brightness), to automatically deciding whether to apply red-eye reduction. With most photos, these automatic fix features improve the final result, but in some cases they do more harm than good, or even undo an effect that you were trying for.
  3. Preview photos for direct printing. If your printer can print directly from memory cards, it may limit you to previewing photos by printing an index sheet or by looking at the images on a built in preview screen. If it gives you both choices however, keep in mind that there are advantages to each, and that you may want to use one or the other at any given time. Using the preview screen is faster, since you don’t have to print twice—once for the index sheet and once for the final print—and it costs less, since you don’t have to pay for ink or paper to print the index sheet. On the other hand, if you’ve taken several similar photos with minor variations in settings, for example—a trick professional photographers use to increase the odds that one of the shots has the right settings for the picture to look its best—an index sheet is the preferred approach for deciding which version to print at full size. The printed thumbnails will give you a better sense than the image of the preview screen of how colors will print in the final photo and how well details based on relatively small differences in shading will show.
  4. Get familiar with your printer’s editing features. Printers with preview screens often let you edit photos before printing. The editing choices may be limited to a few basics like cropping images or removing red-eye, or they may include options to adjust brightness and contrast, add graphics and frames that are stored in the printer, and more.  If your printer includes any editing features, they are certainly worth exploring.
  5. Don’t fix photos before you see how they really look. Keep in mind that the colors and shading that you see on screen (whether your computer screen or the printer’s preview screen) will almost never be an exact match—and are often not even close—to the printed version. For photos you care enough about to want the best possible photo with minimal work, it’s generally a good idea to do any cropping that you want first, print the photo, and then make any manual adjustments you like based on what the printed version looks like.
  6. Use paper that’s appropriate for the task. Better-quality paper yields better-quality prints, but it costs more too. If you’re printing a photo to frame and hang on a wall, by all means use the highest-quality paper available for the printer. If you’re printing a photo to post on the office bulletin board or stick under a refrigerator magnet, however, consider using plain paper, inkjet paper, or a less expensive photo paper.
  7. Experiment with different papers. The glossy finish that you’ll find on most drugstore prints and most photo paper is so common that most people don’t even consider other possibilities, but there are other choices. Some printer manufacturers don’t offer any other options, but you should check to see if there are any available for your printer. Many professional photographers prefer how photos look on matte paper, for example. You might want to try it as well.
  8. Make sure the printer is set for the paper you’re using. One printer setting deserves special attention. Make sure that the printer (for direct printing) or printer driver (for printing from a computer) is set for the type of paper you’re actually printing. More than one manufacturer has told me, based on calls to tech support, that the single most common mistake people make is not changing the paper type setting to match the paper.
  9. Print from an editing program. For the best-quality prints, move your photos to your computer and print from a photo-editing program. Photo printers aimed at professionals generally don’t offer direct printing, because professionals—and serious amateurs—know that they get much better control over basic features like cropping, resizing, and color management, as well as far more sophisticated editing tools, with a photo-editing program. With some printers, a photo-editing program will also let you print higher-resolution photos than you can when printing directly from a camera or memory card.
  10. Edit copies, not originals. Before you start editing a photo—which can mean anything from making minor tweaks, to applying special effects, to cropping the original to use only a part of it—create a copy first. That way you can return to the original if you need to. And don’t plan on editing and then saving under another name. It’s safer to create copies before you open a file to avoid accidentally overwriting it. Once you have a copy to work with, you can feel free to experiment.
  11. Avoid compression woes. Most cameras default to—or are even limited to—saving pictures in a compressed JPG format. It’s always a good idea to turn off compression (if you can) when you want the best possible photo quality. Even more important, however, is that you should never edit a compressed photo on your computer and then save it back to a compressed format. JPG is a lossy compression scheme, which means it loses information every time you save the file and recompress it. If you edit a compressed file, save it in the editor’s native format or a format like TIF, without compression, to avoid degrading the image further.
  12. Explore your printer driver. Virtually every printer’s driver offers settings that affect picture quality. The choices may be limited to choosing between good, better, and best quality, or you may be able to adjust brightness; contrast; red, green, and blue levels; and more. If you want the best possible output, it’s worth investing the time to explore your driver. At the very least, experiment with each of the quality settings to see the effect on the output quality and speed, so you can decide whether the improved output at high-quality modes is worth the extra time it takes to print.

There are other techniques for improving photo printing, but these are the most important. The more you experiment with them, the better your prints will become, and you’ll have learned a range of methods you can apply to any given situation.

Article Source: PC Mag written by David Stone

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