Do you try to get great prints from your photos, but somehow the prints don’t end up looking as good as the version you see on your computer screen?
This is a really common problem, and it’s frustrating when you spend ages getting your photo to look great, only to waste reams of expensive photo paper and printer ink trying to make a high-quality print.
There are a variety of reasons why prints go wrong, but you can improve your chances of success by following a few simple guidelines. Whether you’re printing off your precious memories for a family photo book, or trying to create a business brochure, following the tips below will help set you up for printing success.
Calibrate Your Monitor
This is one of the biggest steps you can take to ensure your prints come out looking true to the screen version.
If you edit your images on an uncalibrated monitor that may be too bright, or too dark, or might have colors that are tonally incorrect, you will not notice any differences until you come to print. The printer and monitor are showing you two different things because they are not working off the same colour and brightness parameters.
A monitor calibrating kit will evaluate and adjust your monitor’s colour and brightness settings to bring them to what they should be, so when you print, you get the same hues and tones as the image on your screen. Using one only takes around 5 to 10 minutes, and it changes the settings automatically, so all you do is plug it in and sit back until the job is done. You do have to re-calibrate your monitor every month or so for best results, but what’s 5 minutes once a month?
You can buy easy to set up and use monitor calibrators like those in the ranges of Spyder or ColorMunki, but they cost around $170 so are not a cheap option. You can try to calibrate your monitor yourself using the monitor settings menu, but it’s not as accurate as a monitor calibrator. You’ll have to decide if the cost of a calibrator is worth it to you, but in my experience they are invaluable.
Choosing a Printer
Choosing the right photo printer depends on your budget and what kind of print quality you need. If you want to print family photos or your business is mostly photo based and speed isn’t an issue, an inkjet printer is the way to go.
General purpose inkjets can print photos at about the same level of quality as an online photo development site. If you want higher quality than that, you need to look for a dedicated photo printer or a near-dedicated photo printer rather than a general purpose one. These dedicated photo printers come at a much higher price tag, as they’re aimed at serious photographers. The print quality is as good as that you’ll get from specialist photo labs, and they can handle different types of photo paper such as fine art papers.
General Purpose Inkjet Printers
The print quality of inkjet printers has improved massively over the years, and they are great for printing photos. They do a better job than laser printers of blending the inks smoothly, and you can buy special photo inks and papers.
Speed is still an issue with inkjets, so look for models that offer a laser quality print speed if that’s a necessity for you. Inkjets have had problems with printing crisp, black text on plain paper, so if you need quality text as well as photos, look for a model where the black ink is pigment-based instead of dye-based.
Laser printers are only worth buying if you need high-speed printing, or high-quality text and graphics. They’re not great at printing photos, although the high price, high end ones are far better at it. Lasers aren’t always cheaper to run than inkjets either – sometimes the toner can be as expensive as inkjet ink.
Buying tricolor cartridges for an inkjet is generally a bad deal, as you may use up one color before the others and have to replace the whole cartridge. Look for inkjets that have dedicated cartridges for each ink color instead.
For photos, you need to buy photo printing paper to get the best results. There are different qualities and coatings available, so it’s worth knowing which type of paper you want before you decide to print.
There are quite a few finishes available nowadays, as well as the usual glossy or matte finishes. You can get lustre, satin, black and white, and metallic finishes. Which one you choose will depend on personal taste or how you choose to frame your image. Glossy prints don’t look great under glass photo frames, but they could look good in a photo book.
Edit Your Images First
Your images will look so much better for a few photo adjustments done in an image editor, and your print quality will be improved if you print directly from the editing software, where you will have more control over cropping, resizing and color management.
If you can, take your images in RAW file format. Professional photographers shoot in RAW because it contains all of the image information in pure form, whereas JPEG compresses the data in the image and this means you lose some of it. Most cameras and even phone cameras have an option to shoot in RAW and most of the modern photo editing programs can process Raw files.
When you edit your images in JPEG, you lose more information every time you save the file and re-compress it, so try to convert your RAW files to TIF files before you work on them and print from them – your final image quality will be much better.
Aspect ratios and print sizes can be confusing, but aspect ratio is just the measurement of the width compared to the height of an image. Problems can start if you try to fit a photo to a given print size and it doesn’t fit naturally to it. If you try to adjust the length and width of a photo to fit, you can end up distorting your image.
A full-frame camera has a sensor aspect ratio of 3:2 – 3 x width to 2 x height, or the other way round if you’re shooting portrait view. Typical print sizes are, say, 10×8, 8×6 and 7×5. If you want to print your full-frame camera photo in 6×4 or 12×8 print, it would fit perfectly because the aspect ratio is the same. If you try and make a 7×5 print, though, you’d have problems fitting the whole photo in because the aspect ratio is different – you would need to crop some of your image out to make it fit. 10×8 would mean you’d have to crop even more of your image out.
|PRINT SIZE (IN)||IMAGE SIZE (PIXELS)|
|3 x 5||900 x 1500|
|4 x 6||1200 x 1800|
|5 x 7||1500 x 2100|
|8 x 8||2400 x 2400|
|8 x 10||2400 x 3000|
|8.5 x 11||2550 x 3300|
|9 x 16||2700 x 4800|
|11 x 14||3300 x 4200|
|11 x 16||3300 x 4800|
Pixel to print conversion
It’s worth bearing in mind when you’re shooting to leave plenty of room around your subjects in case you have to crop for print later. Often cropping can improve the composition of an image, but sometimes you’ll find that an image just doesn’t suit a particular print format.
Adjust Your Printer Settings
Nearly every printer offers settings in the driver to adjust picture quality. Even basic printers offer a choice of print qualities – quick draft, normal, better and best are the usual settings. You may be able to adjust color levels and speed, or change the type of paper settings. Change the resolution settings so that your photos print at the highest resolution – the higher the resolution, the better the print quality.
Do A Test Print First
Test prints are an important way of making sure everything is looking right before you start printing multiple photos. That way you aren’t wasting paper and ink, and you can make adjustments and understand the differences between your screen and the printer.
Getting quality prints is not as difficult as it seems, as long as you prepare for it properly. If you take into account all the essentials, you’ll have beautiful images to add to your photo book or hang up on your wall that will become great memories for the years to come. If you already have some printing experience, share your prints or tips in the comments below.