Digital photography has paved the way for more magical moments than our brains can ever remember. Still, there’s just no virtual substitute for smudging up a glossy photo in your sweaty little hand. Assuming you’ve managed to take a few pics that don’t include your thumb, a few might even prove special enough to put in an album or on the mantle. Now all you have to do is choose the perfect printing process. Whether you choose to print photos at home, at a store kiosk, or ship them off to a printing service, here a few tweaks that can ensure the best images possible.
Choosing the Perfect Printer
Sadly, not all printers are created equal. If you don’t have the right equipment, no paper, programs or other tweaks will make your pics Photomat-worthy. Make sure you search web and check our expert reviews before purchasing new equipment. That said, printers like the Epson Artisan 800 ($299.99) and Canon Selphy CP510 ($99.99) make good fits for the everyday shutterbug, cutting out the need for a computer entirely. The Artisan uses an LCD for control, while the Selphy hooks directly to your camera. Similarly, the Polaroid PoGo Instant Mobile Printer ($99.99) is optimized to print cell phone pics—definitely an acquired skill.
Paper and Ink
Shocker: Most printer manufacturers suggest you use their own photo paper. While this isn’t a bad tip, it’s often not the most economical of solutions. Still, you shouldn’t skimp on quality in this regard.
That said, you don’t always have to spring for thick or shiny paper. In fact, if you plan on passing your photos around the holiday dinner table, matte paper might be a better choice. But if you want to go glossy, cheap paper will probably result in cheap quality images.
No matter what type of paper you ultimately settle upon, make sure you have enough ink to support printing photos. Printing on “best quality” settings, which will result in the best possible print, can really drain your tanks. Make sure you have an extra cartridge or two on hand if you plan to produce a lot of prints at home.
Resolution is a measurement of the sharpness of an image. While always shooting for the most mammoth resolution might seem like a good idea, it’s actually wiser to keep images in the 300-dpi range. That means if an image is 4×6, it should be 300dpi. If it’s 5×7, it should still be 300dpi, and so on. Don’t try to increase a small, low-resolution photo by any great order of magnitude either. The bigger you bump it up, the blurrier it will become.
Don’t think that just because what you see on-screen looks great that it will transfer well to paper. While compressing photos might allow you to upload images at amazing speeds, those same snapshots won’t print well. When printing compressed photos at full size, each one could actually come out the size of your thumb. And the larger you make them, the more blurry and washed out each one will get.
Bearing this in mind, try to work with a 1024×768 high-resolution (e.g. BMP or TIF vs. JPG or GIF) image or larger when possible. Also, your photo’s image size ratio must match the print size ratio, or your subjects could lose their heads or other important details. “My point and shoot camera creates a 5-megapixel image that is 1920×2560 pixels. Divide this and you get a ratio of .75 or three quarters,” says Peter Wayne, a freelance photographer in Boulder, Colorado. “If you print on the standard size of 4×6 inches, this is a ratio of .6666 or two-thirds. This is not an exact fit, so a portion of the photo will be cropped off.” Wayne suggests cropping the picture manually using your favorite editing software, e.g. IrfanView or freeware alternative GIMP. “By doing this, you have control over what appears in the picture.”
Speaking of size, it might be a good idea to think about how big photos will physically wind up being when printed while actually taking pictures. Debbie Johnson, lead editor at Fodeo, says that close-ups are better suited to smaller 4×6 or 5×7 prints, while group shots may work better in a bigger 8×10 image.
Image Editing and Adjustment
You may not be able to wipe that topless guy out of your family beach photos, but there are plenty of other ways to clean up your photos. Try experimenting with photo editing software, i.e. free programs like Picasa 3 and Paint.NET. If you’re willing to invest a few dollars, Adobe’s Photoshop Elements ($139.99) and Corel’s Paint Shop Pro ($99.99) each provide pro-level features without the professional price as well. Speaking of keeping things neat and tidy, routinely clean the heads on your printer too to keeps photos looking as sharp as crisp as possible.
If you don’t have the proper equipment or time to burn learning photo editing software, it might pay to have someone else handle the printing part. You can always upload photos to an online retailer’s site (think CVS or Wal-Mart), and pick up pics at your local brick-and-mortar store. Services such as Shutterfly and Picasa also offer on-site image editing tools to crop, add color effects and help remove red-eye.
To minimize poorly printed pictures, it’s also important to make sure you initially shoot photos using decent lighting or at least the proper settings for action, nighttime or other scenarios.
Corel Paint Screenshot
Organization and Archival
Of course, given the many images that are bound to eventually find their way into your collection, all those files and prints can get out of control as well. Therefore it pays to make sure your camera has the correct date settings, which become part of every digital photo file. It doesn’t hurt to add those dates to the back of each physical print either. It’s another important detail about the event, and makes it that much easier to organize all of those bright, shiny new snapshots filling up your family album.