Tips for better photo printouts

By Team Digit Published Date
07 - Feb - 2007
| Last Updated
07 - Feb - 2007
Tips for better photo printouts

One of the more fulfilling moments in digital photography is printing photos. It's simple, convenient and you can do it in the comfort of your home or office, without having to make a trip to the shops. And with the current crop of photo printers which come with PictBridge connectivity and memory card slots, printing photos has never been easier. PictBridge is an open industry standard for direct printing between PictBridge-compatible digital cameras and printers of any brand.

However, while it is easy to print photos, getting the quality of prints that match those developed at photo kiosks require a little more effort, time and of course, money. And it's not just about investing in a good printer or digital camera. From choosing the right image format to the type of photo paper, many decisions make a difference in the quality of the finished print. Here are some things to look out for to ensure sharp, crisp color prints.

It all starts with your digital camera
You can have the best photo printer in the world but if the images captured by the camera don’t live up to expectations, it’s all for naught. Therefore, before you even think about printing your own photos, it is essential that you find the right digital camera for the job.

To do that, you have to consider the size of prints you intend to make. Generally, to make a decent 4R print (or 4 x 6-inch), you need a 0.5-megapixel camera that is capable of capturing at least 800 x 600dpi images. A 5 x 7-inch print typically requires a 1.2-megapixel (1,280 x 960) resolution image while 1,600 x 1,200 (or 2-megapixel) prints best up to 8 x 10-inch photos. For those who want to produce A4 or larger prints, you should be considering a 3-megapixel or higher camera.

Of course, most people should realize that a 3-megapixel camera will be more than adequate for the majority of your printing needs. If, on the other hand, you're finicky about quality, higher-resolution cameras will be on the cards. However, users should be aware that with higher resolutions, the tradeoff is a higher camera price, slower image processing, more space used in the camera’s memory and in some cases, more image noise.

Another question to consider is which image file type to save the pictures in. Most cameras save the captured images in JPEG format. While it is smaller in size than other image formats, JPEG compression can cause slight image degradation. Therefore, wherever possible, images for print should be saved with the lowest compression levels or even RAW or TIFF formats for best results.

Touch up your pictures
One of the advantages of digital photography is the ability to edit your images before printing. And in some cases, where the desired effect cannot be achieved using the digital camera, one good way to compensate would be by using an image editing software.

For example, in under-exposed images, users can control the saturation levels of the various component colors, brightness and contrast to give the image a more balanced tone. The more adventurous can also experiment with special effects tools to add a creative touch, such as printing in black and white or sepia tones.

Inkjet or dye-sublimation
Currently, there are two types of mass market photo printers. Dye-sublimation printers, which fuse layers of film onto a special paper, are generally more expensive but produce prints faster and include a protective layer that keeps it resistant to water and dirt. (A 4R dye-sublimation printer typically costs between S$249 (US$158.42) and S$800 (US$508.97).

Inkjets, on the other hand, are cheaper to own and run, thanks to less expensive ink. On the upside, the majority of these units can print up to A4 or even A3 sizes. Unlike the past where it's common to see smudges on outputs from these printers, modern inkjets use sophisticated dye or pigment inks and papers, making the photos much more water-resistant. Additionally, current photo inkjets arrive with six or more color inks to give better color gradation and matching.

No one gets it right the first time
Glossy or photo paper isn't cheap. Thus, it's a good practice to do a test print on plain paper to check for the correct size and resolution settings before making the actual print. This is useful especially for printing 4R photos, which can be quite tricky if you use paper media with perforated edges.

Glossy prints are the best
There are many different types of paper media out there for inkjets. However, to achieve the best-quality prints, it is advisable to use glossy paper media, preferably one from the printer manufacturer. This is because these media are designed to work best with the relevant inks to produce better and longer-lasting prints. Using other brands of paper or inks may not produce the desired quality and may sometimes even damage your printer.

Like the glossy photo prints you get at photo kiosks, it is important to handle the inkjet glossy photos with care, before and after printing. Try to keep the paper media in a clean folder when it is not in use and avoid touching the surface used for printing. A fingerprint or stain may cause the inks to be only partially absorbed, causing a drop in print quality.

Taking care of your printer
A printer, like all other electronic appliances, needs to be well-maintained. For inkjets, it is important to use it once in a while so as to prevent the ink from clogging the print head. Should clogging occur, you will have to run the printer utility software to clean the print head before use. This will help ensure a better print quality.

Users should also ensure that the printer is subjected to minimum dust and dirt by using a dust cover. As small as they may be, tiny particles of dust can accumulate over time and trap ink on rollers and other parts of the printer. This, in turn, can cause unsightly ink smudges on the printouts.

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