Printing your own photos is great. You get convenience, instant output, and full control over the whole process. Of course, you also assume full responsibility for the quality of your prints. There’s no one else to blame if your shots don’t turn out. On the other hand, you deserve all the credit when everything looks great. We’ll give you some ideas to help make sure you can proudly claim those prints as your own.
The ink cartridge is, figuratively speaking, where the rubber meets the road. Make sure you have the correct cartridge precisely suited for your model. Also be aware that, although refurbished or refilled cartridges can be significantly cheaper, some are less reliable and less accurate. If you’re concerned about the quality of your photo printing, paying a little extra for new cartridges directly from your printer’s manufacturer is a good place to start.
Regularly cleaning print heads is a good way to ensure reliable and accurate printing. For physical cleaning, dip a microfiber cloth in a little rubbing alcohol and wipe the cartridge contacts gently. From your printer’s built-in menu or software utilities, you can also find and select the option to clean the print heads. This routine will clear out any ink particles or other tiny debris that might be impacting print performance. Specific steps vary with different manufacturers and models, so check your printer’s documentation if you’re not sure.
Beyond print head cleaning, alignment is important as well. Over time, the print mechanism can move out of position ever so slightly, which can impact the sharpness and color of your prints. Just as with the cleaning function, most printers’ menus or applications include an alignment feature that will make sure the print head and sensors are correctly aligned.
Options & Settings
Each printer and each manufacturer offers different options and settings. Just as with print head and ink cartridge maintenance, you’ll have to spend a little time getting familiar with your model’s menus and users guide. Depending on how sophisticated your printer is, there may be a learning curve to overcome, but if you’re seeking to improve print quality, you’ll probably find that time and effort well spent.
First, be mindful of resolution and other print quality options. Print (and shoot) at the highest resolution common to both your camera and your printer.
If your printer has auto-color correction or color balance settings, try using them. Automated editing and enhancement tools don’t always make shots better, and they’re usually no match for an expert eye directing powerful manual editing tools. But not everyone has that expertise or the budget for advanced software. Take a couple shots you like, print them with the default settings, and then print them with several color-corrected variations. If you like the new settings better, use them. If not, don’t. But it won’t cost you much to run the experiment, and you just might discover an invaluable new option.
Finally, keep your printer drivers and printer software current. It’s easy to forget this step, but making sure you have the latest updates from the manufacturer is important. Companies will often fix bugs and provide enhancements that solve common problems and keep your prints looking sharp.
We know it’s easy to get caught up in all the cool digital and mechanical processes that go into photo printing. But don’t underestimate the importance of all that work’s eventual destination: the paper.
First, perform a basic setup review. Make sure you’re using the right type of photo paper for your printer, and that you’re printing on the correct side of the paper. Also, each time you print, check your settings to make sure you match the settings for type and size to the actual paper you’re using for those shots. If you’re using cheap or off brand photo paper, try a pack of whatever your printer manufacturer recommends to see if it makes a difference.
When you’re sure the right elements are in place, try experimenting with different paper sizes and with both borderless and bordered prints. You can make your picture look nicer and more professional with borderless prints, and you’ll be surprised at how much a change in scale, either up or down, can alter the appeal of many photos.
Use some of the techniques described below to crop images down in size, and don’t be afraid to blow up high-res shots into large prints if you have the printer and resolution for it.
A large part of your outcome is determined before the first bytes ever hit the printer. Image editing tools used to be firmly emplaced within the world of specialized (and expensive) graphic design software. But nowadays, photo-editing software for home users provide plenty of features that will improve your pictures.
Remember to do all of your editing after cropping, which we’ll discuss in a second. That way the adjustments only apply to the part of the shot you’re actually printing and won’t be affected by parts of the image you’re discarding anyway. Also, make sure to maintain an original, full-resolution, unedited copy of each picture so that you can go back to the beginning at any point.
The first and simplest thing you can do to improve the appearance of prints is to take up cropping. Almost every editing tool gives you options to cut out parts of the photo from any of the four sides. Most of us don’t take snapshots with an eye toward composition, and even professional photographers crop their most well-planned photos. Getting rid of extraneous elements, such as the half of Grandpa’s leg and arm jutting into the birthday cake shot, helps draw attention to the important areas you want to highlight, such as Junior’s attempt to blow out his candles. Even more subtle cropping can remove dead space and bring more balance to your shot, increasing its appeal.
Once you have the final portion of the shot composed, explore some of the editing options. Most image editing programs offer auto-correct options which apply a range of updates to balance, contrast, layers, and other settings based on an automatic assessment of your current photo. Just as with a printer’s own color correction settings, sometimes these tools are helpful and sometimes they’re not. But it’s easy enough to apply them, see if you like the results, and reverse or undo if not.
Batch-editing features apply the kinds of automatic updates previously described to a group of photos. You gain the efficiency of applying the changes to a group of pictures at once, but you lose the ability to review and remove the updates one by one.
However, if you’re comfortable that your automatic photo enhancement tool generally improves your shots, and you’re printing a group of photos where general minor enhancements are exactly what you’re looking for, this tool can be very helpful.
If you want to move beyond prepackaged automatic updates, take the time to learn what options your software provides for making manual adjustments to settings such as brightness, shadows, color levels, and filters or special effects. Again, there may be a learning curve involved but if you want to improve photo editing, it’s an investment worth making.