This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
27 tricks that turn digital snapshots into prints you'll treasure
You captured some priceless moments at your friend's surprise party with your digital camera. You sifted through the images on your hard drive and found the gems you wanted to print. But somehow, the photo prints from your ink jet printer aren't looking as vibrant as you had expected. Well, you've come to the right place. Read on, and we'll tell you how to touch up your digital images so they're primed for printing. We'll also give you some pointers on optimizing your ink jet printer and help you choose the best type of paper for the job. And before you know it, your pictures will look better than the prints from your neighborhood's best photo processing shop.
Improve Your Images
Take TIFF: Most digital cameras use JPEG format, which sheds some detail to save space when storing images. >>TIP If you plan to edit your digital photo and print it later, save the edited image in Tagged Image File Format, which doesn't compromise image quality. Choose File, Save As in your image editing program, and select TIFF from the drop-down list. Sharpen your photo: Many digital shots come out looking "soft" or out of focus after you print them.>>TIP Use your image editor's sharpen tool to emphasize the edges of items that appear in your photo. (Though dozens of image editors are out there, we'll offer specific steps for Jasc's Paint Shop Pro.) If you work with Paint Shop Pro, use the oddly named Unsharp Mask tool (click Effects, Sharpen, Unsharp Mask). This tool runs automatically each time you select it. The program that you use, however, may not have an Unsharp Mask tool. If it doesn't, use the more basic Sharpen tool instead. If you can't find a tool by that name in your program, use the Help option to search for the termsharpen. >>TIP Take it easy with Unsharp Mask and Sharpen: If you wind up with a grainy or distorted image, undo a few levels or start over. Bring out the subject: Draw attention to the main element in your photo by softening the background.>>TIP First, select the entire subject with your image editor's magic wand (found in Paint Shop Pro's tool palette). If your first click doesn't select the whole subject, hold down the Shift key and click to add more area. Then, reverse the selection to select the whole background. After that, run the Soften tool a few times to blur the background to your satisfaction. In Paint Shop Pro, choose Selections, Invert and then Effects, Blur, Soften. Pump up the gamma: It's a fact of life--dark images print poorly. >>TIP Use your program's gamma correction tool (if it has one), rather than the brightness tool, to add life to your picture. Increasing brightness can turn shadows into mud or make whites look radioactive. Gamma concentrates its brightening power on the middle tones in your image more than on the extreme blacks and whites. In Paint Shop Pro, click Colors, Adjust, Gamma Correction and drag the color sliders slightly to the right (no more than three notches). Most pictures won't benefit from a change of more than 30 percent; beyond that, images begin to look bleached out. Crop with caution: What looks great on your almost-square computer screen isn't always a good fit for an oblong frame or photo album. >>TIP Use the crop tool from your tool palette to make your photos more appealing. Instead of positioning your main subject smack dab in the middle of the frame, offset it about a third of the way to the left or right of center. Don't crop the image too severely, however. As you trim the image's size, you discard valuable pixels. The finished image needs a sharp enough resolution to print without showing the jagged edges that come from having too few pixels.
Match pixels and size: When it's time to print your snapshots, one consideration is key: How many pixels can your printer bring to the table? Most ink jet printers are optimized for images with 200 pixels per inch. >>TIP If you're producing an 8-by-10-inch print, use your editing program to verify that your image is no less than 1600 by 2000 pixels (in Paint Shop Pro, choose Image, Image Information). If you start with a lower-resolution image (1024 by 768 pixels, for instance), the resulting print may be blurry. In general, digital images taken with a 2-megapixel camera yield good 5-by-7-inch prints, and images from a 3-megapixel camera are better for 8-by-10-inch prints. Don't worry if your image has an overabundance of pixels--you can still create excellent prints of 3-megapixel images in 5-by-7 format.
Printer and Ink
Calibrate your printer: >>TIP Make sure that you calibrate your printer's heads each time you add a new ink cartridge. Calibration keeps the print heads aligned and capable of printing crisp and accurate images. Some printers align their heads automatically, others prompt you to initiate an alignment process the first time you print with a new cartridge, and still others require you to run a bundled utility manually. If you're not sure how to get the calibration process rolling, check the manufacturer's documentation. >>TIP Get into the habit of printing a test page at least once every month to verify that your print heads remain in good working order. Avoid budget ink: Want the best print quality? >>TIP Stick with ink that comes straight from your printer manufacturer. Sure, you can save money by using refurbished ink cartridges or by refilling your own--those options cost about half what manufacturer-authorized cartridges do--but in most cases the resulting print quality is inferior. You get what you pay for. Solve cartridge snafus: Ink cartridges can clog, especially if you don't use your printer for a long time. When that happens, you'll see gaps, inconsistent colors, and perhaps even ink splattered on the prints. >>TIP Make your printer program's head-cleaning utility your first stop. This program will clean the print heads while running a few sheets of paper though the printer (get additional details from your printer manual). Be aware that the process does use a fair amount of ink. >>TIP If using the head-cleaning utility doesn't work, try removing the cartridge, turning it upside down, and gently cleaning the nozzles with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Then replace the cartridge and run the utility once more.
The Paper Chase
Pick the right paper: Choosing the correct paper for a particular print job is half the battle. You'll typically find store shelves stocked with four different types of paper: plain ink jet, high-resolution ink jet, photo quality (usually nonglossy), and glossy. >>TIP To save money, use only ink jet or high-resolution ink jet paper for making test prints. You'll obtain optimum photo-printing results overall from glossy paper, but at about $1 per page, it's too expensive to use for anything but final prints. Choose the right side: When you're dealing with glossy paper, you may have trouble telling which side to print on. Depending on the brand of paper, the difference can be subtle. If you print on the wrong side, your ink will smear or run, or your image will look dull and lifeless. >>TIP Look closely: The printing side is usually shiny, while the nonprinting side is dull or has a watermark. Other clues: Some brands of paper have a cut corner, and you must load that paper according to the instructions to avoid printing on the back. Master two-sided printing: >>TIP If you use your printer to create greeting cards, and you want to print on both sides of the page, use nonglossy photo-quality paper to handle the task. Look for 24-pound (or heavier) stock; most ink jet paper is 20-pound stock. >>TIP If you plan to print color images on one side and plain text, say, on the other, you'll get sharper text by using a monochrome laser printer. Moreover, it's usually a lot cheaper to print 100 sheets of all-black text with a laser than with an ink jet printer. Just make sure to do the color ink jet printing first. The extreme heat from a laser printer can damage the coating on the ink jet side if you print the laser side first. >>TIP Load preprinted pages a sheet at a time to prevent paper jams.
Allow time to dry: Most ink jet paper dries by the time it rolls out of your printer. Photo-quality and glossy paper take longer. >>TIP Let prints on special paper dry for no less than 10 minutes before you handle them.>>TIP Don't leave prints sitting in the output tray if you're printing multiple copies, and keep them out of direct sunlight as they dry. >>TIP When stacking dried prints, place sheets of plain paper between them. Protect and archive: Some vendors say that their latest ink jet printers deliver prints that will resist fading for decades--as long as you use their recommended paper and inks. Of course, verifying these claims will take time, but you still need to take proper care of the paper. >>TIP Prints can fade from exposure to chemicals, such as ozone; to reduce degradation, mount your prints behind glass or plastic. >>TIP Keep your original digital images so you can reprint them later. Digital Focus," Johnson's weekly newsletter, and go to Dave Johnson is a Colorado-based freelance writer. Sign up for " Top Image Editing Tools to download some shareware image editing utilities.
Take My Advice: Correct the Contrast
I took this digital photo of a large praying mantis in my backyard, using my new Olympus C-3040. >>TIP To give the image the right amount of contrast and depth, I used the Levels tool in Adobe Photoshop (click Image, Adjust, Levels). I used the Input Levels sliders to adjust the contrast so I could capture the highlights and shadows correctly. After you click OK, the image remaps itself. The Levels tool gives good results because it doesn't affect the color balance. --Stacy A. Niedzwiecki, multimedia designer, Rockford, Michigan
More Photo Tips
>>TIP Hang your framed prints on walls away from direct sunlight. This photo, printed on Epson's Premium Glossy Photo Paper, shows what can happen if you don't. The left side of the photo was exposed to sunlight and the open air for seven days; the right side was sealed under glass. The photo was printed on an Epson Stylus Photo 1270. >>TIP When handling photo paper, don't touch the printing side. >>TIP Dry a print for at least 6 hours before framing. >>TIP Store unused photo paper in a resealable plastic bag.
©2007 About.com, Inc., a part of The New York Times Company. All rights reserved. ©2007 About.com, Inc., a part of
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.