Photo Printing: Make Your Digital Prints Really Pop

Printing your own pictures has become a world easier with the advent of digital photography. But that doesn’t mean anyone can make a good print—it still takes a lot of skill to make prints that really pop. Read on for tips on making the best digital prints.

One of the biggest myths in digital photography is that a good camera is all you need to make good prints. While it does help a great deal, several other factors come into print quality, from the type of paper to the camera settings you used to take the picture. If you want professional-quality prints out of your home photo printer, here are a few simple tips to help you get started.

Take good pictures. Bad pictures won’t magically morph into good prints. You don’t need a swanky 10-megapixel camera to take good photos—you just need to make the most of the one you have. Read your camera manual and learn how to improve contrast, enhance color, and work with low-light conditions. Some post-processing knowledge can also help—try playing around with Adobe Photoshop and see how you can improve your photos.

Choose the right resolution. You never know when you’ll get that perfect snapshot, so always set your camera to the highest possible resolution. That said, there is such a thing as too many megapixels: cramming an 8-megapixel photo into a 4x6 print can produce a lot of grain and jagged edges. As a general rule, the ideal pixel count can be obtained by multiplying your desired print size by 200 (or 300 if your inkjet printer supports it). That means for an 8x10 print, you need a picture that’s between 1200x2000 and 2400x3000 pixels.

Convert your JPGs. The JPEG file format compresses file sizes for use on web and email. This compression slightly diminishes print quality, especially for prints over 5x7”. If you’re taking pictures exclusively for print, stick to larger, higher quality file formats such as TIFF and RAW (available on some digital SLRs). They’ll take longer to process and transfer, but you’ll find that the difference in quality is well worth it.

Create a border. An elegant frame around your pictures can make the subject really pop out. Different frames work with different photo styles. Choose a slim black frame to set off a simple, minimalistic shot, or a thick one in a lighter shade for a busy picture with lots of color. Try to keep the border neutral; decorative borders can distract from the actual picture. Black, white, gray and wood usually work best.

Use high-quality paper. When it comes to photo paper, you get what you pay for. Cheap paper may get you decent prints, but either they’ll fade easily or yellow out after a year. Invest in good-quality photo paper from well-known brands. For prints that stand the test of time, look for acid-free photo paper (some brands call it “archival” paper). They’re said to last 50 to 100 years, and although it may be a bit exaggerated—we haven’t had time to find out—it’s certainly an improvement over standard paper.

Set your printer right. It’s also important that your printer knows what paper you’re using. Most printers are designed to optimize quality for everyday printing jobs, but this simply won’t work on photo paper. The special coating on photo paper requires a different application pattern and quantity, which you have to select yourself. You can usually choose paper type and size from the Properties menu on your printer.