It can be hard to know what to do with your photos these days. You’ve probably got a hard drive containing thousands of them that never get looked at. And hundreds more that you put on social media in the hope that someone, somewhere might notice.
Well, here’s the thing: no number of Facebook or Instagram likes can beat the sheer satisfaction of printing your favorite photo and hanging it on your wall.
It’s so easy and affordable to print photos. And with a few choice tips you can ensure that you get professional-quality prints every time.
Crop to the Right Shape
Cropping is one of the quickest and easiest edits you can make to improve your photos. You can crop to remove unwanted objects from the shot and to tighten the composition.
If you share photos online you might just crop freehand, not worrying about the resulting aspect ratio of your image. When you’re cropping to print, using a fixed ratio is essential.
When searching for the best place to print photos, you’ll discover that all online services restrict you to a set number of aspect ratios. Print from home and you’ll have fewer options still.
So you should always decide what format you want to print before you start cropping. Photo services will crop pictures that don’t fit your target paper. But it’s better to do it beforehand, so you have full control over the results.
Most image editing programs enable you to set a fixed ratio when cropping. In Photoshop and Lightroom, and in Photos on a Mac you can enter a custom ratio once you’ve selected the Crop tool. Google Photos only gives you a few preset choices. You might be better off downloading your photo and cropping it elsewhere.
Understand Print Resolution
To get high-quality prints, your photos need to be of a high enough resolution. Crop a photo too heavily and you’ll lose detail, and might even end up with pixellated prints. To avoid this problem you need to understand print resolution.
Print resolution is measured in dpi, or dots-per-inch. It shows how many dots of ink will be printed in every inch of your document.
For photos, you want to target a resolution of 300dpi or above for maximum quality. You can get away with 200dpi, albeit with a slight loss of detail if you look very closely. Anything below 200 and you can end up with a noticeably degraded print.
There are a couple of exceptions where a lower dpi can still work:
- When you’re creating very large prints. These are designed to be viewed from further away, so tiny details are less important.
- Printing to canvas. Canvas is more forgiving of lower resolutions, and canvas printers may output at a lower dpi anyway.
How to Calculate the Print Resolution of a Photo
Take the width of your image in pixels, and divide it by the width of your intended print in inches. So, if you’re printing a 3000 x 2500 pixel image at 12 inches by 10 inches: 3000/12 = 250. Your print resolution is 250dpi.
Note that if the dpi is too low, resampling the image to make it larger won’t improve the quality. You’d be better off printing at a smaller size, choosing a different photo, or recropping.
Make Sure Your Photos Don’t Print Dark
One of biggest complaints you’re likely to have about photo printing is that the images come out too dark. It can happen whether you’re printing online or at home.
The main reason why it occurs is that the screen you used to edit your photos was not properly calibrated. We all tend to set our desktop and phone screens to a bright level because it looks nicer. But a bright screen also makes photos look brighter. So, when you edit them you’re likely to tone down the exposure setting, which leaves you with an underexposed image.
The best way to work around this is to calibrate your monitor. There are lots of very effective, free online tools that can help you do this. For more accuracy, you can also buy a hardware calibration device.
Failing that, use the histogram to ensure that your photos are properly exposed, rather than judging by eye. We’ve got a guide to understanding the histogram, if you need to know more.
As a general rule, data weighted towards the left of the histogram indicates a darker image. Data weighted to the right suggests the image is lighter. An even spread across the entire histogram often—but not always—signifies a correctly exposed image.
Soft Proofing in Lightroom
Lightroom has a lesser-known feature called Soft Proofing, which can be very useful for producing professional prints. You can activate it in the Develop module, by clicking the Soft Proofing button at the bottom of the screen.
What it does is show you a preview of how your photo will print. It shows if your photo will be darker than you expect, or if there will be any colors or tones that your printer cannot handle.
Soft proofing works best with a printer profile that matches the settings and capabilities of your printer. Some professional printing services make these downloadable. For more mainstream printing outlets check drycreekphoto.com.
Sharpen for Printing
Your images often need sharpening before you print them, especially if you’ve shot them in RAW. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for sharpening. Different photos need different amounts depending on how much detail and contrast they have, and how large you intend to print them. Larger prints tend to need more sharpening than smaller ones.
It’s something you’ll need to experiment with. A good starting point is to choose higher Amount and lower Radius settings for images with lots of detail, and lower Amount and higher Radius settings where there’s less detail.
Make sure you zoom in to 100 percent when you sharpen. Images that are zoomed out will need a lot more sharpening before you begin to see the effects.
Some online print services will apply corrections like sharpening by default. Make sure you turn this option off if you’re going to be editing your photos yourself. You don’t want two sets of edits applied to your images.
If you’re planning to print photos from your phone it’s unlikely that you’ll need to sharpen them. Phones shoot in JPEG and are automatically sharpened. Only if you shoot in RAW will you need to process your phone photos.
Matte vs. Gloss: What to Print On
The best professional photo-printing services all offer different types of product onto which you can print. Most of the time you’ll be printing to paper, and you’ll have a choice between gloss or matte. To a certain extent your decision will be a matter of taste, although there are pros and cons to both.
- Reflect light, so produce brighter colors and greater contrast
- Have higher dynamic range to produce more vivid images
- Can handle greater detail in photos
- Attract fingerprints
- Have heavy reflections which can make them hard to see in certain light
Gloss prints are great for bright color photos like landscapes. They’re ideal for smaller prints, and those that you aren’t going to frame behind glass.
- Produce more muted colors with a less punchy look
- Have lower dynamic range, resulting in lower contrast images
- Are non-reflective, so can be hung on walls near windows
- Are regarded by some as offering a more professional look
Matte prints are ideal for black and white, or more understated images. They can be mounted behind glass, and you won’t have to worry so much about reflections.
Some online photo printing services offer semi-gloss or satin paper. This sits between the two main options. It has some of the punch and detail of gloss without the excess reflectiveness.
Print Photos From Your Phone
It’s becoming more convenient than ever to print photos from your iPhone or Android phone without needing to move them over to your desktop to finish them off. If you’re a Lightroom user you can edit them to a professional level in Lightroom CC. Or you can print your straight out of the camera shots just as easily.
All modern home photo printers now use Wi-Fi. Some use Apple’s AirPrint technology, designed specifically for wireless photo printing. And many have their own apps that simplify the whole process. In some cases you can even print when you aren’t at home.
All major online printing services will take uploads direct from your phone. Most, too, have dedicated apps to make it even easier.
Print Photos at Home or Online?
Finally, when you’re looking for where to print digital photos, you may want to decide whether to print online or at home.
The cheapest place to print photos is almost certainly online. Most companies will give you 40 or 50 free prints just for signing up. They also have low prices for standard-sized prints that you can’t match elsewhere. Somewhere like Walmart, for instance, will print your 6×4 images for nine cents apiece. A pack of photo printing paper will cost that much, while printer ink is notoriously pricey.
Of course, most photo printers also print other documents, too, as well as functioning as scanners. If you use these things, it may still be worth your time in printing from home. If you’re only printing photos, it might not.
And price isn’t everything. There’s some pleasure to be had in controlling the entire creative process—shooting, editing, and printing—rather than just uploading a set of pictures and waiting a few days to get them back. Printing from home certainly enables you experiment more with your photography.
Get the Best Prints Every Time
You don’t need to be a professional to get professional photo printing standards. Just a few tweaks before you get started will ensure you get perfect prints every time.
Printing your photos is the best way to recapture your photographic mojo. It makes you feel better about your abilities, and is more inspiring than simply placing them on Instagram, where they fight for attention with the other hundred million images uploaded every single day.