Make better prints

No matter how much you enjoy taking digital photos and sharing them electronically, there's something special about photos that you hold in your hand. These days, it's getting quite popular to let someone else make prints for you -- be it the neighbourhood camera store, K-Mart, or an online photo service like Kodak. But many of us still print our photos at home on our desktop inkjet.

In this Here' How, let's see how to get the best results from your printer.

Start with enough pixels

One thing you probably don't have to worry about is not having enough pixels. Most modern digital cameras offer more than enough resolution to make prints of any size you'd want. But if you get an image file from someone else -- especially through e-mail -- you should check the resolution before you print it. Often, shared photos are resized to take up less space, and that can result in pixelated prints.

First, decide what print size you want and then make sure the image is at least the print size multiplied by 200. If you're trying to make an 8-by-10-inch print, for example, the longest side of the picture should be 2000 pixels or more. If it's not, then you should consider printing it at a smaller size.

To determine the picture size, open the folder that contains the photo and hover your mouse pointer over the image file. You'll see a tool tip that displays the resolution. Or locate the file in My Computer and click on the icon, then look at the Details box at the bottom of the task pane on the left side of the folder. This screen shot demonstrates both ways of checking resolution from My Computer.

Crop to size

The next step is to crop the image to the right aspect ratio. Every common print size, such as 4 by 6, 5 by 7, and 8 by 10, has slightly different proportions. And they're all different from the standard digital photo aspect ratio. So if you don't crop your photo ahead of time, you might end up printing a different part of the image than you expected.

Open the picture in your favorite editor. I'll use Corel's Paint Shop Pro for this example. Click the Crop tool (it's fifth from the top in the toolbar on the side of the screen). Then, in the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen, click Presets and choose the print ratio. Now size and position the crop frame in the picture until the image is composed to your liking. Click Apply in Tools Options to accept this new crop. (If you don't see the Tools Options palette, toggle it on by choosing View, Palettes, Tools Options.)

Sharpen the image

Most of the time, digital photos will benefit from a small amount of sharpening before you print them. If your digital camera has a setting to automatically sharpen your images when they're taken, you might want to experiment with that and see if you like the effect. In general, I've found that many cameras take slightly better pictures with the sharpening set to the lowest level other than zero, such as +1. If your camera doesn't have its own sharpening filter, or if you choose not to use it, then apply a small amount of Unsharp Mask before you start printing. In Paint Shop pro, choose Adjust, Sharpness, Unsharp Mask and accept the default settings.

Keep your printer happy

Now you're ready to print. I highly recommend that you use the paper and ink recommended by your printer's manufacturer. If you have an Epson printer, for instance, use Epson paper and Epson ink. The combination might cost a bit more, but all those components are engineered to work together and the results are noticeably better than what you get from less expensive alternatives.

Be sure to set the printer settings to reflect the kind of paper you've loaded in your printer, and, if you have a choice, set the printer for quality, not print speed, as you can see in this example.

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Dave Johnson

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