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Printing digital images


Depending on your software and printer, you may be able to combine several images onto one page and then make a print like this. This page was created in a word-processing program.
Depending on your software and printer, you may be able to combine several images onto one page and then make a print like this. This page was created in a word-processing program.

Many people are disappointed the first time they print out a digital image because it doesn’t look anything like the bright, sharp picture they saw on their camera's viewing screen or on their computer monitor. The printed version may be dull, fuzzy or just generally disastrous. There are a number of reasons why this might occur. Fortunately, there are also a number of measures you can take to improve the way your images print.

WHY IMAGES DON’T ALWAYS PRINT THE WAY THEY LOOK ON SCREEN

There are bound to be differences between the appearance of an image on screen and a print-out of the same image. A computer screen gives off light while a print reflects light that is falling on it. The screen uses red, green and blue phosphors to display an image while an inkjet printer uses magenta, yellow, cyan and black inks. In spite of these basic differences in the viewing media, it’s remarkable how closely you can match the look of an image on a good-quality monitor with the same image printed by a photo-quality printer on photographic-type paper when you have properly stored and prepared the image for printing.

You can expect different - generally poorer - print-out quality to occur when:
1) your monitor is not a good quality unit,
2) the monitor’s settings have been drastically altered,
3) your printer is not designed to produce photo-realistic images,
4) the printer is not equipped with the proper inks, toners, etc. to operate at its best,
5) the paper is not designed to print an image with the look and feel of a photograph,
6) the image is stored in memory at too low a resolution, and
7) the image has not been improved using image-manipulation software.


THE MONITOR

An image can look quite different when viewed on various monitors. A large-screen, top-quality monitor will show your digital images at their best. If you have altered the contrast, brightness and color display settings of your monitor so they are a significant departure from the factory settings, you will not be viewing the image as it should look when it is printed. For more accurate color-matching, check that the calibration of your monitor is correct, then use the printer control panel to fine-tune its color adjustments.

THE PRINTER

Inkjet printers, which deposit minuscule droplets of ink on the paper, are the most commonly-used consumer printers. Models that produce photo realistic prints using premium photo-quality paper are becoming more affordable for the home user. The prints are often difficult to distinguish from a photographic print.

This is a scan of an image that was digitally printed at 6.25
This is a scan of an image that was digitally printed at 6.25" by 10". The quality of consumer printers available today is exceptional.

When you wish to make an enlargement of a particularly interesting digital image, high resolution is essential.
When you wish to make an enlargement of a particularly interesting digital image, high resolution is essential.

IMAGE RESOLUTION

Images that look fine on a computer screen in a given size, say 4" X 6", will probably not print well in the same size. Most monitors have a resolution output of 72 ppi (pixels per inch), so an image that is 4" wide and 6" tall need only be 288 pixels wide (4 times 72) and 432 pixels deep (6 times 72) to look good on the screen. This is too low a resolution for printing the image in 4" X 6" size.

Printers print at a certain number of dots per inch, known as “dpi.” Many inkjet printers print at 150 dpi. If an image’s resolution is 72 ppi, then it will print at 72 dpi, and the print will look “pixelated” - that is, it will be broken up into dots and look fuzzy or grainy. But, an image that has a resolution of 150 ppi will print at 150 dpi, and the best results will be obtained from the printer. A 4" X 6" picture would therefore need a resolution of 600 pixels by 900 pixels to print well on a 150 dpi printer.

Your printer may print at a higher resolution, say 300 dpi, in which case you will obtain the best results from it if your image has a resolution of 300 ppi. So, a 4" X 6" image would need a resolution of 1200 pixels by 1800 pixels if you intend to print it in 4" X 6" size.


If an image is saved at a resolution of 150 ppi and your printer prints at 300 dpi, then the image will still print well if printed at a smaller size. For example, a 4" X 6" image at 150 ppi is 600 pixels by 900 pixels in size and would print at its best on a 300 dpi printer if printed at 2" X 3".

If you are planning on printing images in larger sizes, say 5" X 7" or 8" X 10", your image files will need to be very large, with much higher resolution than is needed to view them on your monitor.

WHY NOT SAVE EVERY IMAGE AT VERY HIGH RESOLUTION, THEN?

Ideally, any digital image would be photographed or scanned at high resolution, but in practice, the amount of memory needed for such huge files can quickly fill up a hard drive and overwhelm a digital camera’s memory (although the capacities of memory cards are increasing.) The resolution needed to print an 8" X 10" image in photo-realistic quality, for example, would need an image file in the range of 20 megabytes. It used to be, when working on very large image files (cropping, color correction, etc.), the computer would often take a great deal of time to make changes, more so than most people would have the patience for. Technology continues to overcome such problems. Many modern digital cameras and computers with super fast processing capabilities and large capacity drives can handle large image files with ease, making it practical to capture, store and digitally-manipulate high resolution images.

The number of pixels that your camera's image sensor has determines the largest size of quality prints you can make. The more pixels, the larger the maximum print size.
The number of pixels that your camera's image sensor has determines the largest size of quality prints you can make. The more pixels, the larger the maximum print size.

Different-sized prints from digital files are usually returned by the lab to you on large sheets which you must cut.  Smaller one-hour labs may be limited to prints that are no more than 8
Different-sized prints from digital files are usually returned by the lab to you on large sheets which you must cut. Smaller one-hour labs may be limited to prints that are no more than 8" X 10" in size.

MOST PHOTO LABS CAN PRINT YOUR DIGITAL IMAGES

If you don’t own a printer that has photo-realistic capability, many photography processing labs offer digital printing services, with output quality that exceeds that of most home printers. Most can make prints at a level of quality that is so good, in fact, that you will be hard-pressed to see the difference between a print from a digital file and a print from a negative. The main factors affecting print quality are the same as those that govern the printing of digital pictures on your own printer at home. If you want all the prints to be consistent in size (e.g. all 4" X 6" or 5" X 7"), be sure you use the same length/width ratio when cropping.

In some cases, you need to save your image to a disk and bring it to the lab. Some large pro labs will accept your image files over the internet. (You can order all your prints without leaving your computer keyboard.) Unless you have an account with the lab, you'll probably need to pay by credit card, over the net or by a separate phone call, and they will usually courier the prints to you within a few days. The service can be expensive, although not prohibitively so, but the results are impressive, provided your image files are good to begin with.


Many photo shops and large department stores offer photo printing services, often dispensed by vending machine, that will not only make prints of varying sizes, but will also produce photo calendars and other products. Some online stores will also help you transform your photos into canvas prints. You can start with a CD, DVD or other storage devices containing your digital images; or by bringing in prints that can be scanned, copied and reprinted; or by transmitting your pictures via the internet; and even by downloading the image files directly from your digital camera for immediate printing.

This Walmart photo printing set-up is user-friendly and very versatile. It accepts disks, other prints, your camera itself and even images sent over the internet.
This Walmart photo printing set-up is user-friendly and very versatile. It accepts disks, other prints, your camera itself and even images sent over the internet.
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