As with most things in life, what we can see on a computer screen often feels much better when we’re holding it in our hands. Technology can only take us so far, but nothing can really replace that feeling of being able to hold and touch something you feel an emotional attachment to.

Nothing illustrates this desire more than photos. Monitors do a wonderful job of displaying images such as family portraits, holiday snaps and artistic shots, but holding the images in our hands make us feel differently about them. There is a deeper connection with holding a photo of your grandparents, or hanging a large print of your honeymoon on a wall that simply can’t be replicated with a computer screen.

To get the best results we often need to make a few tweaks along the way from capture to print. Even professional photographers spend considerable time in post-production improving on images they’ve shot, so taking a little time to make a few simple adjustments to your photos can make the world of difference to the end product. The process takes practice to get right, and many amateur photographers give up before they’ve really got started. But with a little perseverance you can take your photos to the next level and be the envy of your friends and family.

So how do we prepare digital photos for printing to get the best results?

GET THE RESOLUTION RIGHT

Without the correct resolution, there’s no point doing anything else. The resolution of your image is measured in megapixels, with higher resolutions equaling crisper photos and the ability to produce bigger prints without losing picture quality. If your photo appears blotchy or pixilated, it means the resolution is not big enough for the size of the print. So before you even start taking photos, ensure you’ve set your camera to take high-resolution images. It’s better to shoot a photo that is higher in resolution than you need, than taking a low resolution image and deciding later you’d really like to make a larger print but can’t.

CROP AWAY THE WASTE

Once you’ve taken the photo and downloaded it into your editing software, look at it closely. What is the focus of your shot? Are there parts of the image that detract from the focal point? Are these around the edge and can be cropped from the image? Cropping an image can focus the eye of the viewer to what is important to you, by removing any unnecessary distractions.

When cropping, make sure you stick with the aspect ratio you intend to print at. There is a range of standard print sizes for photos, and if your final image falls outside these aspect ratios your prints can suffer. They will either be stretched or compressed, the edges of your image won’t be printed, or to ensure the whole image fits inside the standard size print you’ll see borders.

Just remember, when cropping away chunks of an image the resolution and aspect ratio will be affected, so take this into consideration when determining how large you want your print to be. Even the most basic photo editing software has settings to control the aspect ratio when cropping, or if you’re submitting your prints to an online printing service, their web based editing system will enable you to make basic editing changes.

SET THE RESOLUTION OF YOUR PRINTER

During the cropping process ensure the DPI setting is at 300 for best results. DPI stands for Dots Per Inch and tells the printer how dense the dots should be when printing. For example, if your image is 800×600 pixels, at a setting of 300dpi, the image will produce a 6.6cm x 5cm print. That same image at a setting of 200dpi will produce a 10cm x 7.6cm print, while at 100dpi the image will produce a 20.3cm x 15.2cm print. Obviously the smaller print will be far crisper than the larger print, because the same amount of pixels are used, just spaced further apart as the DPI setting decreases.

GETTING THE COLOUR RIGHT

colour calibration

The three tips above are basic steps anyone should be able to achieve to improve their images in a few minutes. To take your images to the next level, you need to think about colour management, and the first step is to calibrate your monitor. This will increase the chances of the image you took with your camera being perfectly represented on the final print after any editing.

How to calibrate your monitor

Not all monitors display images the same way for a variety of reasons. The way its colour profile is displayed can be affected by the way it translates digital data into colour, and its age. What an image may look like on your monitor, can look different on another, and printers use colour profiles when translating image data onto paper, not what you necessarily see on your screen. So the beautiful photo you took of the turquoise waters on your tropical paradise holiday may actually look darker or lighter when you print the final image.

The way around this issue is to calibrate your monitor regularly, because monitors change their colour profile ever so slightly over time. For amateurs there are a few free software programs you can use, while more professional photographers can purchase advanced calibrating tools. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your computer will have a built-in step-by-step wizard to calibrate your display, so find out if your computer can do this for you.

Free online colour calibration tools:

If you’ve taken these steps you’re well on your way to producing great images to share amongst family and friends, store in a photo album or hang on your walls. You could even use them for invitations, birthday cards, calendars, and any one of a huge number of other uses for your images, creating a more professional look than you may have otherwise achieved.

CMYK

Of course there are further steps you can take to improve your images. Often the most basic image editing software can enhance the quality of your image with a single click, while more professional photo editing software can make extraordinary changes to minute details of your images. How far you take your image editing is totally up to you, but by just making these few simple adjustments you can dramatically improve what comes out of your printer once you click the ‘print’ button.

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