It’s going to happen.
For all the times you upload photos to Flickr, Instagram or your phone, there are going to be those rare occasions that you want a good printed copy – say a card for dad on Father’s Day. I don’t print much, but if I’m entering awards shows (hello Markham Fair!) I need to create copies that I like.
To get those copies, I try to keep things as simple as possible and I’ve created a list of three basic rules for getting ink on paper that looks like I want it to look.
Know thy printer (home edition).
Because your monitor isn’t telling you the truth most days, what you see on your printer is going to be different than what you see on your screen. Figure out what your printer is doing differently. Is it making the whole scene dark? Try bumping up the exposure. Are you getting a weird colour cast on your photo? Could be the colour temperature. No matter what, get to know your printer and how to get the most out of it using its settings and a little help from your editing software.
Know thy printer (Costco edition).
I actually don’t own a colour printer these days. If I’m printing, I go to a local lab that I know well. Take the time to pick one place to process your photos and print them out – and get to know the quirks of that printer. I like Costco a lot – cheap and decent prints (if I’m doing really high end stuff, I trek into Toronto and use Pikto). If you're printing something special, talk to the person at the counter (not on a Saturday if you value your life) and tell them what you're trying to do. They'll teach you the quirks if you ask.
One other thing about printing at a store – I like to go for matte (non-glossy) prints with a little white border. This is a personal preference, but I like the way these look – super sharp photos printed in the style that my grandmother used to use back in the day.
Figure out your software.
My mum used to have a nasty habit of printing out pictures that were all stretched and fuzzy – the result of not paying attention to the aspect ratio of the picture and the size of the file from her camera. You need to know these things and your basic photo software can help out a whole lot. Most software these days will guide you through the process pretty painlessly.
Buy good quality paper for good quality photos.
Ever taken a picture that started to fade in a year or two? That’s the acids in the paper doing the damage. If you want it to last, get yourself some archival photo paper, which is designed to keep your photos looking newer, longer.