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One of the great joys of digital photography is the ability to quickly and simply produce large, stunning prints from the comfort of your own home, without the need for a darkroom and the associated chemistry. All to often though, some people become disillusioned with the quality of the prints. They may have color casts, not be sharp or lack contrast. All of these issues stem from not setting up your digital darkroom correctly.
In this article we are going to look at what you need to do to get stunning prints from your inkjet printer. To see which printer we recommend, take a look at our choice for the best photo printer available right now.
Digital darkroom by tim_d, on Flickr
So before we even talk about printing, let's look at making sure your computer and software is set up correctly. The first big issue and a major cause of bad prints is an uncalibrated screen. It is important that you color correct your monitor before doing any work on your images or any printing. You can calibrate your screen using software. Macs even have this built in, but if you are looking for the best quality then you will need to go for a hardware solution, such as Pantone or X-Rite products.
Once your screen in calibrated you need to make sure you have a consistent color space throughout your image workflow.
A good option is to use the Adobe RGB colorspace as this is a relatively wide color space that many modern photo printers can deal with, giving you a wider range of tones than the more restrictive sRGB space.
The last part of the hardware equation is making sure your printer is using the same color space as your computer. You can select the printer profile through the print dialogue in your chosen editing software. For the most part you can select the same color space as your workflow, however for the utmost quality you can invest in printer calibration hardware. This allow you to output a standard chart then measure its color and tonal range before applying the settings to a dedicated printer profile.
Whilst the above might sound a little complicated, it’s really not, however there are numerous combinations of hardware and editing apps, you will need to research a little on how to set a good color management system for your own setup.
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How to Prepare Your Image
Of course the color management aspect is only half the equation. The other half of course is preparing the image for print. As much care should be taken with this as with your color spaces.
When working on your image, it is important that you make all the color and levels adjustments before resizing – doing it after can degrade the image. The same hold true for final sharpening.
Once you are happy with how your image looks on screen, then it is time to resize. Image size is determined as PPI, or Pixels Per Inch. To gain the optimum quality you need to aim for a PPI of around 300. If you are outputting a print size beyond the resolution of your image, you have two options, you can use your editing software to up-res the image. This is fine if you only go 20-30% larger than the original file or you can also lower the PPI to increase the dimensions. Depending on the print size you may be able to lower the PPI to as little as 180 without seeing any noticeable issues although 240 would be a better compromise.
With the image resized, the next task is to sharpen. This can be an imprecise science, but with a little practice you can find an optimum for your setup. When sharpening, always view the image at 100% on screen, i.e. one image pixel equals one screen pixel. Do not use the standard sharpening filters, opt for unsharp mask or smart sharpen or for the best quality, use one of the advanced photoshop sharpening techniques such as High Pass Filter. On screen you are trying to get the image to look as sharp as possible without introducing artifacts, the ugly, halo effect seen on an over-sharpened image.
Don't Forget To Check the Printer
Lastly let have a quick look at the printers themselves. Obviously, when buying a printer, there are several decisions that you need to make, these include output size, A4, A3 or even A2, the types of inks, the number of ink tanks, tank capacity etc. Most modern color inkjet printers are capable of excellent results, but again if you are looking for the very best quality then you will need a printer with 8-10 different inks. These often include a grey ink as well as the normal black ink for better black and white printing. Of course another consideration is the paper you use, there are a multitude of possibilities from matt and glossy through to fine art, canvas style papers.
danielfoster437, on Flickr
As we have said, setting up for printing, is very dependent on your own hardware/software combination. The aim of this article was to show you the elements that you need to consider to obtain the best quality prints in your home darkroom, with a little help from Google for your own set up you can soon be producing professional looking prints from the comfort of