Digital photography printing has opened new avenues for amateur and professional photographers alike. For most photographers, the backup of digital photography printing offers unprecedented freedom to get the best shots. No more worrying about wasting that precious piece of film running out, in addition to not knowing for sure that anything worthwhile is on it!
However, when it comes to getting the printing done, there are a few things one should keep in mind to prevent wasting too much of quality photo paper, and the costly printing ink. In this article, we’ll review a few basic terms related to digital photography and offer a few tips on getting the best prints.
Resolution refers to the ‘image-sharpness’ of a document, and is usually measured in dots (or pixels) per inch (DPI). It also refers to the image-sharpness that printers and monitors are capable of reproducing. Depending on your particular needs, documents can be scanned at various resolutions. The higher the resolution of a document, greater the image-sharpness, and larger the file size will be.
With digital photography printing in mind, the first thing you need to ensure is that you download the pictures at their full resolution. If in the end, you have 72dpi (dots per inch) pictures, your print quality will be useless. A 72dpi resolution is good for viewing on your computer screen, but an image with 200 to 300dpi will give a good quality 8×10 inch print.
Pixel is short for ‘Picture Element.’ It is the smallest part of a digital image, and each image is comprised of thousands or millions of pixels. This basic unit, from which a video or computer picture is made, is essentially a dot with a given colour and brightness value. The more pixels an image has, the higher the resolution of that image will be. One Megapixel is equal to one million pixels.
Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) is a standards committee that designed this image compression format. The compression format they designed is known as a ‘lossy’ compression, as it deletes information from an image that it considers unnecessary. JPEG files can range from small amounts of lossless compression to large amounts of lossy compression. This is a common standard on the World Wide Web, but the data loss generated in its compression makes it undesirable for printing purposes.
When dealing with digital photography printing, you will mostly work with the JPEG file format. Remember that every time you open and save a JPEG file, you lose some of the image information. Therefore, it is advisable to do all the changes in one sitting, and then save them only once.
Resolution Guide to Quality Prints
The higher number of megapixels a camera has, the more detail an image will retain when enlarged and/or printed.
1 to 2 Megapixels
Cameras with this resolution range are sufficient for sending photos electronically via email, but are not ideal for printing photos. Most camera phones, PC camcorders, and PC cameras have a resolution in the 1 to 2 megapixel range.
3 to 4 Megapixels
Cameras with this resolution range are good for printing and retouching the standard 4×6 inch images.
5 to 6 Megapixels
Cameras with this resolution range produce professional results when enlarging photos up to an 8×10 inch format.
Cameras with a resolution range of at least 7 megapixels promise superior quality and detail when printing or enlarging photos beyond the 11×14 inch format.
By simply looking at the file size, you will quickly learn to be an expert judge on quality. A picture of 100kb (kilobytes) or less is most probably too low-resolution for good quality digital printing. Once you get to a minimum size of 400kb, you are working with a more useful resolution for an 8×10 inch print.
If you’re proud of your photographic effort, or if you want those family shots to be available for the next generation, you will definitely want your prints to be done on decent paper. Needless to say, in the end, your prints will be only as good as the paper you use.
There are many new coated papers available on the market specifically for this purpose, and you should consider what is recommended for the printer you are using.
Archival paper, popular in the world of inkjet printing, is the longest-lasting paper and it is acid-free. These printing papers don’t come cheap, so plan carefully. Print only after final cropping, or on completion of other changes, such as after the addition of a border with your imaging software.
Regular colour inkjet and laser printers are good for text and charts, but not always best for digital photography printing. PictBridge-enabled printers allow you to print your digital photographs directly from the camera. Portable printers, such as the HP Photosmart 320 series, allow you to take a picture and print 4×6 inch sized pictures anywhere on the move.
Incidentally, for smaller 4×6 inch prints, dye-sublimation printers give outstanding quality prints, and they are generally waterproof. However, the materials for such printing do not come cheap!
If you cannot get satisfactory results with your own digital photography printing, especially if you’re printing larger than 8×10 inch sized images, you could try one of the brick-and-mortar, or even online photo labs that make use of dedicated photo printers with excellent results.
Photo labs can easily handle digital files directly from your memory card. Take your digital camera, a homemade CD, or your camera’s memory card along for professional quality digital photography printing.