These days, things are set up in a fairly straight forward manner when it comes to the transition from digital camera to actual prints. Of course, there are plenty of options regarding printing, but fortunately you won’t need to be a rocket scientist to achieve great results. The best way to begin is to figure out what the most important features are to you, in getting your photos printed: speed, quality, or cost. As with many things in life, it may be a challenge to attain all three together without forsaking one. If you want speed and great quality, it may cost you more. If you want low cost, you may have to compromise on quality, etc. The good thing is, as the technology improves constantly, you are in the best position ever to create gorgeous prints without breaking the bank.
Your Digital Photos and You: From Camera to Scrapbook.
by LisaBeth Weber. copyright 2007
Okay, you’ve got this cool digital camera and this neat photo editing software. Now what?
We’ll show you how to take those digital images and print them in a way you’d be proud to display.
Before going any further, there is something very important that you should address prior to taking photos; the resolution setting on your camera. How you will be utilizing the pictures will determine the resolution setting best suited to your needs. This is referred to as megapixels in the digital camera world. Even if you don’t want to delve too much into learning the ins and outs of megapixels and resolution, knowing the basics will yield great results. The higher the resolution, the bigger you can print with the best quality. The only counterpart to this is that the higher the resolution, the fewer pictures you will be able to take with your memory card. Think of it like putting furniture into a room. If you put large pieces in, you won’t be able to fit as much. Larger resolution will allow for better quality in larger printouts. Another way to look at it is this: picture a two inch square image printed out and then enlarged it on a copying machine to 15 inches. Imagine how it would look. Not too great. If the original had been larger to begin with, say, 10 inches, then the quality would hold up fairly well in the enlargement. Memory cards are available with many options in the amount of storage they have, so get a card with as much storage as you can afford.
You may want to decide or envision what your final usage is for the pictures. If you’re using pictures in a scrapbook, or keeping them in a standard size, such as 4” x 6”, then the resolution can be fairly low. If you plan on printing posters, or anything 8” x 10” or larger, the resolution should be set as high as your camera will go, as in the highest “megapixel” setting. As long as your camera has 4 or more megapixels, and you use the highest resolution setting, you should have no problem printing large sizes. Most of the cameras currently on the consumer market have at least 7 megapixels, light years better than just a few years ago.
The final word on resolution is that you can always go from big to small, but you can’t really go from small to big without compromising on quality.
PRINTING: DO IT YOURSELF OR NOT?
The next thing to do is decide whether you want to create prints right in your home or get them printed in the outside world, just like when you had regular film cameras. Either way is a fine option, and it’s a matter of whether you prefer the “do it yourself” method, or have someone else take care of it for you. Because of how fast the technology is advancing, it seems more practical to do the latter, especially if you are printing anything larger than 8” x 10”.
Chances are, whatever brand of camera you have, the manufacturer has a website with comprehensive information on printing photos. Of course it’s likely that they will want you to buy equipment from them that will serve this purpose. It is good to remember that the website is there as a source for you, regardless of whether you want to purchase a printer. These websites have an immense amount of information at your disposal, and they are a great and streamlined way to familiarize yourself with your specific camera and its capabilities when it comes to printing options.
There are a myriad of options for photo-editing, from “free” to big deal programs like Adobe Photoshop. Picasa, Shutterfly and Snapfish are some of the more well known websites and great places to start, though make sure you read the fine print. Some of the “free” sites charge for certain aspects, and the free version is often limited to online viewing, as in an online photo album or slide show. Sometimes sites will also “store” your photos for a limited amount of time, or ask you to become a member, etc., so be aware, free isn’t always free. Meanwhile, most of the free sites have photo-editing that is very simple to use, and the quality is top tier, especially Picasa’s website. No need to feel intimidated even if you have never worked in this realm. These companies have really done their homework when it comes to the comfort level of a beginning consumer. Having said that, make sure you do your homework. As these sites crop up faster than weeds, there have been some associated with malicious malware. Just as you would source out anything new, let the “buyer” beware.
When you are first working with any photo-editing software, it is a good idea to make a copy of the photo you want to start with, so that you can test things out without worrying that you might damage the picture. The online programs/websites may have their own unique method of doing this, and if so, it will be self explanatory. For other programs, open the file, click “Save as…” and save the file with a name that you will recognize as the test-photo. Use the “jpg” file extension for files that will be e-mailed and the “tiff” extension for others. Once you do this, play around as much as you want. If the photo-editing software you have is “WYSIWYG” (what you see is what you get), then try out different settings, like sharpen, red-eye reduction, enlarge, contrast, change proportions, etc. If the software you are working with is more complex, you may want to study the manual, or simply experiment as long as it’s with a copy of the original photo. Keep in mind that for simple edits, a program like Adobe Photoshop may be more than you need.
Make all the edits that you would like, and once you are happy with it, go ahead and save it as a new file. (Make sure you keep saving as you make changes just as you would with any other document.) It is always a good idea to keep the original intact, and make any changes on a copy, even after you feel comfortable with the program.
Now it’s time to re-size your photo for printing. Since there are so many programs out there, it is impractical to try and walk you through re-sizing. However, there are universal settings that you should become aware of.
Edit or enhance your picture as desired. Then resize for printing. Most programs have this under the IMAGE settings on the toolbar. Make sure your resolution is set to 300 ppi/dpi or higher. (PPI stands for “pixels per inch” and DPI stands for “Dots per inch”)
A setting of 300 or above will ensure that you won’t have a “pixelated” image, one that looks like it’s “broken up”. This is where it is important that you took the picture on a high enough resolution to begin with (see CAMERA RESOLUTION above). Don’t forget to save!
Keep in mind that the proportions of standard digital pictures are a bit different than that of film pictures. You may need to crop each picture for printing. Most programs, whether at home, online or at the store are set up to prompt you for this. A simple tip is to not have objects too close to the edge of your frame when shooting pictures.
TIME TO PRINT:
There is so much to know about getting the most for your money in a home printer. There are so many on the market and each brand will tell a great story about why they’re the one you should purchase. All in all, here is a very important feature to consider. No matter what home printer you purchase, dollar for dollar it will never be in the same quality category of the type of printer that a commercial vendor will have, and therefore, you will likely not receive the same quality in a home printer that you will from an outside source. Plus, they will upgrade their equipment more often than the average consumer would, resulting in better consistency overall. Consider the possibility of a whole generation of pictures not standing the test of time when printed on a regular ink-jet printer that doesn’t have archival features. The other advantage to sending out for prints is that there are many other items that you can get your pictures printed on, such as mugs, calendars, t-shirts, etc. Gone are the days when this was cost prohibitive for a consumer.
This is not to say that the home printers are not terrific and convenient, it’s simply that one cannot really compare a printer that costs a few hundred dollars with the quality of a commercial printer that costs many times that. When choosing a printer, make sure you do your research. Figure out what your budget is, and based on the information above about price, speed, and quality, narrow down your search. You can visit stores on line and in person to compare cost and features, and be sure to utilize some of the on-line review sites, like Epinions, Cnet, and Amazon. Additionally, before you run out to the store to buy your printer, consider all the additional costs, such as printer cartridges and paper. In order to achieve close to the quality of a commercial printer, you will need to cough up some pretty big bucks for the really good paper. Do some cost analysis as part of your decision making process. You’ll be glad you did.
As recently as a few years ago, the process of getting your pictures printed off site was somewhat complicated. Not so any longer. You can visit nearly every type of store online that you used to use for “developing” pictures, and they will most likely have a simple and direct way to “upload” your pictures to them for pick-up or delivery. Upload essentially means the files are going from your computer to theirs over the internet. There will be simple procedure to follow on their website. If you don’t feel comfortable sending files this way, you can simply copy your files onto a disk or flash drive, and bring them to the store location. Choosing this option can be a good way to go when you are beginning. There will most likely be a kiosk at the store where you can place your media, make whatever changes you’d like and order prints right on the spot. Additionally, the store staff can help you with the whole process. Oftentimes, just doing that once will give you the skills and ease to continue on your own at home.
Should you choose to purchase a printer and do the printing yourself, keep in mind that it will be difficult to keep up with advancing technologies in printing. However, the convenience of being able to print at home goes without saying. Plus, you can always use your printer for certain uses, and still send your files out if you want prints that are larger or finer quality. Regardless of which system you use to get your photos onto actual paper, take the time to procure actual prints rather than keeping everything on disk. There is nothing like the tradition of flipping through a physical photo album and reminiscing about the photos rather than viewing them on a computer screen. It simply doesn’t compare.
It would be in your best interest to consider the various options for printing your digital photos. They basically fall into the following categories:
Printing your own photos at home on a standard or dedicated photo printer.
E-mailing your files to an online store that will make prints and send them back to you.
Taking your digital memory media to a bricks and mortar store for printout.
If you choose to shoot pictures at a high resolution, make sure you reduce the size for any versions that are to be e-mailed. People tend to not appreciate receiving large photo files in their inbox. More and more cameras have a setting specifically for e-mail. This is a low resolution setting, also good for pictures that you don’t need for very long, such as for items you might be selling on e-bay, etc.
Take advantage of websites such as EPINIONS, CNET, and AMAZON for reviews of printers as well as service from online digital printing sources.