The driver is the key component in the software package provided by each printer manufacturer.
Screen grabs showing the differences between office printer drivers (on the left) and professional photo printer drivers (on the right).
While driver interface styles differ with each printer manufacturer, most contain three sections (or ‘pages’). The Main page covers output quality settings, paper (or media) parameter settings (size, type, orientation and source) and any editing adjustments or enhancements the driver provides. The second page carries page layout settings and the third page covers maintenance items like head cleaning, nozzle checking and print head alignment.
The drivers for office printers provide fewer choices and adjustments and they focus on tasks business users normally require. Photo printer drivers offer a wider range of quality settings, many more paper types and sizes to choose from and usually the ability to choose between the standard sRGB colour space and the imaging-related Adobe RGB alternative.
Using the printer driver
Most image editors interact seamlessly with the driver software. Selecting ‘Print’ when you have an image open for editing normally opens a printing dialog box from which you access the main page of printer driver. At this point, it’s important to check the following settings:
1. Check that the correct printer has been selected. If you’ve installed only one printer, this step can be omitted but if you have several printers connected to your computer or network, you need to make sure the correct printer is being used at the start of each printing session.
Even if you’re printing through your computer’s operating system, it’s important to check the correct printer has been selected. The names in the areas circled in red should be identical.
2. Set up the paper size and orientation. If you’re using the easy printing software supplied with your printer – and not printing through an image editor – this will be straightforward. Once you’ve selected the image to print, simply clicking on the Select Paper button takes you to the appropriate page.
The Main page in most drivers has a Paper Options box that lets you select the paper type, size and orientation of the image. This facility is also provided in the Page Layout section of the printer driver.
Select Border-free or Borderless to print the picture to the edges of the paper. Select Fit on Page to fit the image to the paper. This may allow a small margin on two sides or all around the image. To produce a larger margin, use the Custom Size or setting and key in either the image dimensions you require or the percentage of the paper you wish it to cover.
If you’re printing on non-standard size paper, use the User Defined option at the bottom of the page sizes list to set the paper width and height. (Most printers won’t allow you to make borderless prints with this setting.) Make sure you’ve checked the Print Preview box so you can check the size and position of the image before committing to a print.
These screen grabs show how to select the User Defined page layout option in a typical image editor’s printer driver.
3. Preview the layout. Checking the Print Preview box in the driver allows you to see how the image will be positioned and sized on the paper before making the final print. Note, the image is often displayed at low resolution, which will make it look grainy and its colours and brightness levels are unlikely to match the final print.
Some image editors (in this case, Irfanview) provide a small preview window within the page layout adjustments. As you adjust the print size, image scale and image position, the changes are reflected in the preview window.
4. Click on the ‘Print’ button. This will print the photograph or take you to the print preview, which provides you with a final check of the printer settings before you commit to a print. Pay particular attention to the paper size, type and orientation settings (you can waste paper if these are incorrect). Other settings are covered in Chapter 8 of Photo Printing Pocket Guide, which looks at Colour Management.
Additional driver adjustments
Some printers offer a range of additional settings, including greyscale, sepia or neutral/warm/cool grey options for monochrome prints, hue, saturation and brightness adjustments, digital camera corrections and ‘Photo Enhance’ settings that optimise the printer for different image types. The latter include settings for smoothing skin tones, boosting the greens and blues in landscape shots, sharpening controls and monochrome printing settings (B&W and/or sepia).
It’s usually better to make these adjustments in editing software, which lets you work with larger images and makes it easier to see the effects of any changes you make to the image. A wider range of adjustments is also available in most image editors.
The preview screens provided by the printer driver are usually too small and their resolution is too low to make fine judgements. However, these facilities in the driver can be handy when you’re pressed for time and don’t require first-rate image quality.
Borderless or bordered prints?
The remaining decisions you need to make are largely a matter of personal taste. Most printers give you a choice between borderless prints (where the image extends out to the edges of the paper) and prints with white borders. Be aware that selecting borderless usually requires the image to be cropped in one dimension to fit it onto the paper so always check the preview to ensure wanted areas are not cut off.
There are many ways of printing with white borders around your picture. Some (usually very basic) editors include options for framing images with white borders being among the templates provided. More sophisticated editors include facilities for scaling images so you can adjust the image to fit on the paper, as shown in the illustration on this page.
Two different ways of adjusting the size of the image on the paper in Photoshop: checking the Scale to Fit Media button (top) and inputting a percentage (below).
The previews are usually quite accurate so you can be sure that the border widths you set will be reflected in the print. But, best of all, the image is printed in its entirety – without any cropping.
Aspect ratio issues
The aspect ratios of camera image sensors seldom match those of standard printing papers so photographers need to make choices when they make borderless prints. Either the image must be enlarged to cover the paper, which requires the picture to be cropped, or if the image is printed in full there will be white borders on two sides of the picture, as shown in the illustrations here:
The top picture shows an image with a 4:3 aspect ratio as a borderless fit on a postcard-sized (15 x 10 cm) sheet of paper. Below it is a 16:9 image from a smartphone as it would be printed on the same sized paper.
You can’t avoid these choices; if you want the whole picture to be printed, the best you can do is crop off the white strips after the print is made. Different sized papers will have different aspect ratios so if you change from postcard to A4 paper, the widths of the white strips will change.
Article by Margaret Brown – see Margaret’s photography pocket guides
Excerpt from Photo Printing pocket guide