The printing heads in inkjet printers are precision-engineered to perform a specific function: placing thousands of tiny ink droplets accurately on a sheet of paper to create a photo print. Ink is a critical component in the system. Each printer manufacturer formulates inks to meet the needs of the print heads in printers in their range. In some cases there is a different set of inks for each individual printer; in others, one ink set can be used with several models in the range.
In an ideal world, you would be able to point your digital camera at a subject, take the photo and then make prints that either match reality or improve upon it. But, in the real world, your camera must communicate with your computer which, in turn has to ‘talk’ with your printer. In this process, colour information is passed along a chain and re-interpreted by each device. This chain is known as a ‘workflow’.
If you own a digital SLR (DSLR) camera – or a high-end compact digicam – you will find it provides two file format settings: JPEG and raw (often shown as RAW). When you shoot a JPEG image, the camera’s image processor with adjust the contrast, sharpness, colour saturation and white balance BEFORE the image is saved to the memory card. When you shoot a raw image, this processing is deferred until the file is opened in a computer.
Most everyday photographers only print in monochrome (black and white) when they copy old photographs – usually as a result of scanning negatives or prints. So we’ll begin this chapter by looking at scanning options.
Choosing the correct paper is vital if you want high-quality, durable prints of digital photos. The paper must have exactly the right level of absorbency to accept the ink but be able to prevent the ink from spreading. General-purpose office papers are usually too absorbent and can’t reproduce either the fine detail or vibrant colours that characterise good photo prints. Most digital camera users know you must use photo quality paper if you want prints that look and feel like traditional photo prints.
If you’re in the market for a printer, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the huge range of different types and models in the stores. To find the right model you must sift through the options on show, and find the right type of printer for your requirements. The tips in the box on this page will help you make a wise choice.
Many digital photographers complain about the high cost of inkjet media and look for ways to reduce it. Although it may be tempting to seek out solutions like cheap, third-party inks and papers, cartridge refills and other strategies that look as if they may save you money, these options are usually fraught with problems that end up costing you much more in the long run.
As a photographer, making prints not only allows you to turn your digital images into a tangible asset; it also provides you with a great way to display them. Compared to the facilities our parents had, today’s photo printers are light years ahead in convenience, economy and durability.
Digital photographs that have been taken with a high-resolution camera using the highest resolution and quality settings are too large to be emailed directly and can be inconvenient to include in PowerPoint presentations. But it’s very easy to re-size them and there are a number of ways to do so.
How big should you print your photos? What media should you use? These questions are important to photographers at all levels.