We live in the most photographed century

Thanks to point-and-shoot cameras, lower prices on professional DSLRs and cell phones, we live in the most photographed century ever. This is exciting, but for some reason, people are not printing as much.

It can’t be price — prints are cheaper now than they have ever been. It can’t be lack of print labs — there are lots of local and online print labs. This leads me to believe people may not realize how easy it is to print their cherished photos. Let’s take the mystery out of printing and get those prints in books, on walls and in photo albums.

1. Understand how pixels affect print size

Images are measured in pixels. The more pixels, the better quality and larger print you can make. Sometimes an image may look great on your cell phone or computer, but when it’s printed, it looks bad. This usually happens when you try to enlarge or crop an image that doesn’t have enough Pixels Per Inch (PPI) to use. Don’t worry, there are a few solutions to fix this.

The easiest solution is to print an image size that matches your pixels. For example, if you want a standard 5-by-7, the image needs to be at least 1500 pixels wide and 2100 pixels tall. The formula is multiplying the inches of your print by 300. So for our 5-by-7, you multiply 5 by 300 to get 1500, and 7 by 300 to get 2100. Instead of doing the math, you can always follow this chart.

Print size (inches) Image size (pixels)
3 x 5 900 x 1500
4 x 6 1200 x 1800
5 x 7 1500 x 2100
8 x 8 2400 x 2400
8 x 10 2400 x 3000
8.5 x 11 2550 x 3300
9 x 16 2700 x 4800
11 x 14 3300 x 4200

That’s great, but if you want to make it larger than the number of pixels the image has, you may need to resize or scale the image. This can be done by using Photoshop or ON1 Software. Sometimes the printer’s software does this for you automatically. Check the online guide to your printer.

2. Choosing the right printing paper

Matte paper is excellent for displaying photos that must be displayed “naked” (not behind plastic/glass) in an environment where light reflections can be an issue. Colors are generally duller and less contrast than semi-gloss or glossy papers.

Luster paper, also called satin, pearl and sometimes semi-gloss, is a premium finish on a heavier paper. It’s typically the number one choice for photographers. It offers the vibrant colors of glossy with the finger-resistant finish of matte. It has a repeating textured that looks like the surface of an orange. This texture hides minor scratches and scuffs from wear and handling and has a lower direct reflection of light to the viewer. This makes for less glare, shine and makes the image easier to see at all angles.

Glossy paper has a shiny finish making prints appear brighter with more vibrant colors. They look fancy and convey a high-quality feeling. On the downside, glossy photo prints “shiny” attribute can be a problem when photos are viewed using intense light sources such as daylight sun or strong light bulbs. Light reflected from the photo print can blind the viewer making it hard to see the photo. Glossy paper is also more likely to attract dust and fingerprints and is thus more likely to get dirty over time.

Metallic paper has a rich distinctive metallic look making the image almost appear to be printed on a sheet of metal. Although typically more expensive, a metallic finish can provide a vibrant “pop” to images, making it a truly unique keepsake.

3. Calibrating your monitor

A common problem is the colors of the image looks great on your monitor but looks different when printed. The problem is your monitor displays color using red, green and blue (RGB) and mixes those colors to make a color pallet. Printers, on the other hand, use cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK), and mixes those colors to make its color palate. You can use monitor calibration software to adjust the colors on your screen to your prints. There are plenty of free monitor calibration software, like Calibrize, that do a decent job. Keep in mind, this process isn’t perfect. The software is relying on you, the user, to determine what you think the colors should look like.

A better solution is to use a hardware calibrating tool like the SpyderX by Datacolor. Simply place the device on your screen, run the software and let it determine the values of color. If you’re doing a lot of printing, or tone control in Photoshop or LuminarAI, you should consider getting one.

4. Print labs

Print labs are everywhere. You can walk into your local CVS drugstore and print from their self-service kiosk or upload images to your local Walmart. For better quality prints Bay Photos, MPIX, MPIX Pro or White House Custom Colour all have online stores.

5. Print at home

Printing at home is very affordable not to mention convenient. If you forgot to pick up a birthday gift for your child’s friend, you could quickly print a beautiful keepsake of the child at the last baseball or soccer game just before you head out to the party.

When choosing a printer, don’t forget to check how much replacement inks cost. You may get a great deal on a top-notch printer, but if the replacement inks are really expensive, it may not be worth it.