Printing photos

How to prepare digital photos for printing

Written by Gayan Gunawardana

It’s important to understand that preparing your files for printing can be just as important as selecting a printing source.

No matter how far digital photography has come, there is still nothing that can beat the sense of wonder you feel when you hold a nicely printed set of photos in your hands, or the awe you feel when viewing a large print of a magnificent scene hanging on a wall.

The journey of a photo from a digital file on your memory card to a well color balanced, gorgeous looking print is often long. On many occasions photographers simply give up after their first attempt when not getting the results they expected.

Two stages are involved in the process of printing your own photos: preparing you files for printing and calibrating your monitor. The first stage will be covered in this article.

Important factors when printing

It’s important to understand that preparing your files for printing can be just as important as selecting a printing source. While you can only truly learn all the intricacies of printing after you have done it  several times,  a basic understanding of the important factors involved will help you avoid some of the most common pit falls.

Resolution is key

The resolution of your photo, expressed as a megapixel value on the camera, is the most critical factor when it comes to getting a good print. If a printed photo looks blotchy and pixelated (ie, made up of thousands of small squares), it is the result of printing a photo with not enough resolution.

The higher resolution the larger print can be made. If you intend to print your photos, it is always better to set your camera to the highest resolution and quality settings. For a detailed list of resolutions and print sizes they support, take a look at this article.

Be careful when cropping

Often an already good looking photo can be made even better by cropping out unnecessary parts. Cropping helps create focus or improve the overall composition of a photo.

Keep in mind that even if you begin with a high resolution image, if you crop away a large portion of a photo the resulting image may not have enough resolution.

Aspect ratio

When cropping, make sure you use the same original ratio of length to width of the original photo; or at least use one of the standard printing ratios known as aspect ratio. If you use a non-standard ratio and then print a standard size (such as 4X6” or 8X10”), your photo may get stretched or compressed, or the edges of a photo will not be printed.

Most photo editing software has a dedicated cropping tool where you can specify the length to width ratio. Online photo printing services also have a web based system where you can do basic edits such as cropping, adding text, applying filters, mats and frames, prior to printing.

Dots Per Inch setting

When using the crop tool make sure to also select a DPI of 300. DPI, or Dots Per Inch, is like the resolution of a printer. A lower DPI may produce a botched colors where as keeping your DPI high (typically at 300DPI) yields the best results.

About the author

Gayan Gunawardana

Gayan Gunawardana is a Houston based photographer who's interests include landscapes, street photography and portraiture.

Trained as a Chemical Engineer, Gayan started his own company in Sri Lanka. In 2009, he moved to Houston Texas with his lovely wife to read for his MBA at the University of Houston.

Gayan considers him self as an advanced amateur photographer and currently shoots with a Canon DSLR. He believes that a good photo is 50% composition, 30% technique, 15% post processing and only 5% equipment. Gayan's interest in photography started in 2005 and has been growing steadily. It occupies an ever increasing portion of his time and he's loving it. :)