You’ve selected a photo, and now you need to print it. Where do you go from here? There are some things you really need to know, especially if you’re the one who’s doing the printing. You’ve got a lot of choices and a lot of trade-offs to consider, but let’s start with the basic ones first
It’s intuitively obvious that your photos are only as good as the printer paper, but what printer paper should you use? For images, you definitely want a heavier paper that won’t absorb the ink and lead to bleed-through; the extra weight also helps the paper resist wear and tear far better than lighter kinds. As for the finish, it depends on the effect you’re seeking- if you’re looking to highlight colors, you want to consider a glossy finish. If you’re looking to add a little texture to your image (or are going to place the image in a brightly-lit environment) or are looking for something that will handle fingers better, think about trying a matte finish. Some photo papers also are designed to decrease the drying time. The last thing you want to do is print a lovely photo only to have it smudge!
Ink selection is to some degree affected by paper choice; for a given printer, the manufacturer (especially if known for photo printing) has likely done testing with different ink and paper combinations in order to recommend the best pairings. The viscosity of the ink, the droplet size, and its chemical composition all affect the rate of absorption into the paper, the quality of the colors once they dry, and the resistance to abrasion and fading. Inks specifically designed for photos produce better colors and resist fading better than standard color inks, but also tend to be more expensive per cartridge. Epson even has an ink that is smudge-resistant and waterproof! Be sure to consider your purpose if you’re printing your own photos- if you’re printing for an album or permanent display, a little extra cost is worth avoiding brittle and faded photos in the future. If the picture is just going up on a bulletin board or for casual display, it doesn’t matter nearly so much. PC World magazine ran an article analyzing discount inks and concluded that, even with “quality” discount inks, the manufacturer inks scored far better on longevity.
Of course, you need a printer if you’re going to print your own photos. The initial expense is higher on this route, but you also have the ability to reprint if you don’t like the result or print a test image to see how a certain paper/ink combination works together. If you want to print your own, I advise you to invest in a decent photo printer; that way, you know that resolution, image-printing quirks (and all the technical & image processing wizardry that occurs behind the scenes), and quality have been optimized for that purpose. After all, a photo printer can always print image-laden text, but things don’t always work the other way around.
This post is part of the series: Printing Digital Photos - Frequently Asked Questions Answered
How should you print your digital photos? Do you print at home with a photo printer or take it to a photo lab? What photo paper should you use? What printer ink should you buy? Should you go with an online printing service? All your questions about digital photo printing are answered in this series.