Make Your Best Prints Ever
One of the great joys resulting from the change to digital compared to shooting film is the ability to get great photo prints optimized for the subject and photographer. Everyone who used to try to get a good, custom print from a slide or negative knows what a challenge that used to be. There were multiple visits to the lab when an image didn't print right and had to be reprinted. Or often, you'd just accept the print as is because it was "good enough," and any changes weren't worth the back-and-forth with the lab. You probably know what I'm talking about.
Related to this, inkjet printers lay down ink with highly evolved patterns for color and tonality. These are so secret and such prized possessions of printer companies that very few people actually have access to the algorithms that control this. From what I understand, these sophisticated algorithms pay more attention to tonalities and color changes than they do to the actual pixels in an image. Plus, these patterns overlap ink dots in unique ways that don't always match pixels either.
For all practical purposes, you can use an image resolution of 200 to 300 ppi and get excellent results. I use the lower number for larger print sizes and the higher number for smaller sizes because less interpolation is needed and smaller files can be used.
Working With Color Management
Whole books have been written about color management through the printing process. I recommend that you ignore any advice that makes you feel incompetent because you don't fully understand color management. You don't have to. Color management in printing is simply the way an image-processing program such as Photoshop communicates how it sends an image to the printer.
There are two ways to use color settings for printing your images:
1. Print with Photoshop or other software controlling the process.
2. Print with the printer controlling the process.
You'll hear a lot of recommendations to do only the first, but these are typically from photographers who are familiar with only one printer type. Both of these methods will work, sometimes one better than the other, depending on the printer, but the only way to find out for sure is to do your own tests.
If you print with Photoshop, you have to follow several steps: choose a paper profile while still in the printing options of Photoshop, select a print quality for the printer, choose a paper in the printer driver and turn off any color management in the printer driver (the printer driver is the embedded software that comes up when you go to print, and it controls the printer).
A paper profile defines how colors are translated from the computer space to a specific paper. In most programs, you'll find a whole set of profiles specific to your printer and/or paper used by it somewhere in the print options. Pick a profile that matches your paper. These profiles have been carefully developed by the printer or paper manufacturer. They come with your printer when you install it and can be added later by downloading profiles from a paper or printer company website.
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