I am often asked how to make a good print using a personal inkjet printer or if it is even possible. The answer is yes in general it is possible to make good prints with a recent inkjet and in fact some of the printers can make very good prints. However to be able to make that very good print is pretty involved and you will have to spend the time and money to get there. I will explain some of the factors here but I am writing this to amateur photographers so this will not be a complete technical article on professional inkjet printing.
The most common complaint is that the print does not match the monitor. I hate to say it but the only way that is going to happen is to purchase a monitor calibration device and use an image editing application that is color management aware. My recommendations here are the X-Rite ColorMunki and Adobe Photoshop Elements . The ColorMunki is not a Pro level calibration device but it does a good job and Photoshop Elements is a very nice editing application on an amateur level. If you cannot afford to purchase a combination such as the above you will have to get used to the difference between the monitor and the print output. Keep in mind you may eventually spend almost as much in wasted ink and paper, not to mention your time. You can sometimes make changes to the color of the monitor with its built in controls that may help a little but you may end up making things look strange on the monitor overall.
After you have calibrated you monitor and are using a color management aware application to edit and print the next step is your substrate. I advise sticking to the manufactures paper here even though it is more expensive than third part paper. The reason is because the printer driver has profiles for these papers built into it so that it knows how the paper responds to ink. Every paper is different and it renders colors differently and it can handle a different maximum amount of ink put into it. If you try to print on a third party paper you still have to choose one of the manufactures papers. If those two papers are very, very close to the same then you will be fine if not you could get a big blob rather than a picture. So get good with the manufactures then branch out because there are many good third party papers out there. Many of the third party manufactures will include an ICC profile of the paper you can download from their web site along with instructions on how to configure the driver for printing on them. Keep in mind that printing using an ICC profile is a different process than using the manufactures papers and a bit more involved than I am going into here.
The resolution of your digital image is of course a factor as well and becomes an even larger factor the larger you want to print your image. Images of very low resolution such as off a web page will never print well at anything larger than a medium thumbnail size. In general you can make good prints up to 8x10” from a 5 megapixel camera. If you are using Photoshop Elements I recommend using it to make your image 300PPI (pixels per inch) at the desired print size then applying a little sharpening before sending it to the printer. This is only if it is not already almost 300PP or above 300PPI there is no need to decrease the resolution for printing in this case. Elements will do a better job interpolating (changing the resolution) the image than the printer driver plus you can remove some of the softness created by interpolation with sharpening. Every printer has a hardware resolution that it is going to require the image to be before it can send it to the printer. There are too many for me to list so I chose 300PPI as a good starting point. If it is offered in Elements use the bicubic smoother algorithm when increasing the resolution and bicubic if you decrease it to post on a web site.
Printer drivers have a bunch of built in options to help make your images look better. If your image is prepared correctly these things can actually hurt your printed output so try turning that stuff off first. Then you can experiment with turning them on and comparing the output.
So as a quick recap:
- Calibrate your monitor.
- Use a color management aware application.
- Use substrates known by the printer driver.
- Make sure your images have enough resolution to print well.
- Watch out for driver options that may actually cause issues.