Printing old photos can be a great way to preserve and be reminded of precious memories with friends and loved ones.
And printing your favorite photos at home seems easy enough – just load the paper into the printer and hit print, right?
Well, not really. It totally depends on what you’re trying to print: whether it’s a locket photo or a large canvas.
Between finding the right printer, choosing the best photo paper type, calibrating your monitor, and figuring out the right resolution and dimensions to use, there are a lot of factors that go into photo printing.
In this guide, we tackle all the essentials of printing your own photos. By the end, you should know how to print high-quality photos from the comfort of your own home!
And if you reach the end of this article and decide that you’d much rather just order prints, we’ve got you covered. At Image Restoration Center, we offer studio-quality photo prints to all our restoration clients.
Finding a good photo printer is perhaps the most important aspect of printing photos. When comparing machines, you have to consider the following factors:
There are three main types of printers: inkjet, dye sublimation, and laser. For printing photos, you’re better off with either inkjet or dye sublimation, as low- to mid-range laser printers work best for document printing.
Inkjet printers work by spraying tiny droplets of ink from the cartridge’s nozzle as the cartridge moves across the page. While these types of machines are efficient in terms of ink usage, they don’t produce the most impressive photo prints. If you look close enough at an image produced by an inkjet printer, you can make out the different colored dots that form the photo – similar to how a computer screen works.
On the other hand, a sublimation printer uses a ribbon of transparent film that is embedded with solid dyes in the colors cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. When the print head heats up, the dye vaporizes and transfers onto the paper. As the dye solidifies again, it forms a clear color photo, not unlike a chemically processed film photograph. The sublimation method often adds a clear glossy coat to protect the ink from smudging.
If you want high-quality photo prints that look like they came from a photo lab, go for a sublimation printer. However, sublimation printers use up more ink and require specially coated papers.
Most home printers will support up to 13-inch wide photos or documents. These should be good enough for printing photos ranging from 4R (4×6) to 8R (8×10). If you want to print photos that are bigger, like posters and wall decor, you can find professional wide-format printing machines that can reach 17 inches wide and beyond.
Wondering how to choose the best print size? We’ve written an article on it here.
If you want to print photos from your phone or iPad, you’ll need a printer that can print wirelessly. Thankfully, it’s a lot easier to print photos on today’s machines, as they will usually come with built-in WiFi network connections, Bluetooth, or even come with their own apps for easier access.
But, before buying a printer, double-check to see if the machine you’re considering supports your phone. For iPhone users, you need to make sure your printer supports AirPrint. For those using Android devices, you can try connecting via Wi-Fi or Near Field Communication (NFC).
It may seem trivial to some, but choosing the right kind of photo paper can affect not only the outcome of the photos but where and how you can display them as well. Here are some things to consider when shopping for photo papers:
Display location is one of the key considerations when deciding on photo size. Where do you plan on using your printed photos? Will they be stored in photo books, displayed on a wall, or propped up on the mantle? To get this part right, measure the area where you want to display your photos, and don’t forget to account for the size of your frames too.
Aside from this, you need to think about the subject and composition of your photos – close-ups and portraits do well in smaller photo sizes, while lush landscapes, structure shots, and even collage projects are best appreciated in large format.
Popular standard photo sizes included 4×6, 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, 12×18, and 16×20.
Finish describes the texture of your photo paper. Your choice of photo finishing can affect the overall look of your photos, as well as their vulnerability to damage.
There are six main types of finish: glossy, satin, pearl, luster, metallic, and matte finish.
This finish results in smooth and reflective photos. It is among the most popular finishes because it lets images “pop” by displaying both deep blacks and vibrant colors. You’ll find that glossy photos also appear more “crisp”. However, the downside to gloss is that it can be easily scratched and smudged. It’s also challenging to display because it can produce glare when hit by light or viewed at certain angles.
Unlike gloss finishing, matte has absolutely no shine. As a result, photos printed with a matte finish can appear flat, muted, and not as “structured” as those printed with a glossy look. However, since matte photos don’t easily smudge or produce glare, they’re the preferred option for scrapbooking and displaying professional photos in galleries. Matte is also a good choice for black-and-white photos.
These three finishes all stand somewhere in the middle of the gloss-matte spectrum. Pearl and satin are used interchangeably by different photo prints manufacturers to describe a semi-gloss finish, which doesn’t produce as much shine and glare as gloss prints. Meanwhile, Lustre has a subtle gloss and a light texture (some describe it as iridescent), making it a popular choice for wedding photos.
With a sheen similar to that of glossy and pearl finishes, metallic photo prints can appear almost 3D at times. However, unlike gloss finishes, metallic doesn’t produce as much glare even in places that get a lot of light. One major drawback however is the price – metallic finishes are more expensive as they require more time and more materials to create.
Most people fail to consider weight and thickness when they weigh their print options. But as these two factors contribute to photo paper’s feel and durability, they absolutely should be accounted for – especially if you’re printing photos that will be displayed without a frame or used in a photo book.
Weight is measured in grams per square meter (gsm) while thickness is expressed in mils (thousands of an inch). Naturally, the thicker the paper, the harder and more rigid it will be.
If you want to print photos for the sake of mounting or displaying in a frame, it’s best to go for 150gsm to 200gsm. For greeting cards, invitation cards, and other types of prints that are handled frequently, you’ll want something more durable, like 200gsm to 300gsm.
Thanks to technology, photo printing isn’t limited to paper materials anymore. You can pretty much have your favorite photos printed onto every imaginable surface from canvas, photo book, and acrylic prints, to wood, metal, and glass prints. Do keep in mind that you’ll likely need a special, professional-grade printer for these types of projects.
With a good printer and the right photo papers in hand, you can now prepare to print photos from your camera roll. But before you hit that printer icon, make sure to go over the following steps first:
Calibrating a monitor means ensuring that your screen is displaying the right tones and colors. Otherwise, you won’t really know what your photos really look like, and you’ll find minor to significant differences between the images on your screen and your printed photographs.
Before calibrating your monitor be sure to let your monitor warm up upon startup for about 30 minutes, and check if you’re using your monitor’s native resolution.
You can calibrate by eye using test patterns, but this is a tedious task and requires a lot of time and focus. An easier way to go about it would be to download color calibration apps like Calibrize, QuickGamma, and W4ZT.
When you edit your photos for printing, always make sure to do it in CMYK format, as this is the standard color mode for print. RGB, the color mode that appears on your monitor, has a different color gamut range from CMYK. This means that if you make changes to a picture (like hue, tone, brightness, and saturation) in RGB mode, it might not come out the way you want it to upon printing.
Print resolution, or the amount of detail in a photograph, is measured in dots per inch or DPI. Choosing the right print resolution will give you high-quality photo prints without any pesky pixelation. The “golden” resolution that most photographers and designers swear by is 300 DPI.
Photos taken with 35mm film and most full-frame or ASP-C sensor cameras will have an aspect ratio of 3:4. This is perfect if you’re producing prints that are 4×6 or 8×12 in size, as they have the same ratio – your photos will come out crop-free or full-frame. However, if you’re hoping to get print photos in sizes like 5×7, 8×10, or 16×20, you can expect to see some cropping on the longer sides.
To make up for this, crop your images in your photos app or on your computer to adjust the aspect ratio, and adjust the composition while you’re at it.
Finally, don’t forget to sharpen your images before you hit print. Paper is porous, so the printing process – especially with inkjet printing – will naturally result in some color bleeding. Thus, printed photos appear less sharp than images on a screen.
To compensate for this, you have to up the sharpness of your images a significant amount before you print. How sharp is sharp enough? Most photographers and photo print labs will advise you to sharpen your print photos to the point where it looks almost oversharpened on your monitor.
Is home photo printing the most practical decision? If you want unlimited free prints (especially if you’re making photo books) and the convenience of doing it without having to leave your house, then, yes, it can be a practical decision.
But between buying a printer and photo papers, refilling your ink cartridges, and editing and preparing your digital images, photo printing at home can also be labor-intensive. Why waste your time and money figuring out how to print your photos when you can just send them to us?
When we restore old photos, we usually send the edited file straight to our clients’ email. But, for a minimal fee, we also deliver high-quality photo printing for all our restoration clients. You won’t have to worry about all the materials and complicated preparations involved with printing photos.
As photography and image restoration experts, we’ve got years of experience under our belt. Just leave your photos with us and you’ll have studio-quality prints delivered to your doorstep ASAP.