1. Watch the resolution – Remember that in order to get a quality print, you’ll need to have the DPI to back it up. The “Dots Per Inch” – pixels if you will – are the stuff your photos are made of. If you don’t have enough of ’em, you aren’t going to get a good print.
As a general guideline, try to keep your resolution between 200-300 DPI. Any less, and the photo is going to have an “edgy” or “jaggy” look to it. More than 200-300 DPI doesn’t hurt, but usually isn’t going to improve the image much either (unless you look at your prints with a magnifying glass or something).
If your photo doesn’t have the resolution to make the size print you want, consider a smaller print and some nice matting. Don’t “force” your photo program to create the extra pixels you need – it just never works very well.
2. Use Good Paper – When printing photos, use a “photo” paper. Generally, the stuff the printer manufactures sell is really good. It’s designed to be used with the ink in your printer and will almost always give great results.
If you don’t want to fork over the big bucks for the paper from your printer manufacturer, there are some good alternatives out there. For instance, I’ve had a lot of luck with various papers from Kodak, and I have a friend who’s had great results with Office Depot photo paper (really). It usually takes a bit of experimentation to get the printer settings (paper, color, etc) just so, but once you have it, these alternative papers do look great.
Oh, and if you really wanna get fancy, I’ve even seen some pricey “fine art” photo papers you may want to consider.
3. Printer Settings – This is the most important of the bunch. When you print a photo, be sure to hit the “Properties” button on your printer dialog box.
The first thing to check is for a “paper type” option. If you’re stuffing photo paper into your printer and have plain paper selected, you’re in for a heartbreaker. In order to get the best quality, always match your paper type properly!
Next, check the color settings. Some printers give you a ton of options here, some none at all. In my experience, most of the time I just go with the defaults and I’m pretty happy. If you think your photos could look better, by all means use this area to try and enhance ’em.
Here’s how my screen looks – your mileage will almost certainly vary:
In conclusion, don’t be afraid to experiment. Sure, you’ll go through some photo paper in the process, but discovering the best print settings will be worth it. Besides, once you find the ideal match between paper, resolution, and printer settings you’ll be able to repeat it all the time.
And it’s a good idea to write down your settings once you find a combination you like (of course, that’s about the time your paper or printer manufacturer decides to change things on you.