There is nothing like a printed photo. There are no electronic screensavers or digital photo frames that can really replace valuable photos that stick to the refrigerator door or be framed in a mirror. And even if you don’t really like making collages on your bed, some well-selected printed photos will be an amazing gift.
Unfortunately, while everyone has an amazing camera in their pocket, not many people have a printer at home that can do amazing photo prints. Instead, the best printer you can easily access might be at your local drug store or other retail store. This is the way to get amazing results.
Problems with (Some) Drugstore Prints
Drugstore printers, for the most part, are pretty good. They are certainly better than cheap inkjet for printing photos. Although there are small variations in quality based on how new and maintained a printer is, they are at least the same as an online printing service – and you get results faster so you can check it out and try again if you need it. for.
However, in computer programming there is a saying: garbage in, garbage out. This is the same as printing photos. If someone prints a blurry screenshot with a low resolution, it doesn’t matter how good the printer is, it will look terrible. In fact, it might look worse than what happens on your mobile screen. Printing is not a magical improvement that can increase the resolution or image quality; it’s more likely to reveal weaknesses.
Also, other habits from the printing process can affect the quality of your print – even if you start with a good file. For example, screenshots use backlighting: this gives the illusion that the image is brighter than that, and that is why so many printed phone photos look dull and dull. Likewise, if the aspect ratio of the photos on your cellphone might not match the aspect ratio of the print size, the printer will only cut edges cutting important details.
None of these problems are impossible to overcome, but you should know that they are here.
Find the Highest Quality File
The best file to print is almost always the original image directly from the camera – this is the highest resolution possible.
The problem is that social media sites and chat applications that people use to share their favorite photos are generally compressed, optimized, and if not, split the original file to make it faster to upload and easier to handle. You won’t get the best results from photos you save from Instagram or WhatsApp, which are often the photos that people try to print.
I uploaded this photo to Facebook. Initially, it was 2.7MB and 5166 × 3444 pixels. When I saved it from my Timeline, it was only 74 KB and 960 × 640 pixels.
If you took the photo, instead of downloading the copy you posted to Facebook or Twitter, return through the photo application and find the original version. If a friend picks it up, contact them and ask them to send it. Make sure they follow our advice about sending high resolution images.
If you cannot track the original file, your printing options are much more limited. If you upload high quality files to Facebook, they might be able to be used for small print, but instead you have to accept quality loss in your print. If something is a bit blurry when you enlarge your cellphone, it will be the same when you print it.
Determine the Print Size
High quality files not only produce prints that look better, but also determine how large the print size is. Standard options are 4 inches by 6 inches (4 × 6), 5 inches by 7 inches (5 × 7), and 8 inches by 10 inches (8 × 10). You can print in portrait or landscape orientation, so 4 × 6 can be 4 inches and 6 inches high, or 6 inches wide and 4 inches high. Most drug stores also offer square prints that are between 4 inches and 8 inches wide.
In general, photos are printed at 300 dots-per-inch (DPI). That means for a 6 inch by 4 inch print, you want an image resolution of 1800 pixels by 1200 pixels. That’s well below 4032 pixels with the 3024-pixel image size that you get from an iPhone 11 or other smartphone with a 12-megapixel camera, but it’s still bigger than 1080 pixels by 1350 pixels that’s the biggest photo you can upload to Instagram.
If you have the original file, you will be able to print at the standard size you want. A 12 megapixel photo printed at full resolution at 300 dpi will be 13.44 inches by 10.08 inches – slightly better than 8 × 10. (Note that you can get photos printed larger as posters or on canvas, but that is a completely different process).
What’s more important is the aspect ratio you choose. The 4: 3 aspect ratio, which is standard on most smartphones, is incompatible with any standard print size. Here is a photo I took on my iPhone in its original aspect ratio.
While this is what will be cut at 6 × 4.
And 5 × 7.
As you can see, whatever mold you use, you will lose a lot of things at the edges. For group photos, for example, it’s tempting to print as many as possible – 8 × 10 – but that often means cutting anyone standing outside the group. You will actually get a better photo with a 5 × 7 print – which cuts the ceiling and floor.
Prepare Your Photos for Printing
The basic editing tools provided by most printing kiosks are terrible to use. It’s far better to use your smartphone or computer. You can fully edit your photos if you want (and that’s something we recommend), but you have to make a few simple adjustments to the photos you want to print:
- Brighten up a little by increasing the brightness or lighting in the editing application of your choice. Photos always look brighter than on the screen.
- Crop the image to the right aspect ratio. This gives you control over what is cut off instead of just letting the printer center the image automatically.
- If you are using an iPhone, convert the HEIC file to JPG.
At least initially, there is no need to make dramatic color, saturation, or sharpness adjustments. JPEG conversions performed by your smartphone or camera and the printer itself must provide enough punch to your image.
Rate the Results
Printing is an imperfect process and, without calibrated settings, you will always get some difference between how a photo appears on the screen and how it appears as a print.
When you get your prints back, compare them to the original photo. If you are happy with the results, amazing. However, if there are some differences that you don’t like, you can go back to the original file and make some adjustments. For example, if the printed photo looks slightly yellowish, you need to change the white balance. If it’s still a little too dark, you need to increase the brightness a little more.
The good news is that most printing differences tend to be fairly consistent, at least as long as you use the same smartphone and printer. Once you know what tweaks you have to make, you can do it every time and reliably get good prints.
Also, while I am a big fan of drug stores, consider going to your local photography shop. They might use a similar machine but have a little more experience in printing high-quality jobs – staff will be able to help you if things don’t work out as you expect.