You Cannot Hang a JPEG: A Guide to Printing

Consider the humble smartphone, a miracle of the last decade. Not only does this device: play every piece of music ever to have existed, help you at pub trivia and sometimes make calls. It also serves as an evolution of the humble photo album. More and more people I talk to boast of taking these amazing photos on their phones and sharing them on social media. Then that’s it, nothing further is done.

Suppose if that phone were to experience an accident or get lost? Cloud services aside that is still a few years of memories lost forever. I entertain a number of backup formats for my photos but nothing is as tangible or meaningful as seeing your ones and zeros in physical form.

I originally started printing to share my photos as gifts for family and friends. At first I simply went to a local office supplies shop and printed them out. With each subsequent print I kept find errors and mistakes that ruined more than a few shots. Coming back from the store with a batch of Italy photos where the geometry was way off was the last straw. I decided to reclaim my prints by going DIY.

Yes, Digital printing is nowhere near as complex as it’s analog predecessor. However, there are considerations that are essential to getting the best results possible. Here’s but a few trips/tricks/anecdotes from my experiences:

PROOFING: Rather than diving straight into large prints, I like to run off a smaller copy (usually 6×4) just to check how the shot translates. On a technical level, digital photo printing is converting from one colour space (RGB) to another (CYMK). That might not seem like much but the bottom line is that there will be a difference between screen and print especially with full colour shots. This then allows you to decide if any quick adjustments need to be made before committing to a substantial print.

ASPECT RATIO: Unless substantial cropping (free guide) is involved. Most shots will be in 3:2. If you intend to frame your photos be aware that certain sizes won’t match up and borders will result. This is not a bad thing if you’re after that look. A lot of shots I sold recently were in 8×10 frames that have an aspect ration of 5:4. As a result of the mismatch, I had minor boarders on the top and bottom of the frames, which lent itself to a cinematic look in the opinion of this author. If you don’t want to be at the mercy of such quirks stick to: 6×4 and then the standard paper sizes (A4, A3, etc). These are always 3:2 and so will scale with minimal fuss.

PRINTER TYPES: All consumer printers operate on the CYMK colour space, however the format of their processes can also influence how photos turn out. Small printers will often use a heat based mechanism that will render colours different to an inkjet. I use a Canon Selphy for proofing and fast turnarounds. Due to the nature of its mechanism, the colour rendition only goes so far when printing directly from a file. As a result I have a profile that boosts contrast and saturation in the printer itself to compensate. With such formats fidelity is not my priority. However, by still giving me a rough idea I then can make adjustments before I go to a larger inkjet print.

This is not the be all/end all guide to photo printing. Printing has become another aspect of my photographic journey as I seek to share my work beyond the four corners of a smart device’s screen. If you have been on the fence about DIY printing, it’s worth taking the plunge. Even a stock home printer will have a photo mode. Add some photo paper (I use HP Everyday Photo Paper, Glossy) and away you go.

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