In order to get the best photo prints you can, you must take into account four separate components of quality.
- The digital camera image
- The photo printer capabilities
- The quality of ink cartridges used
- The quality of photo paper you use
Each component is a complete topic in itself, but it’s worth a quick overview.
The first major component of getting great prints, is having a good quality digital print. The higher resolution your camera (the more megapixels), the better its ability to produce good quality prints at larger sizes. Whenever possible, take your pictures using the camera’s highest resolution setting.
The next component is a good photo printer.
- Use a printer with 1200 DPI or better
- Use a printer with individual ink droplets of 4-picoliters or less
- Ideally, use a printer with 6 to 8 individual ink cartridges
The type of ink cartridges you use will either contain pigment based ink or dye based ink.
Pigmented ink advantages include faster drying, UV resistant, waterproof (usually), and generally longer archival properties.
Advantages of dye based inks are that they: are less expensive, have wide availability, and have smaller tint particles and slower drying time. Smaller tint and slower drying time mean there is less chance of clogging your printhead.
Dye based inks are usually fine for most general photo applications, however if top of the line quality prints are required, pigmented inks would be best.
Ok, so the final part to this puzzle is the photo paper.
Many people don’t realize it, but the paper you use is actually one of the most important components in creating a quality photo print.
Not all photo paper is the same. It’s truly amazing how wide of a range the quality differences can be with various brands.
Photo papers can vary in nearly every aspect; brightness, weight, finish, archival properties, absorbtion rates
The main difference between photo paper and regular paper, is the finish that’s applied to the surface.
Each brand of photo paper has uniquely engineered properties that react differently to the ink and printer being used. This makes it very hard to flat out recommend a certain brand.
The final print quality will be a result of your particular printer/ink/paper combination. Different brands of inks have different chemical makeups, and will react differently to various papers. Different printers also disperse varying amounts of ink as well.
The best result will probably be found by experimenting a little bit to find out which combination works best using your printer.
As a general rule however, I would recommend always purchasing photo paper that features “Archival Quality” and is “Acid-free”. Getting paper that is archival quality will make your prints last longer without fading, and acid-free paper will resist turning yellow over time.
Other features of photo paper can come down to personal preference.
Personally, I prefer a good heavyweight paper (96 or more), with an ‘ultra-high’ glossly finish. Other people however, prefer a softer finish that a regular glossy produces, or even a matte finish. Again, you’ll want to do your own experimenting to see what matches your tastes.
Before printing your final prints, it’s a good idea to run a printhead cleaning cycle to ensure none of the printhead jets have any blockage. You’ll also want to set the printer to the correct paper type and resolution, usually the highest setting.
Be patient, play around with the settings, and have fun printing!