Printing your digital files

It is one thing to be able to take great pictures with your digital camera and quite another to then produce fantastic photographic prints. With film-based photography, many photographers passed on the responsibility of making a print to their local photo store. In contrast, with the advance of the digital age the center of much digital print production sits squarely on the desk in the form of a tabletop printer.

The quality of the output from these devices continues to improve, as does the archival life of the prints they produce, but the first choice for many shooters for printing is still the local photolab. Here, too, times are changing. Not only can they make prints from negatives, but also from digital camera cards and CD-ROMs.

The decision about whether you print your own, or have your pictures printed for you, is generally a personal one, based on ease and comfort as much as anything. A summary of the current state of play is given in Table 34.1.

If you opt to make your own prints, there are several different printer technologies that can turn your digital pictures into photographs. The most popular, at the moment, is the inkjet (or bubble jet) printer, followed by dye sublimation and laser machines.

Table 34.1 Summary of the features of different methods of printing

DIY desktop printing

Photo-lab printing

Set-up cost

Initial purchase of printer US$100-400


Cost per print




You will need a little instruction to get started

Very easy to use




Archival life

Good for some models, average for others


Ability to change results to suit your own taste or ideas

Almost unlimited options to make user changes to how the print looks

Limited options or none


Print whenever you want

Limited to shop hours, unless lab has online options

The inkjet printer

Starting at a price of around US $50, the inkjet printer provides the cheapest way to enter the world of desktop printing. The ability of an inkjet printer to produce great photographs is based on the production of a combination of fineness of detail and seamless graduation of the color and tone. The machines contain a series of cartridges filled with liquid ink. The ink is forced through a set of tiny print nozzles using either heat or pressure. Different manufacturers have slightly different systems, but all are capable of producing very small droplets of ink (some are four times smaller than the diameter of a human hair!). The printer head moves back and forth across the paper laying down color, whilst the roller mechanism gradually feeds the print through the machine. Newer models have multiple sets of nozzles that operate in both directions (bidirectional) to give faster print speeds (see Figure 34.1).

The most sophisticated printers from manufacturers like Canon, Epson and Hewlett Packard also have the ability to produce ink droplets that vary in size. This feature helps create the fine detail in photographic prints.

Most photographic quality printers have very high resolution, approaching 6000 dots per inch, which equates to pictures being created with very small ink droplets, and six, seven or even eight different ink colors, enabling these machines to produce the highest quality prints. These printers are often more expensive than standard models, but serious photographers will value the extra quality they are capable of (see Figure 34.2).

Printers optimized for business applications are often capable of producing prints faster than the photographic models. They usually only have three colors and black, and so do not produce photographic images with as much subtlety in tonal change as the special photo models.

One of the real advantages of inkjet printing technologies for digital photography is the choice of papers available for printing. Different surfaces (gloss, semi-gloss, matte, iron-on transfer, metallic, magnetic and even plastic), textures (smooth, watercolor and canvas), thickness (from 80 to 300 gsm) and sizes (A4, A3, 10 in x 8 in, 6 in x 4 in, panorama and even roll) can all be feed through the printer. This is not the case with laser, where the choice is limited in surface and thickness, or dye sublimation, where only the specialized paper supplied with the colored ribbons can be used (see Figure 34.3).

Figure 34.1 Standard inkjet printers use a four-color system containing cyan, magenta, yellow and black to produce color pictures.
Figure 34.2 Inkjet printers designed especially for photographic printing often contain five or more colors plus black, and some models can even print up to A3+ (bigger than A3).
Figure 34.3 One advantage of creating your photographs with an inkjet machine is the large range of paper stocks available to print on.

Before you start to print

Make sure that your printer is turned on and then with an image editing program open your photograph ready for printing. Select the Print option from the File menu (generally File > Print). This will open up a general print dialog which contains settings for print layout, printer selection and print size. With Windows-based machines choosing the Page Setup option will display another dialog with specific printer settings. The Printer button shows the machine's control panel, often called the printer driver dialog. It is here that you will need to check that the name of the printer is correctly listed in the Name box. If not, select the correct printer from the dropdown menu. Click on the properties button and choose the 'Main Tab'. Select the media type that matches your paper, the 'Color' option for photographic images and 'Automatic and Quality' settings in the mode section. These options automatically select the highest quality print settings for the paper type you are using. Click OK. Now with your printer set for the paper, quality and type of print you require, let's output the first image.

Note: Many of the specific dialogs and controls involved in printing from both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements are determined by the operating system (OSX or Windows) and the printer model and make you have installed.

Making your first digital print

With an image open in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, open the Print Preview dialog (File > Print with Preview - Photoshop or File > Print - Photoshop Elements). Check the thumbnail to ensure that the whole of the picture is located within the paper boundaries. To change the paper's size or orientation, select the Page Setup and Printer Properties options. Whilst here, check the printer output settings are still set to the type of paper being used. Work your way back to the Print Preview dialog by clicking the OK buttons (see Figure 34.4).

Figure 34.4 You can change the size and position of your image on its paper background via the Print Preview dialog.

To alter the position or size of the picture on the page, deselect both Scale to Fit Media and Center Image options, and then select the Show Bounding Box feature. Change the image size by clicking and dragging the handles at the edge and corners of the image. Move the picture to a different position on the page by clicking on the picture surface and dragging the whole image to a different area (see Figure 34.5). To print, select the Print button and then the OK button.


Figure 34.5 Change the size and position of the image on the page with the Print Preview dialog.

Figure 34.5 Change the size and position of the image on the page with the Print Preview dialog.

Printing in action

1 Select Print Preview (File > Print or File > Print with Preview) and click the Page Setup button. Check the Printer Properties options are set to the paper type, page size and orientation, and print quality options that you require. Click OK to exit these dialogs and return to the Print Preview dialog (Figure 34.6).

2 At this stage you can choose to allow Photoshop or Elements to automatically center the image on the page (tick the Center Image box) and enlarge or reduce the picture so that it fits the page size selected (tick the Scale to Fit Media box) - see Figure 34.7.

3 Alternatively, you can adjust the position of the picture and its size manually by deselecting these options and ticking the 'Show Bounding Box' feature. To move the image, click inside the picture and drag to a new position. To change its size, click and drag one of the handles located at the corners of the bounding box. With all the settings complete, click Print to output your image (Figure 34.8).

Figure 34.7 Making a digital print - 2.

Figure 34.8 Making a digital print - 3.

Producing a digital contact sheet

Digital photographers are not afraid to shoot as much as they like because they know that they will only have to pay for the production of the very best of the images they take. Navigating through all the images can be quite difficult and many shooters still prefer to edit their photographs as prints rather than on screen. The people at Adobe must have understood this situation when they developed the Contact Print feature for Photoshop and Elements. With one simple command, the imaging program creates a series of small thumbnail versions of all the images in a directory or folder. These small pictures are then arranged on pages and labelled with their file names. From there, it is an easy task to print a series of contact sheets that can be kept as a permanent record of the folder's images. The job of selecting the best pictures to manipulate and print can then be made with hard copies of your images without having to spend the time and money to output every image to be considered (see Figure 34.9).

The options contained within the Contact Sheet dialog allow the user to select the size and the number of thumbnails that will be placed on this page.

Contact sheets in action

1 In Elements select File > Print after multi-selecting the photos to include from the Organizer. Photoshop users should choose File > Automate > Contact Sheet and then use the Browse button to pick the folder or directory containing the images to be placed on the contact sheet (Figure 34.10).

2 In Photoshop - In the Document area, input the values for width, height, resolution and mode of the finished contact sheet. In the Thumbnails section, select the Place or sequence used to layout the images, as well as the number of columns and rows of thumbnails per page.

With Elements - Choose Contact Sheet as the Type of Print and choose the number of columns in the Layout settings (pictured). If you selected more images than can fit on one page, Elements or Photoshop will automatically make new pages to accommodate the other thumbnails (Figure 34.11).

3 In the final section you can elect to place a file name, printed as a caption, under each image. The size and font family used for the captions can also be chosen here. Click OK to make the contact sheet (Photoshop) or Print in Elements (Figure 34.12).

Figure 34.9 The Contact Sheet feature creates thumbnail versions of all the selected images (Photoshop Elements) or those located in a specific directory (Photoshop).
Figure 34.10 Producing a digital contact sheet -
Figure 34.11 Producing a digital contact sheet - 2.
Figure 34.12 Producing a digital contact sheet - 3.
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