Image Editing 101: Printing Photos

Lesson 6: Printing Photos



There may be times when you want to print physical copies of your digital photos. In this lesson, we'll talk about some of the most popular printing services, along with some tips on preparing your images for printing.

Photo printing options

There are several things you'll need to decide whenever you print your photos. For example, do you want them printed on glossy or matte (nonglossy) paper? What size should the prints be? For example, you might choose a small inexpensive size, such as 4x6 in (also known as 10x15 cm). This size is usually the least expensive option, so it's a good choice if you're printing a lot of photos. In the image below, you can see a group of 4x6 prints.

photo showing a group of 4x6 photo prints

You can also have your photos printed at a larger size, like 8x10 in (also known as 20x25 cm). Keep in mind, however, that larger sizes are generally more expensive. Below is an example of an 8x10 print.

photo showing an 8x10 photo print

You'll also need to decide how you'll print your photos. We'll cover some of the most popular options for photo printing below, including in-store printing, online printing, and printing at home.

Printing at the store

Many stores offer photo printing services, including drug stores like Walgreens and CVS, as well as large retailers like Walmart and Target. You can either bring in your camera's memory card or a flash drive containing the images, or you can upload the photos from your home computer.

Once they're printed, you'll be able to pick them up from the store. In many cases, the printing process will be very quick—often less than an hour. Most stores also offer other custom photo products, like photo books and greeting cards.

A screenshot of the Walgreens Photo website.

Online photo printing

There are many online photo printing services—including Mpix, Shutterfly, and Snapfish—that allow you to upload photos from your computer. The photos are then printed and shipped directly to you or to anyone else you'd like to share them with. Almost all online services offer other photo products as well, including photo books and calendars.

screenshot of

Printing at home

You can use your own printer to print photos. While printing at home may be more convenient, it also has several disadvantages. For example, printing photos uses a lot of ink, and you'll also need to buy photo paper for better results. Even then, your photos may not look as good as professional prints. If you want high-quality prints at home, you can purchase a photo printer. However, photo printers can be expensive, so you may not save any money over other printing services by choosing this option.

image of a photo printer

Photo printing tips

To ensure your prints look as good as possible, you may want to take a moment to make a few final adjustments to your photos. Below are some tips you can use to get better results.

Use JPEG images

As we mentioned in the first lesson of this tutorial, the JPEG format is commonly used for photographs. Many photo printing services will require your images to be JPEGs. If your images aren't already using this format, you will likely need to save new JPEG versions before printing. We recommend using the highest-quality setting when saving a JPEG for printing.

Use high-resolution images

As discussed earlier in this tutorial, the higher the resolution, the more detail an image will have. This is especially important when printing because the resolution of a printed image is much higher than the resolution of your computer screen. So even though an image might look perfectly clear on your computer, it may not look good when printed. Most photo printing services suggest that your images have a resolution of at least 300 dpi (dots per inch). If your photo has a lower resolution, it may look blocky, or pixelated, when printed.

Most modern digital cameras take large high-resolution images that will meet this requirement. However, you should not expect an image you've downloaded—or any image that's been previously resized—to have a high resolution. If you've already saved a smaller version of a photo to share online, you'll want to use the original full-resolution version of the image for printing.

Many photo printing services will warn you if an image doesn't meet the recommended resolution for the selected print size.

Adjust cropping if necessary

If your photo has a different aspect ratio from the print size you've selected, your images will be automatically cropped to fit the print size, which can lead to unexpected results. For example, if you request a 4x6 print of a square image, important parts of the image may be cropped out.

Fortunately, almost every service will allow you to preview and adjust the crop before ordering your prints.

A screenshot of the Shutterfly cropping tool.

Advanced printing tips

If you're looking for even better results, here are additional things to consider:

  • Print a test copy: A printed photo may look a bit different than it did on your computer screen. If you're ordering several prints of the same photo or a large expensive print, you may want to print a test copy of your image first. An inexpensive 4x6 print will let you see whether the photo looks the way you want, and you can then make adjustments before ordering the final prints.
  • Sharpen: If you want your prints to look extremely crisp and clear, you can apply more sharpening than you normally would. If the images look over-sharpened on your computer, don't worry—they'll lose a little bit of sharpness in the printing process, which means the printed versions will look correct. You can review our lesson on fixing common problems to learn more about sharpening.
  • Check your printer's settings: If you're printing at home, be sure to check your printer's settings. Many printers have a special photo-printing mode you can use for better results. Some printers also allow you to specify the type of paper you are using (such as glossy or matte), and they will optimize the printing for that type of paper.

Keep in mind that there's no formula for printing the perfect photo. Even small details, like the adjustments you make or the print size you choose, can have a big impact on the final result. But with a little practice and by following the tips above, you'll be able to get consistent, good-looking prints.