10 Tips for Making the Most of Your New Photo Printer

10 Tips for Making the Most of Your New Photo Printer

You have finally joined the ranks of people who own their own photo printer. Congrats! I’m sure some of you enthusiastically researched and made a well-thought-out purchase or were recommended a solid model by a B&H expert. I’m also certain some of you received your printer as a gift or, perhaps, it was an amazing deal you just couldn’t pass up when you picked up your latest camera kit. In any case, if you are new to printers and printing, these tips will help you get started on the right foot.

1. Printers are Meant to Be Used!

This is perhaps the biggest thing to understand about photo printers, that they are designed to be used. Inkjet tech—the focus of this photo-oriented article—is amazing, but has one serious drawback: it can tend to dry and clog up if it sits unused for a while. There are other options that are less susceptible to clogging, but inkjet is, by far, the highest quality and most affordable for at-home printing. My advice is to run a draft-quality print through your printer every week or two (this depends on your exact model, so do research). This should keep everything running and a draft-quality print can use less ink than a head cleaning, which leads me to...

2. Learn the Maintenance Tools

Built into most modern printers are tools for correcting printing errors, and you need to learn them. The most common options are printing nozzle check patterns and running head cleanings. The print heads are what move the ink to the paper, and are therefore the problem areas when it comes to clogging. Running a nozzle pattern after a long period of no use can identify potential issues. If you do see problems the first step is generally to run a head cleaning. A majority of the time this should get you back up and running. Some models even offer a heavy print cleaning should the initial cleaning not get you all the way there.

3. Start with Well-Matched Paper

There are too many papers out there, so I recommend starting with the basics. Part of that is going with paper that is a good match for your printer. Ideally, if you have an Epson printer you should practice with Epson paper. Canon printer? Canon paper. Most brands offer their own papers and the biggest benefit to this is that the printers have built-in profiles for making sure their ink looks the best it can with their paper. So, if you want to start off easy then start with the same brand of paper.

Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster
Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster

4. Install the Drivers

Drivers are essential for two reasons. First, they make it so that your printer and computer will work together. Second, they can unlock some very useful functions that the printer manufacturer has developed. One great example is Epson’s Advanced Black & White Mode that can squeeze more detail out of your shadows when used properly. Many will also give you basic printer information, such as ink levels or overall usage numbers.

5. Download ICC Profiles

When you want to get the most out of your prints, and maybe branch out into new paper stock, you will absolutely need to make use of ICC profiles. Supplied by most paper makers, profiles will help optimize the printer for specific papers. This helps with accuracy and in eliminating frustrations down the line. One huge advantage is that software such as Photoshop can use these profiles to show you a preview complete with gamut warnings. This gives you the opportunity to correct for certain colors that may not print well, before you end up wasting ink.

6. Calibrate your Display

Good editing technique means nothing if your display isn’t calibrated. Proper calibration with a tool such as the Datacolor Spyder5 or X-Rite Colormunki will make it so that what you see on your display more closely matches what you see on your print. Otherwise, you are basically just guessing that the colors will be okay.

X-Rite ColorMunki Display
X-Rite ColorMunki Display

7. Understand the Printer’s Limitations

If you received a simple inkjet printer with your camera purchase, or want to experiment with the all-in-one you already have at home, be aware that you might not be able to get the wide color ranges you always dreamed. There is a reason professional-grade photo printers offer ink sets with eight or more colors and multiple black ink types. They also have more consistent output and control over colors. That’s not to say you can’t make stellar prints with your current model, just that you should understand it before you go asking too much of it and being disappointed.

8. Experiment with Different Papers

Earlier, I said to start out with simple papers that are easy to profile with your printer. If you want to take advantage of all the possibilities of having a printer in your home or studio, you will want to look into all the different papers at your disposal. Checking out different textured matte papers, or finding a good baryta-coated paper, or even going with a unique metallic canvas can help make your prints stand out and better show off your photographs.

Hahnemühle Canvas Metallic
Hahnemühle Canvas Metallic

9. Print Test Prints

Before you make an important print, or a costly one, it is very good practice to print a lower-resolution test print or a test strip (essentially a tiny slice of the image to check overall quality). This will save you time and money because it uses much less ink and will print out faster than a full- quality print.

10. Don’t Get Frustrated

This is the hardest part of printing. Sometimes you can print, and print, and print, and it still doesn’t come out the way you want it. Take a breath, and do the essential troubleshooting steps. You can also ask for help in all manner of places, though the Internet is probably your best bet, with plenty of communities available (including our Comments section!) where people are more than willing to answer your questions.

Good luck! Printing can be extremely rewarding and, for many people growing up in the digital age, the ability to look at your photos in a physical manner and hold them up in front of you can be an incredible feeling. They make great gifts, as well. Be sure to drop by the Comments section, below, and share your printing experiences—as well as any questions you may have!