It’s one thing to find a great printable online, but have you ever tried to print it and it turned out looking cheap and washed out? Or ended up with jagged, uneven edges? Here are five ways to make sure the gorgeous image you saw online actually comes out of your printer:

  1. Start with a good image.
    This sounds redundant to say, but your print is only as good as the image you start with. If your image is pixel-based (odds are things like a photograph or a scan of a painting will be pixels) it needs to be high enough resolution to survive being printed at a much larger scale than on your computer screen. This chart from Snapfish has some handy minimum pixel sizes:
    Minimum pixel sizes for printing via Snapfish
  2. Use a good printer.
    Home printers are only getting better and better these days. Inkjet printers are most suited to printing the kinds of things on this site, but you can get some good prints out of laser as well. Laser prints tend to sit on top of your paper and look shiny, which is not really what you want if you’re printing an art piece. Inkjet prints sink into the fiber of the paper, and take on whatever sheen the paper had to begin with. If you want the crispness of laser, or you’re printing a lot of copies, you can take your file to a local print shop and have them run it through one of their high end digital printers.
  3. Get good paper.
    I think a lot of people’s minds immediately go to photo paper when they think of “good” paper, but most consumer-oriented photo papers use high gloss finishes to compensate and distract you from how cheap it actually is. A really nice matte paper is almost always going to make a home print job look more professional. Basic copy paper or even cardstock from the office supply store just isn’t formulated to accept ink the way photographic paper is, but you can get some great watercolor and printmaking papers that are.
  4. Get to know your printer settings
    Printers often need to be tweaked a little to get them working at their best levels. Make sure you have the specific printer driver for your printer installed, and then dig deeply into what settings you can adjust:

    Advanced printer settings

    I have had much more expensive printers in the past, but I can get a lot done with a simple sub-hundred-dollar multifunction printer like the MX920.

    At a minimum, you should be able to tell your printer to use it’s highest resolution, and what type of paper it should be expecting. More to come on this!

  5. Arrange a good cutting setup
    Chances are you’ll need to cut your print up into smaller pieces, or at least crop it. You can actually take a stack of prints you did at home and have a local copy shop cut them for you, but if you’re going to do it all at home, take some steps to set yourself up for success. Use a large cutting board, on a clean flat surface, with a good ruler, a good knife, and always a new blade. A boxcutter with a big, solid handle is best, and be prepared to snap off a number of blades to make sure you’re getting clean cuts. Make sure you have plenty of light, and lay off any caffeine or alcohol while you’re doing it — a shaky or distracted hand does not cut well.

    IMG_1955

    My cutting setup: a cutting board at least as big as my paper; a strong, metal ruler; a large Olfa boxcutter with a big supply of new blades; and a bone folder for scoring and folding. I use tape sometimes if I am printing out a mockup or a test copy.

    Good luck, and happy printing!