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If I have a mediocre monitor, and a reasonable but not fantastic printer, what are my options for getting a good photo print?

Printer ink is not cheap, and I usually do not have the patience or resources to print out several attempts with various adjustments to brightness, contrast etc. I find it particularly difficult to get the settings to a good enough compromise between seeing the detail in dark parts of the printed image versus blowing out the highlights.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Probably not the answer you want, but if you have a bad monitor, and a bad printer, you're probably going to get bad prints.

A color calibration system (hardware) would help, but that's an investment of money and if you aren't willing to do that for your monitor/printer I'm guessing you aren't willing to spend the money on a calibrator.

If you don't make a lot of prints, the best option might be to use a third-party printer... drugstore, online, etc. Good printers will allow you to download the printer profile for their equipment, and you can use that profile in your photo editor (Photoshop, etc) so that what you see matches what gets printed.

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Fair enough... though the printer is not so bad; its just difficult to calibrate with the monitor (without, as you say, buying some extra equipment). –  Joel in Gö Jul 15 '10 at 23:00
    
I'd suggest seriously considering upgrading your monitor. Good IPS monitors are increasingly inexpensive (the Dell 23" IPS ultrasharp is $200US today; I use it's bigger brother). You're better off with a better monitor than trying to calibrate a bad one, spend the money on the monitor before a calibrator. –  chuqui Feb 25 at 2:16
    
also don't forget that sites like borrowlenses or lensrentals.com RENT calibrators and that can save money over buying one you'll only use rarely. –  chuqui Feb 25 at 2:17

If it was me, I'd invest in something like a Huey, use it to calibrate my monitor as best as possible, and then use the photo editing software's color profile to control the printed output and not the printer's default.

This tends to get the best results.

One more note. Your printer has certain expectations that you'll be using their specially formulated ink. And that ink has particular properties on certain kinds of approved paper. For instance, if I use the right ink with the right paper (and it's painfully expensive), I get astoundingly nice prints. If I use even the wrong paper, I get violet tinges where a nice transitional gradient should be.

I usually invest in some 4x6 paper and build my own experimental profiles whenever I buy a new printer.

And, yes, it feels like a conspiracy against the consumer.

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You definitely need some way to judge an image reliably, and even a third party printer needs a good starting point, so figuring out how to get the monitor to show a decent image that you can trust will translate to print is a must. without that, it's all guessing. so a better monitor, or using a monitor calibration tool (or both) is a start. Once you have that as something you can depend on, you can fiddle with printing to translate what you see on screen into print. But until what you see on print properly represents what the image really looks like, you're throwing darts.

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My view is that you need at least one fixed point, and the cheapest/ easiest is your monitor. If you're rich, get something which will handle prints as well as the monitor, but just a calibrator for the monitor gets you most of the way.

Once you know your monitor's showing correct gamma/ colours, then you need a decent profile for your printer. Chances are the manufacturer's are ok if you use the right one for the paper you're using. Then print something... compare what you see on screen to the printer and you're likely done.

You're going to have to do some experimentation at least for sharpening (printers are generally soft). Also even when calibrated your monitor may be weak (say) in the shadows, and the printer may not be... so you may have to compensate a little, but once you know, it's easy.

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