Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Simplest Print Method Among Many

The File I Printed

The Original

There are a great many ways to make a picture file print-ready. Naturally, the printer manufacturer packs a software disk in with the machine with one or more "solutions". I've always found Canon's software solutions that come with the camera to be very weak. That which comes with their printers is even worse - to the point that hardly any of it even works at all - not that you'd want it to anyway. I originally had planned on exploring the Canon Support Web-Site, to check for later versions, but once I read the instruction manual for the software, I could see that what Canon is offering is nothing but crappy software, intended to be helpful for beginners. The biggest problem with such "solutions disks" is that every manufacturer does it different  so that computer beginners get roped into one way of doing something, then when they upgrade to another product, they don't know what to do with the new solution, because it doesn't resemble what they're accustomed to.

It's best to learn how to organize your picture files directly within your computer's file system, and use nothing but your operating system, be it Windows, Mac or Linux to locate a picture, open it for editing, re-save it, and then print it direct from the filesystem, if that's what you intend to do. Once you get used to this method, you'll find it is by far the simplest way of accomplishing many things, and it never changes very much over the years. Your computer is still set up with files and folders today in much the same way as computers were in the early 90's, with Windows 3.1! So, I encourage you, if you want to save a lot of frustration, leave the "solutions disk" in the box - all that you need is the Printer Driver, and Windows will find the latest version of that automatically for you as soon as you connect the printer USB cable and turn it on. The Printer Driver contains all of the functionality the printer itself is capable of - the "solutions disk" merely repackages the Driver into some other cock-eyed way of using it, supposing that they're making things simpler, but they're really not helping anybody!

Printing really boils down to a two step process. 1) Edit your picture so it is optimized for paper, and not your monitor, and 2) finding your edited file to configure your printer to print it on your preferred media (another word for "paper"), and initiate (another word for "start") the print.

To accomplish Step-1 without using anything on the manufacturers "solutions disk", what you do is simply use whatever editing software your accustomed to, be it Photoshop, Elements, Lightroom, something from DxO Labs,  or opensource (another word for "free") software like GIMP, RAW-Therapee and Photivo.  In order to use the Application (another word for "App") that you're used to using to get a file print-ready, you will have to do things a little differently than what you're already doing. This will take a little time and patience, and you'll waste a little ink and paper, but the thing you want to get out of this is "how does your new printer behave in relation to your monitor?" I've always been accustomed to cheap CMY+BlacK Inkjet printers as making prints that are much darker and muddier than what I see on screen - this is quite normal, and so with such a printer, you need to work toward making your pictures brighter on-screen, so they'll print normal. Now, with the Pixma Pro-100, this is not the case. Because it is equipped with four additional inks that are all made to contribute brightness, it turns out that I don't need to add brightness, and what I see on screen is very close to what's gonna print. In fact, I'm coming across some files which I need to darken and make richer - like what you see at the top of the page. This picture was taken at sunset, and I over-exposed the original a bit. To make it look more sunset-like, I had to use a lot of good tricks in Photivo to get my final result, which looks far better on paper than what you're seeing at the top of the screen. Again, I repeat - there's only one way to discover how your printer behaves, and that's practice - the more the better. Make sure you try a variety of papers too.

Step-2 is much easier. Make sure you re-save your print-ready picture from Step-1 with a different name, or better still, in a different Folder labelled "Prints", so it's easy to find in your File System. It also helps to have the "Preview" (another word for "Thumbnail")  turned on. Then all you have to do is right-click on the file, and select "Print" from the drop-down. When you do this, your printer's Driver App will open, and this is where you make all the necessary choices required to print the picture correctly. Like I said before - everything your printer is capable of is found in here somewhere - nothing's missing which would require any additional "solutions". The important things to look for are Paper Size and Quality, which Paper Feed Tray, Normal or Borderless, Pictures per Sheet, Portrait or Landscape, B&W or Colour, etc. The Pro-100 Driver ha some additional things, like Brightness, Contrast, and you can adjust the relationships of the eight ink colours (but don't go there unless you know what you're doing). It also allows you to adjust print quality in five steps, from "Fast" to "Fine", along with a few other goodies. So, once you've gone through the whole Driver and made all the right choices, click "Print" and wait for the Preview to pop up as a final verification on-screen that all is well. Click on "print" again, and your printer should either clank and bang into life, or show an on-screen alarm telling you something is wrong (like you forgot to open the paper exit door).

It really pays to buy the best printer you can afford, and make certain that you buy one that is more geared to Photo work than Office work. Yes, an Office printer will print photos, and some of them will do it on 11" x 17" paper, which makes them tempting. But make sure you read the reviews, especially the part about photo printing. An honest reviewer will tell you if it prints photos well or not. The best choices in Photo Printers use at least six ink colours, not four, but these might be beyond your budget. Sometimes, a perfectly good four colour Photo Printer can be had for less than $50 - buy one of these first, and use up the ink that came with it, just to get used to the concepts I've told you about in this posting. Then, when it runs out of ink, don't buy new ink, which usually will cost more than $50 - buy a better printer instead. Make sure you re-cycle your cheap printer according to your city by-laws on electronics recycling - or give it to one of the kids.

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