Lately I've noticed a trend in digital imaging and inkjet printing. Seems as though many photographers, including me, are getting back to basics.
Rather than using special effects in imaging programs to create fanciful images and pictures with an artistic flair, they are making "straight" prints. And, rather than making inkjet prints on all sorts of creative papers (canvas, silk, watercolor and so on), they are making prints on photo quality, glossy paper.
The goal of these picture-takers and picture-makers is simple: They want to make the sharpest, highest-quality inkjet print one that depicts reality. That's an admirable goal, one that easily can be achieved.
First, you must start with the sharpest possible picture. But even if your picture (slide, print or digital file) looks sharp, you can make it even sharper. Many imaging software programs offer a sharpening feature, or tool, that lets you sharpen the image to the point where you can oversharpen a picture, which makes it look too grainy. It is worth your time to master the technique of sharpening. If you get it just right, you'll get knockout prints.
Two accessories for digital-imaging programs also can help to make sharp inkjet prints. Nik Sharpener lets you sharpen pictures for specific sizes and specific viewing distances, and Genuine Fractals lets you make large prints from small files.
When sharpening a picture, remember that what you see on your computer monitor 72 dots per inch (dpi) for Mac and 96 dpi for Windows is not a 100 percent accurate representation of the sharpness of the print due to differences in resolution. Therefore, you need to experiment with sharpening to get a desired effect. Making notes of sharpening settings is a good idea.
While you have your picture on your computer monitor, play with the contrast control. By increasing the contrast, you can increase the apparent sharpness of the picture.
Naturally, you need a photo-quality inkjet printer, one with a resolution of at least 2400 dpi by 1200 dpi. Canon, Epson, Lexmark and Hewlett-Packard offer photo-quality printers. When choosing a printer, keep in mind that as with everything else in life, you get what you pay for: the higher the cost, the higher the image quality in most cases. Also note that as the price increases, so does the printing speed, which becomes increasingly important as you increase the number of prints you make.
Paper also makes a difference when it comes to making sharp inkjet prints. Walk down the paper aisle of a computer- or office-supply store, or scroll through the inkjet paper section of a computer accessory Web site, and you'll see several different types of photo paper. Look for a high-gloss photo paper. In addition, for long-lasting prints, look for a heavyweight paper.
And speaking of long-lasting prints, check out the archival quality of the paper you are considering. After all, once you have taken all the steps to make a sharp inkjet print, you want it to be around for a while, don't you?