How to Print Your Own Photos

Turn out frame-worthy prints at home

You've got a digital photo. You want a paper print. If all you need is a low-quality hard copy of the image, open the image in your software and press the print button. But if you want the photo to look good, want it to be a certain size, or only want to print part of the picture, here's what you need to do. Before you begin, you'll need your images, photo editing software, a desktop printer (preferably a photo printer), and specialized photo paper.

Two people printing out photographs
JGI / Getty Images

Select the Images 

This step could be the easiest or the hardest part of photo printing. Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Narrow down your choices. Choose a timeframe, a person, an event, or a particular type of image (such as wildlife).
  • Think about what you want to do with the print. If you want to frame it, choose the spot where you'll hang the finished picture. What's the best size for that spot? What colors will look best in that room? Now, which photos have those colors or will look best at that size?
  • Will you be using the print for another project, such as a scrapbook? Again, think about the finished product. Which images will work best for that purpose?
  • If you intend for the print to be a gift, choose an image you think the recipient will like or one that depicts a meaningful activity you did together.

Choose Photo-Editing Software 

You may be perfectly happy to print a photograph directly from its folder on your computer. But, chances are you'll want to do some editing first, so you'll need Adobe Photoshop or another photo-editing software. Here are some options (all free):

  • GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) offers a large set of features and supports an active developer community that responds to user feedback. Includes in-depth tutorials and supports third-party plugins to enhance functionality.
  • Pixlr is a browser-based application that includes a good selection of features for editing and enhancing photos. Includes filters and recognizes many standard file formats.
  • Paint.NET uses a simple interface to deliver advanced features, such as multiple layers and blending. Forums and tutorials are available when you need assistance, and third-party plugins add functionality.
  • PicMonkey is great for beginners, but also useful for advanced users. Perfect for when you need to do some simple editing or want to add a filter or create a collage.
  • SumoPaint is similar to Photoshop. This application includes layering functionality and other handy tools. A good choice for those with Photoshop experience.

Edit the Image 

Use the photo-editing software to make appropriate edits, depending on the project and the image. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get rid of red eye.
  • Lighten a dark photo.
  • Sharpen the image.
  • Crop the photograph to remove unnecessary background or emphasize an important feature.
  • Resize a photo to fit on a certain photo paper size.
  • Implement a fun filter.

Pick the Paper

Many types of paper are available for desktop photo printing. Here are some tips for choosing the right one:

  • Photo printing uses lots of ink, so use the thicker papers developed for photos. Plain office paper doesn't work well.
  • Paper comes in gloss, satin, and matte finishes. Photos on glossy paper look like the photographic prints that result from getting rolls of film developed.
  • The more glossy the paper, the harder the print will be to see in highly-lit conditions.
  • Photo paper is expensive, so be careful to choose the right inkjet photo paper. For best results, choose the highest quality paper you can afford.
  • There's no one type of right paper to use. Buy a few sample packs and experiment to see which kind you like best.

Pick the Printer

Although you can use most desktop inkjet printers to print photos on photo paper, you may need to adjust settings for the best quality. If you plan to print a lot of photos, you may want to invest in a photo printer, and there are many available on the market now.

Do a Print Preview 

Set the printing options, including the printer, paper size, and any position or special layout options before you open the photo in your software. A print preview can alert you if your image is too large for the paper size you chose.

You may be able to do other tasks in a print preview. For example, print preview options in Photoshop include scaling, color management, and adding a border to your photo.

Print the Photo 

The most time-consuming part of photo printing is getting it ready to print. With desktop printing, it can take seconds or minutes to produce a photo, depending on the speed of your printer, the size of the print, and the print quality you choose. The bigger the picture, the longer it takes.

To avoid smudges, wait for the ink to dry completely before handling the photo.