adventures in photo printing

May 10, 2005
My mom asked for full printout of me on Mt. Monadnock so I decided a nicely framed version would be a good Mother's Day Gift. It turned out to be slightly more difficult than I expected to get good print made.

For starters, there's the dimensions/ratio issue. Most of my digital cameras use the same ratio as a computer monitor, 4:3 (640x480 is the most famous value for that ratio, my current camera shoots 1600x1200.) However, most frames and digital printing options go for other ratios like 4x6 or 5x7. I'd rather do the needed cropping myself, rather than leave it to the tender mercies of the person behind the counter or some computer program. The math for that was pretty simple, but annoying to do for different ratios, so I decided to make a little toy to do it for me in the future, an online photo-cropping calculator, rather than repeat the process in the future:

Enter Original Photo Size:

Enter Desired Ratio:

(Let me know if you have any suggestions for the default digital photo dimensions or the desired ratios...)

So the sizing issue out of the way, getting good printouts was more of a problem than I expected. At first I got the help of my Uncle...they have a photo printer they didn't mind sharing. He mostly had 4x6 stock, which was fine, except his printer couldn't do edge to edge at that size, it left a centimeter or two of border on one side. (Also it would give 3/4 of the way through printing that GIF of Ksenia until my Uncle converted it to a JPG.)

So that border was really bugging me, and also I found a frame that needed a 5x7 printout. I decided to go to Staples...I made a properly cropped version for 5x7 as well as resizing it with a border adding up to 8.5x11. I asked the lady which she wanted to try to print...she guessed the 8.5x11 version, but that didn't work because the print auto-scaled the whole thing down, probably it had to add its own border. They didn't charge me for the mistake though and then she used their software to scale the 5x7 version to just the right size. The result was not too bad but the color transitions weren't as good as on my Uncle's. (One note about Staples, though...later I wanted to help Ksenia print out a CorelDraw file, and the guy couldn't tell me over the phone if they could read it...and that they'd charge us money just for trying. So some of my good feelings about the place were swept away.)

Eventually I changed my mind about the frame and needed a 4x6 print again...this was Sunday morning, and Ksenia needed her file printed (CorelDraw but we dumped it to JPG) so we went to the 24-hours Kinko's at Harvard Square. That worked out pretty well, it's a bit more DIY, but it was a cheap place to get an 11x17 printout. (You have to ask for help selecing the right printer tray, however) I made some 4x6 copies, laying out the page in Word. Then I also decided to try a self-serve color photo machine they had there, which was really cheap, like 60 cents. That probably would have been the #1 way to get a 4x6 printout, except on this particular machine the colors were a bit washed out. (I know I'm old fashioned, but for some reason I kind of distrust these machines and their ability to read straight from a CD I've burnt, or a memory card...I keep wondering what happens if the photos are in subfolders, or if there's some other weird data problem.)

So I guess I would suggest going to Kinko's over Staples, just bring a CD with your stuff. Though I'm getting an idea to just do 8.5x11 photo printouts on my cheap color HP, and thumbtacking them up...I kind of like the idea of how now that I'm digital, I don't have to treat the prints with nearly as much respect, they're easy to replace if something happens without hunting for a negative.