If it is really that easy to produce prints at home at low cost, more people would do so. As it is, people all suffer from the not insignificant cost of consumables, and this is made worse by the amount of waste involved in trying several times to get a decent result.
What is the cause?
A very common reason for poor results is an incorrect colour-management setup - or the complete lack of one. Of course, this is in the realms of something “technical", and so many users will naturally avoid getting involved in ideas of “colour management" because it seems difficult to set up.
But sadly, without a colour management system the chances of creating acceptable colour prints are small. Fortunately these days, it is relatively simple to assign ICC profiles to a monitor and other devices in Windows XP and Vista, and what's more, an ever greater number of photo-editing applications have colour management suites included.
Here is some specific advice to create good quality prints with a minimum of waste.
ICC profiles installed for at least the monitor and printer/paper combination. These profiles are supplied with the device, or they can be downloaded from the manufacturer's website. Windows XP and Vista profiles are in WindowsSystem32spooldriverscolor.
To install a monitor profile, open the Display Properties Control Panel, click the advanced button on the Settings tab and select the Colour Management tab.
Specific profiles are produced from an individual monitor, but individual monitors can and do vary in their colour characteristics. Such differences can be controlled by using the factory default settings for brightness, contrast, colour temperature and any other available adjustable settings.
However, if the monitor profile seems to be the source of colour problems, it is worth considering the purchase of a hardware profiler. These devices consist of a spectrophotometer, which attaches to the screen, and software which analyses the screen output to produce an ICC profile for your specific display. Some monitor calibration devices actually measure the ambient light in the room and adjust the monitor settings accordingly, as well as the monitor screen output.
There is no point in getting a printer to reproduce exactly what appears on the screen because this is a physical impossibility: the two devices use different systems to display colour - and what's more, a monitor can display many more colours than a printer can actually print.
The answer to this conundrum is soft proofing. This involves using colour management to make the monitor emulate the colour characteristics of the printer. Thus the monitor shows what the printer is able to do, not the other way around. The best photo-editing software, including Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro Photo X2, can show you a soft proof before you commit to ink and paper.
The presence of strong lighting or colours close to your monitor - room lighting, even clothing is called “ambient light". This affects the way on-screen colours look. The fact is, that due to ambient light, a print viewed under artificial room lighting will look very different from outside in the daylight.
Best therefore to choose a neutral desktop colour (white, black, or grey) for viewing photos. If you have a multi-coloured desktop, it is best to use the photo editor's full screen or sideshow mode.
Get the correct ink
Experimenting with unbranded third-party inks is all very well, but if consistent high quality results are needed from a printer, it really is best to use the manufacturer's ink cartridges unless these are substituted with bespoke high-quality specialist inks fit for purpose, rather than inks designed to save costs.
Choosing the correct paper
As with ink it is always best to use paper produced by the printer manufacturer for most purposes. It is really important to understand that there is no such thing as an “absolute" printer profile - the profile supplied any printer manufacturer is for a printer model using a specific paper and ink combination.
If any other paper is used, the profile won't be correct and the results will be unpredictable. It used to be difficult to get hold of profiles for anything other than the manufacturer's recommended ink/ paper combination but, as time goes on, paper manufacturers are beginning to provide profiles for their products on a variety of printers.
Keep the printer clean
A very common cause of inkjet printer problems is blocked jets. This is not really a problem if the printer is turned off after use. Some printers perform a cleaning cycle on power up. But if the printer is left on all the time, the waste is clearly not good for the environment on two fronts: wasted power and wasted paper when rejecting low quality prints.
Jimi St. Pierre writes for several Office Equipment suppliers in the UK, including Principal, the office automation experts. A wide range of Photo Printers can be found at http://www.principalcorp.co.uk