Editing your photos for printing

Your step-by-step guide to achieving the best results when you print your photos.
A woman, holding a packet of Canon printer paper in one hand, examines some photo prints on a table in front of her, with a laptop open beside them. A Canon printer is visible on a sideboard in the background.

Photo prints make great gifts and keepsakes. You can use your photos to create greeting cards, calendars and home decorations, compile scrapbooks, or personalise your possessions with stickers of favourite images. Prints also make lasting mementoes of travels, family gatherings, or milestones in your family's life.

You can choose from a range of apps for printing. For cards and calendars, Canon's Easy-PhotoPrint Editor enables you to edit, crop, change backgrounds, add text or frames and use many other creative tools such as templates, stamps and symbols to enhance your images, then print them out. The Canon PRINT app also makes it easy to produce a range of print projects, opening up a world of creative possibilities.

As well as exercising your creativity and adding personal touches, though, you'll want prints to have the best quality possible, with sharp details, a rich tonal range and true-to-life colours. Here we'll focus on how to optimise your images using Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) or your preferred editing software to get the best results when printing.

A laptop sits open on a desk with the Canon Easy-PhotoPrint software on-screen, Canon paper to the left and a Canon printer to the right.

Canon's Easy-PhotoPrint Editor makes it simple to add text, frames, patterns and other creative touches to your photos before printing them on compatible PIXMA and MAXIFY printers. It even has a one-click Auto Photo Fix tool designed to optimise photos for printing.

A man holds a print of a photo of the Grand Canal in Venice, with a Canon printer on a desk in the background.

Choose a type of paper that will do justice to your photos of family trips to special places and ensure you produce a memento you'll treasure.

Choosing a printer

Which printer should you use? If you're shopping for one, see our guides to the best Canon printers for photo printing and printers for every scenario. For now, we'll assume you're using a good general purpose inkjet printer.

One thing to bear in mind, though, is that you can expect colours to be more true-to-life if you use a printer with more than the basic four colours of ink. For example, the Canon PIXMA TS8750 Series uses six individual cartridges including five dye-based colour inks for superb photo quality, with an enhanced colour space and tonal range. To really make a statement, the Canon PIXMA PRO-200, which uses eight individual dye-based ink cartridges, offers professional-quality large-format A3+ printing at a relatively affordable price.

Choosing your paper

Whatever printer you use, choose an appropriate paper type to suit the character of the image and the type of print you want. Generally speaking, glossy photo papers such as Canon's GP-501 Glossy Photo Paper can support a wider tonal range than matte papers, making them a good choice for vivid, photo lab quality colour photos. Matte papers such as Canon's MP-101 Matte Photo Paper are great for more moody, low-contrast images, especially in black and white. Rag-based, canvas and fine art papers are available with different textures and finishes, and can be perfect for a memorable gift or unique decoration.

The key thing is that different media have different ink absorption and reflectivity characteristics, making it vital to use the correct settings when you print. In addition, for best results, keep your intended use in mind and optimise the image for the medium you are printing on.

A user holds a photo print in one hand alongside a laptop, which is displaying photos of the same occasion. More photo prints are on the desk to each side of thelaptop.

The latest laptops tend to render colours too cool (too blue), and boast a contrast ratio of up to a million to one – thousands of times greater than a photo print. For a better match between what you see on-screen and what you get in print, reduce the screen brightness and calibrate the colours. As a starting point, adjust the white you see on-screen to match the white of the paper you're using.

Colour management

Before you begin editing photos, it is a good idea to calibrate your monitor if you can. This will mean your prints more closely match what you see on screen, preventing time-consuming and wasteful trial-and-error. The most effective way to do this is using a calibration kit, but if this is too big an investment to justify for just an occasional photo print, here are some quick fixes to try.

First, it is very common for prints to look too dark, simply because your monitor reveals more detail in shadow areas than can be printed. Modern screens all support a much greater range of brightness than prints do, with a contrast ratio typically at least 1,000:1 and often much more. In comparison, the best glossy photo paper might achieve a 200:1 contrast ratio between the darkest black and the brightest white, while a matte paper might be only 100:1. For a more accurate on-screen impression of what you'll get in a print, simply turn your monitor brightness down.

Second, modern LCD displays tend to be too blue, particularly when new (the colours often become warmer – more yellow – as the display ages). To remedy this in Windows, go to Settings > Display > Calibrate display color. On a Mac, go to the Help menu and search for Display Calibrator Assistant. Displays typically have a default white point (colour temperature) setting of D65 or 6500K – try changing this to D50 or 5000K. Or, more simply, set the white point so that white on screen matches the white of the paper on which you are printing, under the lighting conditions in which it will be viewed – and take care that the brightness of the screen does not fool your eye.

Finally, check your colour settings. In DPP, go to Tools > Preferences and click Color Management. Don't worry about the first option, Work color space – professional photographers sometimes shoot in Adobe RGB, a wider colour space, but if your shots are sRGB then there's no practical benefit in changing them. In the Printing profile pop-up, select the printer you will be using. DPP applies colour management using ICC profiles for printers that support these, which contain details of the exact colour capabilities of devices and enable better colour fidelity.

Next to this, for Rendering intent select Relative Colorimetric. This setting means that if an image contains any colours that fall outside the printer's gamut or colour range, then they will be converted to the nearest printable colours but the rest of the image will remain unchanged. If you select Perceptual, then all colours in the image will be adjusted so as to preserve the relationship between them, and you often find that colour images become desaturated and appear dull. Colours will generally change less if you use Relative Colorimetric.

A screenshot of Canon's DPP software showing the lightness being enhanced in an image of a newlywed couple embracing.

Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software gives you more extensive options than smartphone apps, enabling you for example to make targeted adjustments to specific colours, with Hue, Saturation and Lightness sliders for each colour range.

Editing basics

If you can start with a RAW file, which contains all the colour and tonal data captured by the sensor, then you will have more headroom for editing. However, if you have not shot RAW, you can still use DPP to enhance your image for printing (although some tools and options will not be available). If you're starting with a TIFF or JPEG, best practice is to work on a copy of the image, to preserve the original.

With RAW files, a good first step is to correct any optical aberrations with DPP's Digital Lens Optimizer (if you used a supported camera with a supported lens) or the tools in the Lens Correction panel, which can fix flaws such as vignetting and lens distortions. JPEGs will have had a range of lens corrections applied in-camera.

DPP 4.17 features Neural Network Image Processing (subscription required), which uses machine-learning AI to intelligently analyse the various areas of each image and apply selective enhancements based on the image content. It can refine areas of detail, apply higher-performance noise reduction in less detailed areas, and correct flaws and distortions caused by lens imperfections. If you often print photos, or if you want to print shots of important, once-in-a-lifetime occasions such as a wedding, then it's worth considering a subscription.

A screenshot of Canon DPP software showing a photo of a bride getting ready. Underexposed areas are highlighted in blue, overexposed areas in red.

DPP has a very helpful highlight and shadow warning display, which can alert you to areas at risk of clipping (loss of tonal detail). A red overlay shows highlight areas that might print as a featureless white, and a blue overlay shows shadow areas that are at risk of printing without distinguishable detail. This display can help you make appropriate brightness and tone adjustments.

Crop and refine composition

Next, consider your image's composition. If you're planning a print with an aspect ratio different from the original image's, such as a square 1x1 portrait or a wide 16x9 landscape, then crop to ensure that the framing is as you want it and no important picture elements are cut out. You can also crop for creative effect, whether to remove unwanted or distracting areas of the shot or to focus attention on a particular element. You can rotate the image to add interest or level a tilted horizon.

Composition principles such as the rule of thirds can help you create effective framing to lead the eye. In a portrait, cropping in close can add impact, but it's usually best to avoid positioning the subject right in the centre of the frame – asymmetrical compositions look more dynamic.

Avoid cropping to a very tiny area of an image, which might not contain enough detail for a satisfactory print. That said, Canon has introduced a breakthrough Neural Network Upscaling Tool (subscription required),1 which can double the resolution of an image with much more photo-realistic results than conventional upscaling. This tool, powered by Canon's deep learning image processing technology, could be ideal if a photo has been severely cropped or simply does not have enough pixels for large format printing.

Alternatively, instead of cropping out a distractingly detailed background, could you consider blurring it? At this point you could go on to apply more creative edits, perhaps correcting colour tones with DPP's White Balance Adjustment feature, retouching blemishes or unwanted details, or using filters and Picture Styles for quick and easy stylisation. You can, for example, make an image look like it was shot with an old single-use camera, or give it a vintage sepia finish, among many others.

A screenshot of Canon DPP software showing the histogram and other options in the Gamma Adjustment tool panel.

In DPP's Gamma Adjustment tool panel, if your image looks either too dark or too washed-out, try clicking the Auto button (A) above the histogram for a quick fix. Check that the histogram stretches all the way from left to right, tailing off at each end. If it stops short of either end (as in this example), drag the markers beneath it (B) inwards until they just tip the edge of the graph. This makes the darkest shadows solid black and the brightest highlights pure white. This full dark-to-light range will make the image look richer and more intense in print, particularly on glossy photo paper.

A screenshot of Canon DPP software showing the controls in the Advanced tool panel, including Contrast, Color saturation and Sharpness.

DPP's Advanced tool panel includes controls for adjusting tone, colour and sharpness. In DPP it is not possible to mask areas and apply sharpening locally, as it is in some editing software such as Adobe Photoshop,2 but using DPP's Unsharp Mask option (available for RAW files), keeping the Fineness setting low and raising the Threshold will restrict the sharpening effect to distinct edges and avoid roughening the skin texture and other relatively undetailed areas of the image.

Adjust tones and dynamic range

If the image is dark or contrast is low, you can use DPP's Auto Lighting Optimizer to auto-correct brightness and contrast. If you want to take more control, open DPP's Gamma Adjustment tool panel. Here, like your camera, DPP displays a histogram – a graphical representation of the image's tones, from darkest to lightest. If the graph is cut off at either end, this means the image is suffering from clipping and tonal detail is being lost in the brightest highlights or darkest shadows.

Start by clicking Auto (above the histogram), which adjusts the white point, black point and midpoint automatically, and resets Auto Lighting Optimizer and Contrast. You can then manually tweak the brightness, white balance and other settings.

Many people like to boost the saturation and contrast to give images more punch – try DPP's Advanced tool panel for this. You can also change the overall exposure with the Brightness adjustment slider. It is sometimes a good idea to lighten the image overall if printing on matte papers, which can appear less white, but don't overdo it – stop when white areas look white rather than grey. If the image starts to look unnatural, reduce the degree of shadow and highlight adjustment using the sliders.

If necessary, you can use DPP's Partial Adjustment Tool panel to fine-tune the brightness, contrast, hue and saturation of specific sections of your image.

A screenshot of Canon's DPP software, showing a detail of a photo of a riverside at dusk with image noise evident in the clouds and shown in DPP's detail window.

Photos taken in low light can suffer from image noise particularly in shadow areas, and over-sharpening can make such noise even worse, as the detail window in DPP's right-hand panel shows in close-up.

A screenshot of Canon's DPP software showing the same photo of a riverside at dusk with the image noise greatly reduced.

DPP includes very effective noise reduction tools, which can target both luminance noise (graininess) and chrominance noise (colour speckling). Compare the close-up detail here with the original.

Sharpen for printing

Sharpening should always be your final step. You'll get best results if the image is as clean as possible to start with, so deal with any image noise first (and avoid repeatedly re-opening and re-saving JPEGs – image quality will deteriorate every time). For sharpening or noise reduction, view the image at 100% magnification so you can see the effects clearly.

All photos will benefit from some sharpening, because printing inherently softens images a little, but this varies with the paper type – the more the ink is absorbed and dissipated, the greater the softening effect. This means printing on canvas will require more sharpening than a print on semi-gloss or lustre paper, and a print on glossy photo paper will require even less.

DPP's Sharpness tool will enhance the contrast along edges in the image to create an impression of greater sharpness, but Unsharp Mask gives finer control – it has separate controls for Strength, Fineness and Threshold. However, unlike its counterpart in software such as Photoshop, in DPP the Unsharp Mask tool is available only with RAW files.

Whichever tools you use, sharpen selectively – avoid sharpening where you want gentle transitions, smooth skin tones, or indistinct backgrounds. Sharpening areas of flat colour can introduce unattractive image noise. With the Neural Network Image Processing Tool in DPP 4.17, fine detail and texture can be automatically sharpened for best effect while relatively undetailed areas of an image will retain smooth gradations and a noise-free appearance.

Settings for optimum print output

Ready to print? Instead of just selecting Print, go to File > Print with detailed setting. Leave the resolution at 350dpi, DPP's default for printing. For best results, always set Print Quality to High. Using the correct Preferences settings (as above) should take care of colour matching, but in the Paper Type drop-down, it is vital to select the paper you are using – choosing the wrong settings here can undo all your hard work.

Follow this guide to make the most of your photos every time and produce prints you'll be delighted to display or share – and check out a professional's top tips for displaying family photographs.

Written by Alex Summersby

  1. Neural Network Upscaling Tool is Windows-only, subscription required (one month free trial available). If you subscribe to the Neural Network Processing Tool, the Neural Network Upscaling Tool does not require an additional subscription.
  2. Adobe and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

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