If you’ve ever tried to print photos from your computer, there’s a good chance you’ve been surprised — if not disappointed — by how they turned out. Let’s see where you can go wrong and why photos often look different when you print them.

What kind of photos do you print?

The first thing you can do wrong is the photos you are trying to print. To get good results, you need to use original high resolution files. The photos that come straight from your smartphone are fine, but the versions you uploaded to Facebook or Instagram aren’t great — social media sites aggressively compress and downsize images.

In my test, where I uploaded a high-res, 2.7MB, 5166×3444px file to Facebook and then saved it from my timeline, I got a 74KB, 960×640px file. This file contains only 2.7% of the original image data. It doesn’t look good on my screen, so it won’t look good when printed. Or at least printed in any size larger than 3 by 2.

CONNECTED: How big can I print from my phone or camera?

If you want to print a photo that someone has tagged you on social media, it’s best to contact them and ask them to send you a high-res original. If you took a photo, take the original from your phone or camera and print it out, not the version you uploaded to Facebook. This is the only way to get a good print.

How bright is your screen?

One really common problem with printed images is that they look very dull and dark compared to the photo on the screen. This is because screens and printed images are fundamentally different things: a screen displays images by emitting light directly, while a print reflects ambient light.

Because the screen itself is the source of light, images almost always look much brighter with more vibrant colors on screen than they do when printed. For most people, brightness and saturation are too high. You must remember that only basic image data is displayed on your screen: if your screen is bright, it does the image is bright, but this does not necessarily mean that the image in the source file is bright.

Converting what you see on screen into print is one of the biggest challenges when printing high quality photos. To be successful, you need time and learn from your mistakes. I’m still terrible at it. A few things you can do:

What is your printer setup?

Even if you have everything perfectly set up on your computer, if your printer isn’t up to the job, you still won’t get great prints. Most standard inkjet or laser printers are simply not designed to print high quality photographs. They’re ok if you want to print some Powerpoint slides, but don’t if you want something that you can actually pin to your wall.

The first step is to get a printer that is actually right for the job. Our sister site ReviewGeek has a great selection of photo printers for every budget. Then you’ll need high quality photo paper — it really does matter. The last step is to make sure your printer is properly set up with the correct drivers and color profiles.

If all this sounds like a bit, then you can get your photos professionally printed, which we’ll cover next.

Who does the printing?

«Professional» printing is a pretty big category, and it runs the gamut from the awful to the incredible. At the bottom, you have bad shops that will just print whatever file you give them for a few dollars. After all, you have craftsmen who will print, crop, and edit a five-foot panorama for a few hundred dollars. As I said, the range is wide.

If you printed your photos by someone near the bottom end of the range, or used a drugstore machine, then you can expect the prints to bounce a little. You need to look at the prints, evaluate what is wrong with them, and then make changes to the original files and print them again. If the photos are too dark, increase the brightness. If they look yellow, correct the white balance. Keep doing this until you get photos that look the way you want. It may take a few times, but since it’s cheap, you won’t break the bank.

On the other hand, if you’re going to a high end printing shop, just talk to them; they are experts. Ask them to review your file and make a smaller test print. Usually they will be more than happy to help.

The best middle ground is to go to a store that also prints photographs. The staff will be knowledgeable and happy to help or offer advice.

How to get the best prints

So this is one of the common ways in which the printing process is interrupted and does not produce the desired results. To avoid all the pitfalls:

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