So you found, or even made, the perfect printable online. Most of the time everything will work without issues, but sometimes you print the image out and it looks….cheap, like the print quality just isn’t there. Or the colours are wrong or faded, and it’s distorted with half of the image cut off. Now what? Now it’s time to learn how to print quality printables.
There are a few things that can be done to make your printables have a higher quality look. Some are an easy fix, and some take a bit of virtual elbow grease. It’s up to you to weigh out what you can tolerate in your image vs the effort you want to put into a fix.
1. DPI: Dots Per Inch….Say What?!
The first thing you need to do is make sure the item you are printing has 300 DPI (dots per inch). Huh?! That’s what I thought too when I first started looking into this. But it’s easier than you think.
300 DPI is the magic number of dots per inch that are needed to keep your design looking crisp and clear. To check the DPI of an image, right-click on it, then choose Properties (at the bottom of the list). Next choose Details. The DPI should be there beside both Horizontal Resolution and Vertical Resolution.
So, what if your image doesn’t have 300 DPI? Canva.com is an online graphic design tool that can give your image 300 DPI for free. And here’s how to do it:
1. Go to Canva.com. In the top right corner, click on “Use Custom Dimensions.” Enter the size of your image. It will automatically be in pixels, so click “px” and choose “in” to change it to inches (unless you want pixels). Next enter the size of your image (e.g., 8 x 10, 5 x 7). Then click “Design.”
2. Now you need to upload your image. To do this, go to the left side of the screen and click on “Uploads.” Choose “Upload your own image” and find the *PNG or *JPG image you want to fix. When it loads, drag it over to the blank design you created. If needed, click and drag on the corners/sides to make your upload fit exactly.
*If your file is a PDF (not a PNG or JPG) don’t fret! You can still use Canva, but need to change the PDF to JPG first. For easy instructions, see my tutorial How to Convert a PDF to JPG.
3. Click “Download” then choose “PDF: For Printing“ and then “Download.” This setting automatically does the 3oo DPI thing for you. Note: if you choose “PDF – Standard” your DPI will be too low.
4. When your file downloads, it will open as a PDF. Choose “File” then “Save As” and save it to your computer. You now have a 300 DPI copy of your printable. 🙂
2. Paper Quality?
If you plan to put your printable in a frame, you can use regular old printer paper. You honestly won’t notice the difference in paper quality once it’s framed and hanging on a wall or sitting on a shelf.
BUT if you want your printable to be on a card, you will need to use something sturdier like card stock, and there’s a decent chance card stock will get stuck in your printer. There is a way to fix this problem though!
When you send an image to print, a print dialogue box will open on your screen. In this box, click on “Print” or “Printer Settings”. Next choose “Finishing” or “Paper Type”. From the options that pop up, choose the one that best suits your needs. For card stock, choose something like “Extra Heavy – 131g to 175g.” All printers are different though, so you might need to try a few different options before finding one that works for you.
Your printer also just might not like heavy paper like card stock. If this sounds like yours, try loading the paper through the Bypass/Manual tray (where you feed the paper to the printer by hand). To do this, go to your printer settings, and where it says “Paper Feed” (or something similar) choose a different tray than it is already set at. You might need to try a couple of trays if you aren’t sure which one is the Bypass/Manual tray. This will give the printer a direct feed from your hand, and reduce the chance of the card stock getting crunched up while printing.
3. Printer Settings
Printers are usually set to make images “Fit to Page” when they print. This usually means the printer will take your image and stretch it to make it fill the entire page. With printables, this will sometimes result in a distorted image. To fix this problem you actually need to tell the printer to leave the image alone. To do this, go to the print settings (in the dialogue box that opens when you click “Print”) and make sure “Fit to Page” is NOT checked. You need to CHECK “Print at 100%” or “Print to Actual Size”.
4. Wrong or Faded Colours
As I mentioned earlier, some of these fixes take a bit more work than others, and this is one of those fixes. It’s really up to you to decide if the “off” colour bothers you that much. In the past I was disappointed when my print outs didn’t have the same intensity or hue. But when I looked at them again, with the expectation that they would be a bit faded, I realized they usually still looked really good.
There are different reasons for pale printing problems:
1. Colours on computer screens are more vibrant because computers, tablets, etc. are back lit. Paper isn’t. It’s impossible to get the exact same degree of intensity without the same level of back lighting.
2. More likely the problem is that your computer and your printer speak different colour “languages”, and your computer’s language is far more complex with many more colour options. Computers use RGB (red, green, blue) to make colours, while printers make their colours from CMYK inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, key [black]). It’s not possible for these two systems to create the exact same colours. There IS something that can be done about this one, but it is a process with a couple of steps. What you need to do is change your image’s colours from RGB to CMYK before you print. And here’s how to do it:
a. Change your image from the RGB computer colour system to the CMYK colour system your printer uses.
i. Go to RGB 2 CMYK.
ii. Beside “Upload a File” click on “Choose File.” The box that opens will let you find and choose your Printable.
iii. Click “Start” at the bottom. Leave the other options alone (unless you know what you’re doing and want to change the CMYK profile).
b. After you press Start, an image similar to the one below will appear. The “Before” image is in RGB (computer language), while the one on the right is in CMYK (printer language) and shows what your image will look like now if printed.
i. Click on the blue link above or below the images. Mine says, “>>Wreath Merry and Bright 8 x 10 PNG cmyk.tif”, but yours will have your image’s name, followed by “cmyk.tif.”
ii. The new CMYK image will download (it will be a .tif file). Save it on your computer.
iii. In the dialogue box that opens click on Print, and choose Print again when the drop menu opens. When the Print Dialogue box opens make sure that “Fit Picture to Frame” or anything along those lines is NOT clicked. If you are given the option, click on anything that sounds like “Actual Size”. When you are happy with your choices, click “print” and you are done.
This tutorial, “How to Print Quality Printables” was all about helping you through the four main issues people have when trying to print printables at home. If you run into a problem not covered here, let me know and I’ll add a fix for it. What has been your experience with printables? Was it smooth sailing, or did you run into any of the above snags?
For an extended tutorial on wrong or faded printing colours, see Convert from RGB to CMYK. This article also explains how to convert PDFs from RGB to CMYK colour.
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