How can you achieve the best quality prints? Along with repeated testing, try these tips for working with your photos and your printer:
Use a good quality inkjet printer. Six-color printers produce better output than four-color printers, and printers designed to print photos do a better job than general-purpose printers (but may not print text as well). Also consider dye-sub printers, which are less common but which can print wonderful colors.
Make sure your print head is clean and aligned. If your printouts don't look quite right, try cleaning the print head.
Use good paper. Modern inkjets lay down incredibly small drops of ink, and standard paper absorbs those drops more than photo paper, blurring printouts.
Make sure to print on the correct side of the paper (it's usually whiter or shinier).
Don't handle the surface of the paper that will be printed on. Oils from your skin can mess up the printout.
Remove each sheet from the output tray after printing, particularly with glossy films, and be careful not to touch the surface until it has dried.
In the Advanced version of the Print dialog, make sure you're using the highest resolution and other appropriate settings. In particular, aim for settings that favor quality over speed.
When printing black-and-white photos, make sure to print with only black ink.
Make sure to crop photos to the right aspect ratio before printing or use the Zoom and Crop checkbox.
Computer superstores sell a vast number of different types of inkjet papers. What should you buy? You're almost certain to get good results with paper made by the manufacturer of your printer. Papers from other manufacturers will likely work well too, but aren't as guaranteed. The basic paper types include:
Plain paper. Use it only for drafts or text; photos will look awful.
Matte paper. These papers are heavier than plain paper and have a smooth, but not glossy, finish. Matte paper can be very good for photos.
Glossy photo paper and film. These papers, which come in a bewildering variety of types and weights, are heavier yet and have a glossy surface that looks like standard photo paper. Glossy film is actually polyethylene, not paper. Use glossy paper for your best prints.
Specialty papers. You can buy papers that look like watercolor paper, have a metallic sheen, are of archival quality, or are translucent. Other specialty papers can be ironed onto T-shirts, are pre-scored for folding, have magnetic backing, and more.
If you like printing photos on your own printer, I strongly encourage you to buy a variety of papers and see what you like. Also fun to try is a sample pack from Red River Paper, an online paper vendor at www.redrivercatalog.com.