From pic to art

With a digital camera and an A3 photo printer, there's no reason why you can't decorate the walls of your home with your very own great-looking artistic creations. WINDOWS shows you how to turn your digital photo into a hangable piece with an exclusive three-step guide...
From pic to art
By Cleona Godinho
Sun 16 Sep 2007 06:43 PM

With a digital camera and an A3 photo printer, there's no reason why you can't decorate the walls of your home with your very own great-looking artistic creations.WINDOWS shows you how to turn your digital photo into a hangable piece with an exclusive three-step guide...

Step 1 Snap right

Arguably the key question when preparing to take digital shots for future creative use is this: when it comes to printing your final piece of art at A3 size, what resolution should you shoot at? Or even, if you haven't bought a camera yet, how many megapixels will you need for this job?

1.Well the generally accepted starting stat is that if you print an image taken with a three megapixel camera (at a resolution of 300ppi - pixels per inch, which is ideal), you'll get an 8 x 10-inch image.

As A3 prints - which we're talking about here - measure 11.7 x 16.5 inches, then this equates to using at least a five-megapixel camera (to check out which products we recommend check out www.itp.net/reviews).

2.Make sure you set your camera's capture quality to ‘high', ‘premium' or 'large' (the this setting name will depend upon the camera you're using). This way your original image will feature as many pixels per inch (which you'll often hear called dpi) as possible, making for sharper final prints.

3.Also, if your digital camera allows it (which SLR models for instance do), take your shots in RAW format if possible, as this doesn't compromise image quality like JPEG captures.

4.For more guidance on how to take fantastically composed shots, check out the feature on itp.net called ‘Snap Happy'.

Step 2 Art attack

With Adobe's high-level Photoshop program, there is actually a quick-click route to transform your picture into a nice looking painting. Here's how...

1.First things first, you'll need Photoshop on your PC. Try downloading the trial version from adobe.com.

At the site, head for the top Downloads menu bar then choose Trial Downloads. You'll then need to sign in and create an account before you can download the app.

2.Once downloaded and installed however, open up Photoshop and click File/Open to grab the digital image you want to transform.

3.Once open, it's important to make that your digital image is being displayed in RGB format (the same colour range or format your monitor uses). Not all Photoshop's filters - which we'll be using next - are available when viewing images that are in the more print-accurate CMYK format.

To do this, click Image/Mode/RGB color. (When you're done with this transformation process in a few minutes however, be sure to turn your image into CMYK format - using the same toolbar - as this will mean its colours are printed accurately.)

4.Now head for the Filter toolbar, click Artistic and then we suggest you start with the Watercolour option.

Know your resolutionsDon't be confused by digital camera and printer resolutions.

If you zoom in on a digital image using image editor software, what you see will gradually start looking like little squares of colour - each one of these is a pixel.

Camera resolutions - given usually in megapixels - refer to the number of pixels (tiny squares of colour) that appear in one image (one million pixels = one megapixel).

Put simply, the more pixels an image has, the more detail you'll be able to see (plus the larger an image's file size will be and the larger its potential print size).

Print resolutions however are given as ‘dpi' figures. This refers to the number of ink ‘dots' made on each square inch of paper - ‘dpi = dots per inch' - to create a print image.

Note:a digital picture's resolution is strictly referred to as being in pixels - in the form of ppi or ‘pixels per inch' - however much of the time people incorrectly refer to this figure as a picture's dpi. It's not right, but it helps to know what your friends or colleagues might mean by this (unless they're talking about a printer's output of course - which is referred to in terms of dpi figures.

The dialog box that appears features three panes. On the left is your image, which changes as you try out the settings. You can also zoom in and out of this. In the middle are the various watercolour effects. And on the right you'll see more settings with which you can tailor the effect you choose.

We suggest you start by choosing Dry Brush in the middle pane. Of course you can check out how this changes your image over in the left pane.

5.Now to tweak its settings, we suggest you set brush detail to high (maybe 75% of its maximum), over in the right hand pane. ‘Shadow intensity' makes your picture brighter or darker so keep this quite low or else it might get murky. As for the texture setting, we usually find a low setting works best, but you may disagree.

(If you tip if you plan to follow this workshop right through and print your shot on photo paper, is that you can make your image look less smooth - as though, say, it has been printed on a textured surface such as canvas - by heading into the middle pane and navigating down to the Texture folder of settings. The Grain feature is particularly worth a try. Of course, if you plan to take your image to a photo shop for printing on canvas, this will automatically give your creation texture so ignore this option.)

6.Not loving the watercolour effect? Try these:

* For a post-modern, slightly Warhol-esque feel, choose Filters/Artistic/Cutout. The less Levels you choose, the harder to discern your image will be.

* For a grainy old film poster style finish choose Artistic/ Film Grain. Put the Grain setting on 30%, and Highlight and Intensity on around 50%.

Step 3: Print time

Now that you have your masterpiece image ready to output, it pays to be aware of the factors that can determine the quality of your print. Some of these relate to the printer you're using, so be aware of these before buying a printer. The rest cover topics as diverse as resolution, paper and drive settings. Let's get started then...

Tank talk

In the case of inkjet photo printers, models are available offering everything from two to eight ink cartridges. In the case of models with two, these are one black cartridge (K) and a multi-colour cyan, magenta and yellow tank (CMY).

Printers with four tanks use a tank for each of these colours, whilst products with six, seven or eight tanks including different blacks (such as so-called ‘photo black') and photo versions of magenta etc.

When it comes to buying an inkjet for the task at hand, printing great photos, then more tanks is better, as these are better able to manage colour tones and accurately reproduce the transitions between colours.

Reaching for resolutions

Printers capable of high print resolutions can fit more dots (of colour) onto each inch of photo paper, meaning images can be more accurately reproduced.

Convert your image back to CMYK format before printing. The reason why is explained over the page in Step 3. (If the relevant dialog box appears, choose not to flatten the image.)

A3 photo printers, by definition, offer high enough dpi (dots per inch) resolutions to print great quality A3 photos. Do be aware however that every printer has an optimal image resolution, or an optimal range, so scaling up your pic's resolution - using Photoshop's Image Size function for example - past this range (for instance when cropping and then expanding part of an image) can have a negative effect on quality, leading to a so-called ‘soft-focus' effect.

All the Ps...

One of the biggest factors affecting the quality of a print is how the printer and photo paper fit together. In most cases, printer vendors also produce photo paper, which they design and tailor to perfectly product photos output on their own machines.

So, most of the time a Kodak printer will produce a higher quality print on Kodak paper, than an Epson inkjet would say. This applies to all the major printer vendors on the market right now.

Therefore, be sure to buy and use the ‘premium' version of the photo paper you want. If you can as well, opt for at least 120gsm paper (gsm is a measure of paper thickness) with a brightness of rating of around 90.

CMYK

Before you hit Print, use your image editor software (be it Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro say) to save your image in CMYK format. This is important.
The reason for this is that because printers use a group of four colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black), rather than the three (Red, Green and Blue) that computer monitors use. So if you convert your image to CMYK then on-screen you'll be able to see exactly how it will look when printed and therefore make any colour amendments necessary before hitting Print (ie by using Photoshop's Auto Adjustment tools).

To explain further, ff you don't convert your image to CMYK format first, and print an RGB (Red, Green and Blue) version - which your monitor prefers - then your printer will convert the image from RGB to CMYK itself, which often as not leads to it coming out darker than the black-less image you see on screen; not helpful at all.

Configure your drivers

Jump into your printer's ‘driver' program (the application you can use to tell your printer how to print your shot), by hitting Ctrl/P and then Properties.

Depending on your printer, this app will let you access orientation, output, print mode settings and much more.

Of crucial importance of course, is that you set the output quality to ‘photo' or ‘premium' - in other words, the highest quality output setting.

You can also decide whether or not to include a border for your image (probably not if you're going to frame if for your wall), and - usefully - check out a Preview of your final print.

Size it right

In relation to this last point, before printing be sure to select the same page size settings in your image editing software (such as Corel Painter) and the Windows printer dialog box mentioned above (ideally in that order).

This two-pronged approach is useful because the Windows OS's dialog doesn't sync up perfectly with every printer. As printing photos on high quality paper isn't cheap in terms of the consumables involved, it makes sense to save ink - and therefore cash - this way, by getting your print right the first time.

Keep it cleanInkjet cartridges can clog, which can lead to colour gaps and ink inconsistencies, even nasty splats of colour. Therefore it's a good plan to keep it in tip-top shape. Here's how...

• Turn your printer off then use a damp cotton bud to clean each cartridge's contacts (right). Then dry with tissue paper.

• Next, to initiate nozzle cleaning through the printer software, open the software by double-clicking the printer icon or opening a document and selecting Print from the File menu.

• Click the button labeled Options, Troubleshooting or Properties, Clean Print Cartridges, Toolbox, Printer Utilities or something similar.

• Click a button labeled something like Head Cleaning, Run Nozzle Check or Clean Print Cartridges

• ·Follow the instructions on-screen.

• Repeat the cleaning process if the results aren't satisfactory.

• Go to your printer manufacturer's website for detailed instructions on manual cartridge cleaning and cleaning the interior of your printer.

• If you don't print for long periods, print a test page occasionally to keep cartridges from drying out.

Photoshop extrasOne of the best things about Adobe Photoshop is the plethora of ‘plug-ins' (add-in software tools) that you can find. The following couple are perfect for this pic-to-paint transformation job.

Paint alchemy
www.xaostools.com/products/pamain.html

Designed to ‘take the digital edge off your creations with a designer's touch', this add-on includes what its developers term ‘painterly effects' such as Colored Pencil, Impressionist, and Pastel. It features no less than 75 brushstroke effects and 36 brush styles, and a full complement of controls.

Andrew's PhotoGrainy
www.graphicxtras.com/products/andrewp5.htm

Andrew likes creating plug-ins, no question about it. This, his fifth Photoshop offering, packs in no less than 18 ‘noise', grain and paint effects.
In short, this add-on is well worth a quick download. Recommended.

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