Why Do Photos Look Different When I Print Them?

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 came out. Let’s look at where you might be going wrong and why photos often look different when you print them.

What Photos Are You Printing?

The first place you might be going wrong is with the very photos you’re trying to print. To get good results you need to use high resolution, original files. The photos that come straight off your smartphone are fine, but the versions you’ve uploaded to Facebook or Instagram aren’t—social media sites compress and downsize images aggressively.

In my test where I uploaded a high resolution, 2.7MB, 5166×3444-pixel file to Facebook and then saved it from my Timeline, I ended up with a 74kb, 960×640-pixel file. That file has just 2.7% of the original image data. It barely looks good on my screen, so there’s no way it’s going to look good printed. Or at least, printed at any size bigger than 3” by 2”.

RELATED: How Big of a Photo Can I Print from My Phone or Camera?

If you want to print a photo that someone has tagged you in on social media, your best bet is to reach out to them and ask them to send you the high resolution original. If you took the photo, get the original from your phone or camera and print it—not the version you uploaded to Facebook. It’s the only way to get a good print.

How Bright Is Your Screen?

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

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