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Making the Most of Your Digital Photographs at Home

Remember the old days? You purchase a roll of film, take your photos, then drop off the roll at your local photo lab. A few days later, you drive back to the lab and claim your pictures, seeing the results of your work for the first time.

Fast forward to now. The time between the moments you snap a photo and the moment you can see the photo is a few seconds. And the photo lab? Chances are, you or someone you know has their own little photo-developing studio within their desktop computer. As technology has blossomed, the price of high-quality photo paper, printers and software has become more affordable. And with that drop in price comes an opportunity as an artist—the opportunity to share your work with more people. Consider printing your photos on your holiday greeting cards or matting and framing digital photos as gifts—it's a low cost way to promote your work.

But high quality is a relative term, and some products consistently deliver better digital photo results than others. Below, we'll provide recommendations on everything from paper to software for those just entering the world of digital photography as well as digital photo vets.

Printers

Choosing a good photo-quality printer can be a frustrating task. With so many brands and price points to choose from, how can you determine which printer best suits your artistic needs while fitting within your budget? First, consider this: Printers that excel at outputting digital photos are typically more expensive to purchase and maintain than all- purpose inkjet printers. Instead of trying to find an inkjet printer that does a 'decent' job of printing photos, consider purchasing a lower-cost inkjet printer specifically for your non-photo printing, and investing in a photo-quality printer.

REDIMAT recommends:
HP's Photosmart 130 does an impressive job of what it does, which is print 4 x 6 or wallet-sized prints. It's compatible with both Mac and PC computers, but a computer doesn't have to be involved—the Photosmart 130 can also print directly from you camera's storage media, including CompactFlash or SmartMedia cards, as well as Memory Sticks. Pricing runs around $140.

(full review available at Cnet HP Photosmart 130 Review)

The Epson Stylus Photo 2200 is considered the pinnacle of home or office digital photo printers. Able to print at a whopping resolution of 2,880 x 1,440, the 2200 also offer loads of versatility with regard to print sizes—from as 3.5 x 3.5 inches up to 13 x 129 inches on versions of Windows higher than Windows 98. Pricing runs between $600-$700.

(full review available at Steve's Digicams Epson Stylus Photo 2200 Review)

Paper

All photo paper is NOT created equal. One general tip to follow when purchasing photo paper is to follow your printer manufacturer's recommendations— oftentimes, papers from a particular company are specifically made to absorb ink in a way unique to their printers. If you're looking to save some money, try out your local office store's selection of house brand or generic photo papers. Buying these in a small quantity allows you to test without breaking the bank, and gives you a medium-grade paper for doing test prints.

REDIMAT recommends:
Aspen Extreme Photo Glossy: MediaStreet.com's Aspen paper is a high gloss, heavy paper. This paper tends to work best on Canon printers and tends to show more noise and tonal variations on Epson printers. MediaStreet also offers trial packs bundled with 2 sheets each of nine different papers. Pricing on the trial packs is an affordable $10.39 for 8.5 x 11" sheets.

( www.mediastreet.com)

Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper: In a roll format that makes it perfect for large-scale or panoramic prints, Epson's Premium Luster paper offers digital photographers a lot of appealing options. The paper holds ink well without smearing or getting too 'wet', and works well in a variety of printers; if your printer doesn't have a roll paper adapter, simply cut the paper to the size you need and feed it into the printer manually. Pricing runs about $30 for 50 sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper.

( Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper)

Software

Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard in photo and image manipulation—but being tops in the industry comes with a hefty price tag. For some of your more common photo tasks, like reducing noise and correcting red-eye, consider the following:

REDIMAT recommends:
Preclick Digital Photo Software: At a price point of a little less than $20, this software contains a lot of beginner-focused digital photo manipulation functionality at a little cost. Preclick lets you easily put photos in themed 'albums', as well as allowing for easy cropping and red-eye reduction.

(www.preclick.com)

Neat Image: Grain is for bread, not for photos, right? Neat Image seems to think so-- their software makes it easy for digital photography aficionados to remove the graininess (or noise) from digital photos. Neat Image has a download that is free for non-commercial use (with some limitations—saving files in JPEG format only) and licensing begins at $30.

(www.neatimage.com)

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