Printing panoramas

Anyone with a colour printer at home can print out a digital picture on their printer. But panoramas tend to be quite an odd shape and when you print on standard size paper such as A4 or letter size you end up with a letter box shape rectangle across the centre of the page. Most of the page is blank and you probably want to print the picture bigger. So here are a few simple tips for printing larger pictures using inkjet printers for home use, rather than buying expensive large printers.

In case you either don't own a suitable photo printer or would just rather someone else did all the work, there are a few companies that offer to do large format printing. EZPrints is one...

Printing in sections

My first ever attempt at printing a panorama twice A3 size involved cutting the picture in half and printing each half as large as I could. This works, but it can be a bit fiddly to align the two prints accurately without showing a join. It's also hassle having to carefully cut the image into sections before printing. Obviously you can do this in Adobe Photoshop, JASC PaintShop Pro, GIMP and similar image editors, but it is much easier to let panoramic image printing software do it.

PanoPrinter from ImmerVision is the first and currently only software solution dedicated to the task of printing panoramic images. It can do various adjustments to the image and special effects, but most importantly, it easily allows you to print the image across multiple pages, and will add in crop marks, page numbers etc, so that all you have to do is carefully cut and glue the pages together to create one huge print out.

Using paper larger than your inkjet printer can handle

Most home printers are limited only to one dimension of the paper - the size of the slot through which the paper must travel when it passes past the print heads. For many printers this slot is letter size width or slightly larger (i.e. 8.5 inches or 216 mm), but the length is not limited* to letter size length (nor A4 length for that matter). That is the trick.

So all you have to do is buy paper larger than the standard sizes your printer can handle, and then carefully cut the paper so that the shorter edge is narrow enough to go through your printer, keeping the long edge full length. For example, for a printer that can accept only A4/letter size:

Paper size Normal size half size, cut lengthways
A4 210 x 297mm
8.2" x 11.69"
Letter 216 x 279.4mm
8.5" x 11"
A3 297 x 420mm
11.69" x 16.53"
148.5 x 420mm
5.84" x 16.53"
Super A3 / A3+ 329 x 483mm
13" x 19"
164.5 x 483mm
6.5" x 19"
A2 420 x 594mm
16.5" x 23.4"
210 x 594mm
8.3" x 23.4"
Epson A2 Panoramic 210 x 594mm
8.3" x 23.4"
Epson Photo Paper roll 329mm x up to 10m *
13.0" up to 32.8" *
note max printable length is 1083.6mm (42.6")

Comparison of standard paper sizes

You can also buy some more unusual paper sizes. Epson for example make a 'panoramic' paper which is designed for the smaller format (letter/A4 size) printers, but proportionately longer in length. Epson also make a Photo Paper roll, which is Super A3/A3+ in width (329mm or 13") and 10 metres (12 feet 9") long*. With a roll of paper you can just carefully cut whatever size paper you like, and all you have to do then is carefully set your printer settings on your computer.

* Remember: before you buy large papers that will not fit in your printer, check that you can configure the printer settings on your computer to a custom paper size, and check that you can physically load the paper into the printer.

Choosing paper type

When printing at home using a colour printer, you will probably find you will get the best results if you use the special coated papers available for your printer. Manufacturers of inkjet printers such as Epson and HP normally include a few samples of the different specialist papers with the printer when you buy it and you can try these to see which you like most for quality.

When you buy paper for photographs here are a few things to look out for:

  • the paper opacity (the degree to which the paper is transparent) - a high opacity is better for most applications
  • the paper ISO brightness (the degree to which the paper is pure white before printing) - a high brightness is better as the colours will be more vibrant
  • a reputable name - printer manufacturers recommend you only use their paper. Although you can use paper made by other companies, if in doubt use the "proper" paper and you won't be disappointed

Software for printing

Most good image editing programs can print images very effectively. To make the most of large paper sizes though, you need a program that allows you to resize your image without resampling. This means increasing the physical size of the image without adjusting the resolution of the master image. Adobe Photoshop and JASC PaintShop Pro are examples of programs that can do this, but they are not alone. Immervision PanoPrinter also allows image resizing and custom paper sizes (amongst many other controls).

Colour matching

If you find you are having problems getting the colours in your prints to match what you see on screen, consider buying software designed to do colour matching. Colour matching is a big topic in its own right so I will not discuss it here. Possible software includes Colorific (http://www.colorific.com/) which is bundled with some graphics cards and computer systems.

Durability of inkjet prints

Remember that inkjet printers tend to produce prints that age quite quickly by comparison to photographs. Store your pictures in a cool dry atmosphere and avoid excessive sunlight. If you are framing a print from an inkjet printer in a light room, consider using special picture glass that filters UV light to protect the picture. However, also remember that you can always re-print a digital picture and by the time the picture begins to fade you may be able to make a better print than when you first do it.

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