Photoshop may be the professional standard for high quality photo prints, but that doesn’t mean you have to pay hundreds of dollars for printing software. Freeware program Google Picasa can create excellent quality photo prints that’ll only cost you a download.

Picasa and other freeware graphics programs are hardly news to savvy geeks, although with a little patience, they can produce quality prints few could tell apart from thousand dollar graphics suites. Stay tuned for links to various graphics programs, and a simple how-to on getting the perfect print settings for your photos.

Downloading Free Software

There are a number of programs available that will print photos, some varying in quality. Printing is actually a fairly basic thing, as your operating system and printer driver already do most of the work. Here’s a short list of various graphic programs that are good for a bit of light printing.

While any of these pieces of freeware will open, edit, and print images, Google Picasa is one of the most feature rich and easy to use. Let’s take a look at how to print quality photographs in Picasa.

Editing & Printing with Picasa

Picasa’s basic photo editing tools make it ideal for adjusting the colors of your images, cropping, and doing basic fixes for red eye, brightness, and contrast. Combined with its photo library management, Picasa is a fine alternative to programs like Photoshop Elements, which usually retails for about $100 dollars.

In addition to these features, Picasa is a solid program for printing photographs. This is the print window, as opposed to the edit window in the previous screenshot.

will bring up this print window, where you can print multiple copies of your selected photographs, with settings for the basic sizes illustrated above, like Wallet prints, 3.5″x5″, 4″x6″, 5″x7″, standard photo print (8″x10″), and full 8.5″x11″ page. You can also chose to crop or shrink your image to fit it to your print size, as well as choose multiple copies per image with this menu.

Click the to bring up your printer options once you’ve brought up your print window.

While your screen may not look exactly like this, what you will get is your printer driver’s dialog box. Here, you’re given the choice to adjust the various settings used to vastly change the end quality of photo prints. Accepting the default settings, we’ll print this image on standard typing paper with ordinary settings.

The button will send your image to your printer with the default settings. Let’s take a look.

Here’s a color unedited shot of an actual print of this image on regular typing paper. The colors are slightly more saturated in your web browser, but the result is still fairly good.

Still, multiple attempts with higher quality paper stocks and different settings can improve a photo print exponentially, even with basic photo printing solutions like Picasa. Let’s return to our printer settings and try again with a generic glossy photo paper for inkjets.

This driver dialog box has several presets for various kinds of prints, including basic photo prints. Above and on the right, there are settings that calibrate the ink nozzles for printing on various kinds of photo paper. This printer, being an HP machine, has built in presets for HP papers. Setting it to “Other” photo papers, we can make some other minor adjustments to improve quality.

Keep in mind, as you print, that your printer dialog may not be set up exactly like this one. You’ll have similar options, even though they may not be as obvious. You’ll want to do a check of the following before you print:

  • Paper stock: Are you using regular typing paper or photo paper?
  • Photo paper style: Are you using Glossy, Matte, Lustre, Semigloss, etc?
  • Print quality: The speed and resolution of the quality of your print. Usually broken into settings like “Economy, Normal, Best.”
  • Paper Size: Most commonly 8.5″x11″, 8″x10″, and 4″x6″ sizes.
  • Orientation: Whether your print is turned horizontally (Landscape) or vertically (Portrait).

With proper photo settings and photo paper, our sample image comes out a success. This is another color unedited photograph of an actual photo print of this sample image, printed from Picasa. with the right papers, right photos, and right settings, rich details and colors are possible even with freeware photo software.

Here’s an color unedited comparison of the two photo prints. The left is printed on regular typing paper, with the right printed on glossy photo stock. This is a solid example of the difference in quality of ordinary paper versus photo paper. Keep in mind, a little patience,  trial, and error can give you the proper settings and great prints, even with software that won’t cost you anything at all.

Image Credit: Jackson’s Chameleon 2 in public domain.