Print Pro Improves Quality of Large Digital-Photo Printouts

I carry a camera with me wherever I go. My carry-along camera of choice is Canon’s PowerShot S100 Digital ELPH, which has a good feature set and is smaller than a pack of cigarettes. I keep a 128MB CompactFlash (CF) card in the camera and set the camera to take photos in High-Quality mode. This setting lets me take more than two hundred 1600 x 1200, 72dpi, 24-bit color images before I need to download the data or switch to another CF card. Because almost all the photos I take are for personal use or for my Web sites, the low resolution is rarely a problem.

However, I run into a problem when I take a photo that I want to print. I usually shoot photos at 1600 x 1200 resolution, and printing a 5" x 7" image of a 1600 x 1200 digital photo pushes the limits of acceptable quality. An 8" x 10" print shows each individual pixel. The problem came to a head after my recent trip to California, when a half-dozen photos I took merited a print.

Manipulating the images with built-in tools in various photo-editing software packages didn’t yield the quality I sought. I was still stuck with a low-resolution image that wouldn’t look good as an 8" x 10" print. But, of course, technology came to my rescue.

The rescue was in the form of LizardTech's Genuine Fractals Print Pro 2.5 plugin for Adobe Photoshop. The plugin uses fractal technology to let the user store files in a compressed format and effectively increase resolution of the digital image. I wasn’t concerned about the ability to compress file size while retaining all the original picture data because the images I started with were only about 600KB. (The compression feature is useful when you're working with film photographs scanned at 1000dpi.) I needed Print Pro for its ability to create larger print images when the original digital image doesn't have sufficient resolution to create an acceptable 8" x 10" print.

To print 8" x 10" photo-quality images, I use an Olympus P-400 dye sublimation printer with an effective resolution of 314dpi. (To achieve images of comparable quality to a dye sublimation printer, inkjet printers typically print at 720dpi to 1440dpi.)

My first step in printing a photo from my California trip was to convert my camera's JPEG image to the proprietary Genuine Fractal STN format. LizardTech claims Print Pro works with any Photoshop plugin–compatible application, so I used it with Adobe PhotoDeluxe Home Edition, which came free with one of my imaging tools. The plugin installs to the Export menu as a file type. To convert a file into the STN format, you first load a photo in any format that your application recognizes. When you export the file as an STN file, Print Pro prompts you for the encoding you want to use: Lossless or Near Lossless. Lossless encoding produces the highest-quality output possible and reproduces the original image at full size. The encoding also achieves file compression of approximately 2:1. Near Lossless encoding compresses files to approximately 5:1, yet still provides an excellent quality image when you enlarge the image beyond 100 percent of the original size.

I saved the original file in Lossless encoding, closed the original file, and opened the STN version. When you open an STN file, Print Pro presents a dialog box, which Figure 1 shows, that contains all the options for working with a larger or smaller version of the same file. I elected to open the file at 300dpi (up from the original 72dpi), a 416 percent increase in the original file size. I also selected the highest quality level. For comparison purposes, I then exported the STN file out of PhotoDeluxe as a JPEG file, the image's original format.

Figure 2 shows the original 72dpi JPEG image enlarged 400 percent on the left, and the 300dpi JPEG image that I created from the STN file at 100 percent (416 percent of the original file's size) on the right. Print Pro doesn't add any image data, but the product's manipulation of the existing information creates an image with no visible pixilation. The 8" x 10" printed image from the STN file looked like a typical image with just a hint of grain. When I printed an 8" x 10" image from the original JPEG file, the photo appeared as a mass of square pixel data.

The Print Pro plugin is incredibly simple to use and performed exactly what I needed it to do. You can't ask much more from a piece of software. Print Pro costs $159.

Canon’s PowerShot S110 Digital ELPH:

LizardTech’s Genuine Fractals Print Pro 2.5

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