It isn't until you've tested several printers that you realise just how much the quality of output can vary from model to model. But a more striking discrepancy is the one commonly noted between the colours onscreen and those that are printed.
Why is this such a frequent issue? Because most users don't take the time to calibrate their monitor or printer. The majority of us simply plug in the display and expect to see true, natural colours.
The default settings do work — to an extent. Windows XP's hill is green and the sky is blue; most of us haven't visited the region of Hawaii where the photo was taken, so we don't know any better.
Similarly, the screen resolution seems satisfactory at the default settings but, particularly with LCD panels, you'll get a sharper and more satisfying image if you use it at its native resolution — where one dot in an image illuminates one dot onscreen.
If you're still using a CRT screen, the refresh rate — the number of times the image is refreshed each second — is crucial. It can make the difference between a rock-steady picture you can work with all day and one that flickers and gives you a headache after a few minutes.
These and other picture-quality adjustments are easy to make, although their options are often hidden away. Using Windows' built-in settings, or those provided with most standalone graphics cards, you can configure your monitor to give optimal performance.
It's possible to match both monitor and printer to the same colour profile — so what you see onscreen is exactly what you'll get on paper. The process takes just 10 minutes to set up, and could save you a lot of anguish further down the line. We'll show you how.
Optimise your monitor's display
1. To set your main display parameters, right-click anywhere on the desktop, then click Properties, Settings. Set the 'Screen resolution' slider to the highest setting supported by your display. Check the resolutions that are supported in your monitor's manual or at the maker's website.
2. The 'Color quality' setting — a measure of the colours your monitor can display — can be ratcheted up to 32bit on all but the oldest of PCs. If you own an older system, give the 16bit setting a try — it could speed things up. Click Advanced to display the multitabbed monitor and graphics card properties dialog box.