Prints charming

After last week's clear hint of a look at Aperture's new printing capabilities the topic is a difficult one to escape, so let's have a look at what is one of the most improved aspects of Aperture, and then at a cheap third-party option for more complex print layouts.

High-end users really need their software to offer flexible watermarking and good options for multiple prints on one sheet, which is important because it minimises wastage. Protecting your intellectual property and branding your product rates highly, too. One of the best tools I've seen for maximising printing efficiency is Photoshop's Picture Package, which has some nifty ways to squeeze as many images as possible on one sheet of paper - the only down side being that you need a steady hand and a sharp blade to extract the separate images from complex layouts.

Aperture 3's sizing options for multiple images on one page aren't quite as good, but they are considerably more flexible than in version 2. If you haven't had a play with them, I'd encourage you to do so, and if you're not printing your photos I have to ask you why the hell not? I find a good print so much more rewarding to look at than one on a computer display. Your mileage will vary on that, to be sure, but more importantly a hard copy printed to archival standards and stored well will likely outlast the media on which the digital version is stored.

When you venture into A3's printing options, be sure to click the More Options button in the bottom left corner of the window. This will reveal the goodies, among which are watermark and logo options, choices of metadata views and border, crop mark and page number options. This set of options, especially the easy margin adjustments and row/column editing, take A3 a big step up from the previous version. One of the new tools revealed with the More Options button is an Image Options pane, which includes Brightness, Contrast and Saturation sliders, plus a sharpening tool.

It beats me why you would spend a lot of time in Aperture editing an image to perfection and then use these tools which, in my tests, are ham-fisted when it comes to image corrections. The only possible reason I can determine for the presence of these sliders is if you have a desperate need for a print and want a quick and dirty fix to an image that hasn't yet been edited. Otherwise, I'd steer clear of them.

Another new feature of printing in A3 is not at all obvious, so let me point it out. You can double-click an image in the preview window to rescale it within its frame, much the same way as you can resize an image in A3's book layout mode. This is pretty handy if you're looking to output a print and need to crop to fit the dimensions of the paper, which is not always easy to imagine when sizing crops in A

There is another way to gang up a bunch of different size prints on one sheet of paper and a method I bumped into only when checking A3's manual on another issue. Here's how it works.

Create a Light Table layout. Arrange images on the Light Table in a fashion that suits you. When you're ready to print, click and drag across the images you want to include and Aperture will send them to the printer. A couple of things to remember: only the images that are selected will be printed; and the selection bypasses A3's print dialog and sends the job directly to the standard printer dialog, which means you bypass A3's ability to fine-tune with logos and metadata and so on.

Here's a screenshot.

light table

This must be one of the most spectacular win/fail combinations I've yet seen. The Light Table option seems so promising but it's far from being as quick to use as other solutions. So much promise, such a bungled delivery. That said, check it out for yourself. You may find it a really good solution if your needs fit within its limitations.

Moving right along, as I've mentioned before in this blog, always check what happens in A3 when you click the gears icon. In A3's print dialog, the gears icon reveals an option to duplicate, save and delete presets. Presets, in this case, are print layouts. If you've just spent 10 minutes perfecting a layout comprising two columns of prints with watermarks, your logo and metadata and comment lines, there's no reason you should waste any time doing it all again. Save it as a preset for next time.

If you're looking for more creative possibilities with printing layouts, let me point you in the direction of some shareware called Portraits & Prints. I got my license as part of a MacUpdate bundle, so it was dirt cheap, about $10, but a standard license purchased at the developer's web site costs … whoa … hang on … it's free! After visiting to check the price I discovered they've discontinued development of P&P to focus efforts on backup software, but not before updating the app for Snow Leopard.

So … good news for you, bit of a downer for me.

Seriously, though, go get it. Free, and useful. My favourite parts of P&P are the simple layout templates that put a bunch of different sizes of the same image on to a single sheet of A4. Many (well, most) of the template layouts are a bit or even a lot on the cheesy side. You know the kind, Christmas card layouts with mistletoe clip art. But if you can look past the cheesy stuff, there are some good templates that easily accomplish what can't be done in Aperture. For instance, the template that puts three 6in x 4in (15cm x 10cm) prints on one sheet of A4 paper.

The only glitch with using P&P to handle printing of mixed layouts is that it doesn't have a media browser with which to reach into your Aperture library to choose images, so you'll have to export images to a location to then import them into P&P. It can, however, import images directly from iPhoto albums. As usual, it'd be great to hear from readers who have their own printing tricks. You know what to do. Hit the link below to share.

Discuss this with me in MacTheForum!

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