It can be frustrating to have a great image on your Windows PC, but find that when you print out a paper copy the colours aren't the same. There are a number of reasons this can happen – a badly calibrated monitor or printer, the type of paper you use, using old or incorrect printer drivers, or simply too many colours in the original image – but there are a few steps you can take to remedy the situation or at least improve it.

Here are the ways you can make the colours of your printed images match those you see on your PC or laptop display.

Before you plough on through the methods below, know that some printers simply cannot replicate the colours you see on your monitor. Many home printers have three or four colours to play with and these must be combined to produce the wide range of colours - the gamut - that are present in most photos. Printers aren't all created equal and may not be able to reproduce subtle changes in colour or certain skin tones. 

Also, bear in mind that laser printers are usually much worse at printing photos than inkjet printers.

Calibrate your monitor

Before fiddling with the printer settings, it's a good idea to calibrate the colours on your monitor to ensure it’s displaying things the way it should. Part of calibration is to set your screen's brightness and contrast so they're at appropriate levels. If you have your monitor set to 100% brightness, images could look bright and punchy, but that isn't what is sent to your printer: it may receive a darker version - the true version.

This is why monitor calibration is so important if you are keen to get the best colour match between screen and printer.

Windows 10 comes with a built-in calibration tool that takes you through the process step-by-step. 

To begin, open the Start menu, type Colour Calibration into the search field, then select the matching result. Select the Advanced tab, then in the Display Calibration section click the Calibrate Display button.

How to match printer colours to display

When the calibration tool launches it will guide you through setting up the various elements of your display.

how to match printer colours to display

When you’re finished, choose Current Calibration to save the settings, then click Finish.

If you want to take things up to another level then you can invest in a hardware colorimeter such as the Spyder 5 Elite. This physically measures the output of your display, and adjusts everything accordingly. It’s only really for professionals or serious enthusiasts though, and will cost you £190/US$240.

Change your paper

One common complaint is that of dull or dark colours, especially when it comes to photographs. This can be enhanced by using the correct sort of paper. While normal printer paper (often called copier paper) is fine for general documents and things like that, you should really be using photo paper or specific bright white paper when printing images you’ve captured on your camera or phone.

Photo paper has a glossy sheen that makes colours appear brighter, plus the composition of the surface also affects the way the ink behaves. Don't overlook this point: printer manufacturers work hard to ensure their paper matches their inks, so you tend to get the best results if you pair an Epson or HP printer with the same brand of paper.

You can buy photo paper in packs, but it will be more expensive than the normal sheaves of A4 you’d pick up for general use. 

We found this HP Everyday Photo Paper bundle of 100 sheets on Amazon for £18.40, but if you shop around you should find various deals. If possible, buy a small amount first to test how much of a difference it makes, before splashing out on larger packs.

It’s also worth considering buying a higher quality printer paper than the normal one you might usually select. Look at the GSM rating on the pack, as this shows you how thick the individual pages are. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the GSM number the better the quality of paper, and in turn the higher the chance of you getting good results.

If your printer offers the software option to enter the specific type of paper you’re using, then be sure to do this, as it could again add some improvements to the final image.

Calibrate your printer

You don’t really want to be using generic calibration settings for a printer, as they are all slightly different. To get the best performance you’ll want to either open the printer application that came with your device, or visit the manufacturers site and download the appropriate calibration software.

Each will take you through the steps required to get your device up to spec, usually involving printing out sheets and then scanning them back into the printer itself.

Hopefully, with all these steps complete, you should find that your prints are much closer to those on your screen.

Again, if you want to go down the professional route then there are calibration tools available online, as well as ICC profiles on offer from a variety of photo specialists, but for most people, most of the time, the steps above should get close enough while keeping costs to a minimum.

For more ways to deal with paper related problems, check out How to fix printer problems and we also have a useful guide on how to print out photos using Windows' built-in functions..