A little over a month ago, reader Gary Berg suggested I give a program called Qimage Pro a look and see what it would do for my digital camera output. And I finally got around to doing it.
If you’ve got a scanner and/or a digital camera, I’ve got just five things to say to you: You gotta get this thing.

OK, OK, I’ll elaborate a little.

I took a few design classes in journalism school, and I remember one cardinal rule when it came to dealing with images: Reductions are fine, enlargement is a feature you should never use. If you’ve got a 5×7 image at 300 dpi, it’ll get pixelated if you try to enlarge it. You can go smaller, but you can’t make something from nothing.

Qimage Pro is supposed to work miracles. So I threw the worst-possible test at it.

I took a 640×480 image taken by a Sony Mavica digital camera. I blew it up to 8×10. Then I printed it on my 600 dpi laser printer. On cheap office-grade paper (not even the highest grade available).

Now I’ll gladly admit, the resulting picture shows a little bit of pixelation. A little. But from a slight distance (I’m talking two or three feet here), I wouldn’t know the difference. That picture would look fine hanging on my wall, and I’m not just saying that because I’m supposed to like looking at the subject matter.

I’m amazed. Based on previous experience, I wouldn’t dare try printing a 640×480 image any bigger than three inches across.

I suspect printing in color might give me less leeway. I plan to test that theory on my girlfriend’s color inkjet later today.

That test knocked my socks off, but there’s more to Qimage than just giving high-quality enlargements that look better than anyone has any right to expect. Photo paper is expensive, and it will arrange photos on the paper to maximize the available space on it. Depending on how you’re currently printing your digital photos, it might pay for itself in paper savings.

I also like its redeye reduction and blemish removal. To take out redeye, you click on the center of the pupil and drag your mouse to the right. To do a digital makeup job (or fix other problems–I swear that Sony Mavica must have had dust on its lens at some point), click on the center of the spot you want to remove and drag left. It sounds weird, but it took me about two tries to get the hang of it.

And the autocorrect functions are pretty intelligent. You don’t want to go blindly turning all of them on. On some pictures, it looked pretty good when I did that. Others took on a really artificial look. So experiment to get the hang of the tools, but be selective.

If you want to crop an image, it has a Crop Wizard. Who needs a wizard to help you cut out a piece of an image? Don’t worry, this isn’t a worthless wizard like Clippy from MS Office. Its recommendations, believe it or not, are intelligent. This wizard really does help you.

If you have a scanner, Qimage Pro will give you an easy way to make quick-and-dirty enlargements and reprints. Scan the picture at your scanner’s highest hardware or optical resolution (check your scanner’s manual). Load the scan into Qimage and size it however you want, do any touchups and/or cropping you want to do, then print. You’ll definitely want this if you ever get to spend an afternoon with the stash of photographs your grandmother kept under her bed in a Russell-Stover candy box.

It’s not a serious photo manipulation tool like Photoshop. If you want to cut out your head and put it on the body of a supermodel, Qimage Pro won’t do it. But most people are just interested in touchups and printing and don’t want to spend an hour futzing around with each image. For those kinds of people, Qimage Pro is perfect and it costs 40 bucks.

The only downside to any of this is that the quality of most inkjet printers is anything but archival–the ink fades fairly fast. But Qimage can’t do anything about that. It does an amazing job at everything else.