How to Print Out Really Nice Reference Photos

Before I start a painting, I print out a few reference photos. I might like the composition in one but the sky in another. A third photo might have the color scheme I want.

I usually get my reference photos from because I never have to worry about taking another artist’s work. Everything on Pixabay is free for us to use any way we want to use it.

Printing these photos out on regular printer paper is not so great. So much of the color and intensity gets lost. So here is what I do instead:

[1] I Find a Reference Photo I Can Use

In Pixabay, I search for a particular element I want in my painting. A good friend of mine did me a huge favor and I wanted to repay her with an original painting. I asked her what she would like me to paint and she said, “I’m always attracted to paintings that have trees in them.”

So I envisioned a painting with a path going through trees with mountains and the sky in the background. This Pixabay photo helped me with the composition:

I know that my friend likes bright colors, so I downloaded this photo from Pixabay:

[2] I Crop the Picture in the Paint Program

Then I right click on the photo and open it in Paint:

If I want to crop the image, now is the time to do that.

[3] I Copy the Photo into Word

In order to print it out on photo paper the way I want it, I copy the image while it is in the Paint program into my clipboard by pressing the Control key and the “C” key at the same time.

Then I open a word document and paste it in, using Control + V.

The Word program sizes the picture automatically:

[4] I Print the Reference Photo on Glossy Photo Paper

I bought a reasonably-priced box of 50 sheets of glossy photo paper at Walmart. I chose the 8.5 x 11 size so it would fit in my printer:


  • I find reference photos that have elements that I’m going to put into my new painting.
  • I open a reference photo in the Paint program so that I can crop it and copy it into my clipboard.
  • I paste it into a Word document.
  • I print it out on glossy photo paper.

I do this for each reference photo I need for my next painting. Then I post them on the wall above and next to my canvas and start painting.

The colors are vibrant and the photos are much better quality than if they were printed on just regular printer paper.