Frequently asked questions
Use the right inks, and papers
Printing software published by the printer manufacturer is specifically designed to integrate well with the printer driver (the computer application that translates image data signals into the appropriate amounts of ink to squirt).
However, the people who created the printer driver for your printer needed to make measurements to determine the amounts, and proportions, of ink to lay down in order to reflect a standard shade of red light, or green light, or blue light (or any combination). Those amounts and proportions are determined by the composition of the dyes or pigments in the inks and the composition of the paper. Obviously, they measured their own papers and inks.
Using the printer maker's software successfully relies on two assumptions: that the paper and ink you're using is the same as the paper and ink that they used in making the driver; and that there is no manufacturing variability in any of printer, ink, or paper.
If you're using the paper and ink marketed specifically for your printer you should get OK prints with reasonable colour accuracy by following the prompts and letting the 'printer manage colours'. To do better you need to apply a print 'profile' made specifically for your printer, ink, and paper.
If you're using third party papers or inks, it is unlikely that the printer's built-in software will work. Many people have found that it is simply poor economics to try to use third party inks and papers 'because they're cheaper'. If you're really fussy about good colour, the waste of ink and paper resulting from frequent reprints trying to get colour agreements negates any savings! You can try profiling your printer for these papers and inks but the relevance of that profile, beyond the batch of ink and paper in the printer when you make the profile, will depend on the makers' quality control.
There are some makers of specialty third party inks which have a very good reputation for consistency and colour fastness. Those inks tend to be no less expensive than OEM inks. On the other hand, there has to be a reason why other third party paper and ink makers can manufacture cheaply. Caveat emptor!
Yet again, you may want to use speciality art papers made by big name fine art paper manufacturers (eg Ilford, Hahnemühle). You can be confident about quality stability, but you will need to have a good printer 'profile' made for that paper, and you will need to use a third party photo printing application such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, Aperture, or the like.
Are you using inks and paper that were manufactured for use in your printer? The recommended Epson ink and paper in an Epson printer? The recommended Canon ink and paper in a Canon printer? If not, all bets on the following simple approach, are off!
What software settings should I use
If you are using OEM inks and paper, the really simplest way to make OK colour photos, is to use the printing software that came (free) with your printer, and the printer manufacturer's own papers and inks. Software such as Epson's Easy Photo Print or Photo Quicker, or Canon's Easy Photo Print avoid all complications. It is difficult to make a mistake!
If you have a well-behaved monitor that is well-adjusted for brightness and contrast you can be reasonably assured of a fair screen-print match by simply following the instructions in the software. In that case the reason for a bad colour mismatch is almost certainly that the colour settings of your monitor are wrong.
Computer applications like Photoshop, Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, Aperture, like the software that came with your printer, are "ICC aware". That means they are programmed to read and use the colour coding information in image files.
When you're using these programs, the option often recommended by printer manufacturers, is to let the printer take control of colour management. Apart from the paper size setting in the printer driver, the most important thing to get right is the paper (or 'media') quality setting. Choose 'Highest quality' and be sure to specify exactly the paper you're using.
If the paper you're proposing to use is not listed in the printer driver it's likely that the manufacturer knows that the substrate or surface of the paper will not accept your printer's inks. For example some really glossy papers are not a good match for some pigments inks, and dye-based inks don't work well with some matte papers even though they're made or marketed by the same manufacturer.