Printer Buying Tips
If you’re looking for a photo printer, you’ve probably noticed there are about a zillion models out there these days, so here’s a quick guide to help you narrow down the field.
First, are you looking for a printer that’s only for printing your photos? If that’s your aim and if regular, snapshot 4×6-inch prints are all you’ll need, there are some great little printers you can actually hold on the palm of your hand. Some even have battery power options so you can print your photos anywhere you want–even print photo postcards while on vacation! But if you want to make larger prints (8x10s or 11x14s), or if you need one printer that can handle text printing as well as photos, you’ll be looking at a desktop printer.
Whether portable or desktop, many printers today include several built-in card slots, so you can simply slide the memory card from your camera into the printer – no cables required. Just be sure the printer supports the same type of card as your camera. And if you want more control over your final printouts, look for a printer with an LCD screen that enables you to do some photo editing before printing.
Single-Purpose or All-in-One? The next decision you’ll need to make is do you need just a single-purpose printer or an “all-in-one” unit that can also copy, scan and even fax? Some multi-function printers skimp on photo capability in favor of business-oriented capabilities, so make sure any all-in-one printer you consider offers true photo-quality output, preferably with more than four colored inks.
Inkjet or Dye Sub? While standard inkjet printers often use four colors to print, an inkjet photo printer can use six, seven, or eight different colors. With the added colors, the printer creates images that look more like prints than you’d get from your one-hour photo store.
Just as important as the number of colors is the size of the ink droplet a printer can place onto the photo paper. The smaller the droplet, the more are used per inch to create the various colors and shading in the photo. So look for printers with higher dots-per-inch (dpi) ratings for better quality.
Dye Sub (short for dye sublimation) printers use a very different technology. There’s a multi-colored dye “ribbon” the width of the print paper and a printhead containing hundreds of tiny electric heating elements per inch. Tiny points of dye are transferred from the ribbon to the paper, creating the image. Unlike inkjets, dye-sub printers handle one color, then zip the paper back to the start position and print the next color, then the third, making true continuous-tone images made up of millions of colors.
While dye-sub printers may take longer to produce a print than inkjet printers, the print it produces is instantly dry. Many dye-sub printers also put a clear, protective coating on the surface of the print to defend it against fingerprints, moisture and fading. For consumers, though, dye-sub technology is mainly for 4×6-inch prints, and these can be expensive compared to inkjet output.
Either way, today’s photo-quality printers produce anything from snapshots to large framed images with quality that rivals traditional film-based photos, all at affordable prices. And prints from both will last a good long time.