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Photo Printer Buyer’s Guide
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Photo Printer Buyer’s Guide

What features to look for when equipping your digital darkroom


When it comes to photo printers, you shouldn’t just point at one in the store and decide to take it home with you. After all, you’ve spent considerable time and effort taking photos of your favorite subjects.

If you listen to the salesman at your local superstore, the $50 printer he is trying to sell you can do anything including printing top-notch photos. Don’t believe them. There is much more to printing photos and a range of issues that need to be considered prior to making the purchase. Of course in some cases a simple printer might meet your needs

The most important issue to look at is what will you be using it for? Are you going to be creating postcard mailers with color images, reproducing snapshots of the family for digitally-impaired relatives, or reproduce top-quality images for professional use? From there you can select ink types and technologies, as well as consider features print and quality speeds, ease of use including connections to other devices and  cost.

We will look at four basic types of printers: color thermal or solid ink printers, color inkjets, and dye sublimation, while mentioning color laser, which is not really optimized for photos.  A color laser uses a laser beam that burns color toner pigment onto the media. Generally they are not used for photos due to the lack of crispness that a user might want, but if using post card stock they might do in a pinch. An inkjet printer sprays ionized ink onto the media and can be used with specialty paper to create photo quality images. Different companies have different types of nozzles or ink heads and use both dyed inks and pigment-based inks. Inkjet tends to be the technology that meets many casual users’ needs in terms of quality and price point.

Next up is solid ink printers. These use solid blocks of ink to make images, and while the images can be very good there are two issues that can be problematic with this technology. The images are susceptible to scratching, and since the images contain wax they can melt or stacks of prints can stick together. However, for use with a wide variety of mediums this can be a good solution.

At the head of the class is dye-sublimation printing. This technology, which uses dye transfer directly to paper from ribbons, can be wasteful and a bit pricey, but it can also create images that are as real to life as is possible with technology.

Some Choices for All Classes of User


For an entry level photo printer that will not break the bank, look to the Canon Pixma iP4920 Premium Inkjet Photo Printer ($89.00). With a maximum color resolution of 9600 x 2400 dpi the 5 color ink system uses four dye-based inks plus a pigment-based black ink to give it sharper brighter colors and deeper blacks.  It can print sizes that range from a borderless 4” x 6” inch photo to 8.5” x 11” and supports legal size paper.

It ships with a software program called Auto Photo Fix II that can automatically categorizes your images into one of five types—Portrait, Scenery, Night Scenery, Snapshot with Scenery and Snapshot with Night Scenery—and then apply an array of predetermined corrections. It has built-in CD and DVD printing as well as Full HD Movie Print that enables you can convert movie clips into prints.


Looking for a higher end solution and want an inkjet because of its relatively low cost per images then the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Inkjet Printer Designer Edition ($1,195.00) should be what the doctor ordered. The printer is designed for the professional environment and so can use a much larger variety of sizes than many of its lesser rivals with a maximum output of 17” x 22”

And Epson has not forgotten black-and-white-photographers with its Advanced Black-and-White Photo Mode to easily create neutral or toned black-and-white prints from color or monochrome images as well as having a feature that enables users to switch black density to be optimum for glossy, fne art and matte papers.


At the top of the inkjet world there are the professional models such as the Canon imagePrograf iPF710 Photo Inkjet Large Format Printer ($2,499.55). Few will ever find the need to print a three foot image once, much less multiple times, but if you do look to the large format family of printers such as this Canon model. Capable of handling everything from 8” to 36” this not your ordinary photo printer, but one that meets a select group of professionals requirements.

The iPF710 features a Reactive Ink system that consisting of four colorfast dye inks-Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black-plus two channels of pigment-based Matte Black and produces print resolutions up to 2400 x 1200 dpi.  Designed not just for the photographer the printer is designed to meet the needs of professionals using CAD, MCAD, ECAD and GIS applications.

Dye Sublimation

In the dye-sublimation printer space the DNP Photo DS40 Printer ($1,229.95) is a solid representation of the family. It is used in a range of professional markets including photo kiosks and professional photo labs. It has the ability to print a 4” x 6” inch print in as little as 8.7 seconds with two print resolutions, 300 x 300 dpi and 300 x 600 dpi. It supports five print sizes 3.5x5”, 4x6”, 5x7”, 6x8” and 6x9” and supports both glossy and matte finish.

Color Thermal Printers


Color thermal printers, which bond the ink to the media via heat, make exceptional quality photos as shown by the  Mitsubishi CP-9550DW Digital Color Thermal Photo Printer ($1,209.95). With the ability to produce 346 dpi images in fine mode, the printer is designed for high-volume use and incorporates rolls of paper that helps make its operation trouble-free. It offers five different output sizes and two print modes, plus 32MB of memory so that it can store images while printing.


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