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For many years, the common wisdom was that laser printers were cheaper than inkjets in the long run, because the price-per-page was lower. But that began back in the days of black and white printers. The question is now, “Are laser photo printers less expensive than inkjets?”
And the answer is, “Yes.” In fact, a relatively inexpensive laser photo printer can print a color page for about half the cost of an inkjet print. Part of the equation is that quality laser photo printers themselves have come down in price. A decent color laser printer can cost as little as $300 - $400.
A color laser printer requires four toner cartridges, and prices for these are usually $50 and above. But a toner cartridge lasts much longer than an ink cartridge for an inkjet printer.
Laser photo printers also beat inkjets in the speed department. A full-color letter-size page that might take an inkjet several minutes to produce will be done in mere seconds on a typical laser printer.
But there's one area in which laser photo printers can't compete with inkjets: print quality. A good inkjet will yield a better print than a laser photo printer every time. However, if decent quality is good enough, and cost and speed are important, you may want to consider a laser photo printer.
Until recently, black and white prints from inkjet printers were famously poor. Most consumer-level printers traditionally produced s B&W prints with definite color tinges. Inkjets could make a nice sepia-tone print, but B&W was a nightmare.
HP's now-discontinued PhotoSmart 7960 was something of a breakthrough photo printer. Unlike other high-end printers, the 7960's eight inks included shades of gray that made this the black and white champ of inkjet printers. Some reviewers raved that the 7960's B&W output rivaled the silver halide prints made with the traditional photographic process.
Now HP has gone the 7960 one better with the nine-ink PhotoSmart 8750 Professional. This HP photo printer isn't for everyone, though – the suggested price is $499.99.
But for those to whom B&W quality is important… who want the ability to print up to 13” x 19” without borders… or who want prints that last (rated for up to 200 years, when stored properly in an album), it's a good choice.
If you plan to print the pictures you shoot with your digital camera, it's worth the extra few dollars to buy a photo printer. Determining which printers you look at are photo printers is usually pretty easy: the manufacturers usually put the word “photo” in the product's name or description.
Most photo printers are of the inkjet variety – the predominant consumer printing technology. Photo printers often print with smaller “dots” – the droplets of ink that help give inkjet s their name – than plain text printers. And many come with more colors of ink. High-end inkjet photo printers from some manufacturers now come with eight or nine colors of ink.
Color laser printers are also available, though they're much more expensive than many inkjets. A third type of printer is the dye sublimation printer, which uses heat to transfer dyes directly onto the media (paper).
If you print mostly 4” x 6” prints and durability and color are very important to you, consider a dye sublimation printer. Dye sub photo printers use thermal transfer technology to produce prints with a range of colors that's impossible for inkjet printers to match. Three colors are transferred separately to the paper from a plastic film. Temperature variations are used to produce up to 256 shades of each color. Finally a protective laminate layer overlays the entire print.
Dye sublimation technology has two drawbacks, though. First, you can't reasonably use a dye sub photo printer for text, as you could an inkjet photo printer. And, second, the majority of available dye sub printers make prints no larger than 4” x 6”. A few also produce 6” x 8” prints.
Most people agree that an inkjet photo printer can produce excellent photo-quality prints. But there's been some controversy over the two types of ink used in these printers.
Inkjet inks come in two basic types: dye-based and pigment based. Pigment-based inks tend to last longer than dye-based (though dye-based inks have improved significantly in recent years). And pigment-based inks aren't affected as easily by humidity – a long-term consideration.
But dye-based inks produce a less grainy, smoother finish, which is definitely preferable to most photographers. For pure looks, pigment-based inks can't match them.
In the end, the decision is up to you. If longevity is paramount, you may want to select a printer that uses pigment-based inks. But if photo-realistic quality is your prime concern, a printer that uses dye-based inks may be more appropriate.
To make photo quality prints from your digital images, just plug a printer into your computer, right? Well, maybe not…
At least maybe not when the printer is a Canon Selphy DS700. While many printers beside the Selphy print directly from PictBridge compatible cameras, and many others have built-in memory card slots, and some also print from infrared-equipped cell phones, how many are made to plug into your TV?
TV? That's right: Canon has designed the DS700 to function as a part of your home entertainment system, further blurring the line between TV and computer. Plug a memory card into the Selphy DS700… review (and even rotate) images on your TV screen using the Selphy's remote… and when you see a shot you like, just tell it to print. In about a minute, you'll have a 4” x 6” print.
When is a printer not a printer? When it's an all-in-one, or multifunction. The best photo printer for many people may just be one of these “Swiss Army Knives” of the digital world.
All-in-ones usually combine at least a printer, scanner and stand-alone copier. Many others add fax capability. If you have limited space - or want, but can't afford, three or four devices – consider an all-in-one with photo printing capability.
How's the quality? Remarkably good. Three typical models – the Canon Pixma MP500, the Epson Stylus Photo RX700 and the HP PhotoSmart 3310 – represent a range of prices and all scored very well in reviews. Two are photo-quality printers combined with scanners and copiers. The third – the HP model – also faxes.
Of course, there are many other models – and manufacturers - to choose from. If you're pinching pennies or short on space, one of these all-in-ones can give you good quality prints in a nice combo package.
HP, Canon and Epson are the big players in the digital photo printer market. But other companies – like Sony, Olympus, Samsung, Lexmark and Hi-Touch - all offer one or more models of digital photo printer.
Use the manufacturer's websites to see what models and features are currently available. You'll be able to narrow your search to a relative few models based on features and price range.
Check reviews and ratings at magazine and other websites. PC Magazine (www.pcmag.com) and Macworld (www.macworld.com) both publish reviews on line. c/net (http://reviews.cnet.com) reviews products and lets users post their own opinions on the site. Epinions.com (www.epinions.com) posts consumer comments on an extensive list of products.
And, of course, check around for prices. Sites like Buy.com (www.buy.com) and Amazon.com (www.amazon.com) list both their prices for an item and affiliate retailer's prices. You can even make your purchase from an affiliate through the “host” site, so you won't have to deal with someone you don't know.
The PictureMate is Epson's latest entry in the portable photo printer market, and this little Epson photo printer has everything a portable needs – including a very convenient handle.
The PictureMate uses Epson's six-ink system, so it provides better color than most much bigger four-ink desktop models. And though it's not a speed-printing champ, the Deluxe model can turn out a 4” x 6” print in about 75 seconds.
Epson claims the highest resolution in its class – up to 5760 x 1440 dpi (dots per inch). And lab tests indicate the prints will resist fading up to 100 years when properly displayed behind lass – twice that in an album.
The PictureMate produces true 4” x 6” borderless prints – no perforated paper to mess with. And you can print directly from eight different types of memory card – including SmartMedia. Adapters are available for mini-SD cards and Sony's MemoryStick Pro and Pro Duo.
The PictureMate is PictBridge compatible, and even prints from Bluetooth-enabled devices. The Deluxe model comes with a 2.4” LCD viewer and a half-dozen other added features.