Nov 29, 2004

Picture Perfect Printers

Michael Fitzgerald - ExtremeTech

As with digital cameras, there's a plethora of photo printers to choose from, and the right one will depend on your specific wants and needs.

Photo printers typically use one of two technologies to print: inkjet or thermal dye. Inkjet printers are similar to standard inkjet printers, which use many small nozzles to spray ink patterns on paper.

Inkjet is the dominant technology for printers generally, and thus most inexpensive photo printers will use it. It's fast and versatile, prints on plain or glossy paper and gives high-quality images. Our favorite dedicated photo printer happens to be an inkjet printer, the Epson PictureMate.

It prints waterproof, store-quality photos up to 4 inches by 6 inches; prints from a variety of media, including direct from camera, CDs and USB drives; and has a handle for toting it around.

Thermal-dye technology involves dyeing specially coated paper. The dye comes on rolls of ribbon that contain the primary colors, and produces pictures that look and feel like traditional photos. Unlike inkjet printers, which save ink by using a technique called dithering to make an image look like it has the same colors everywhere, even though it doesn't. Thermal-dye printers use the same amount of color for every dot they print, meaning they can have much lower DPI (dots per inch) but still produce an excellent image (a 300 by 300 DPI thermal-dye printer can print images as sharp as a 1200 by 4800 DPI inkjet one).

But cost-conscious users might think twice about thermal-dye technology using one to make a print winds up being more expensive, if more convenient, than getting prints made at a store. One good example is the Sony PictureStation. which is sleek, intuitive to use and gives great images. It does only print from a camera or a computer.
Note that many ordinary, multipurpose printers will work just fine for printing out decent-looking prints for taping up on the refrigerator. Today's basic inkjet printers print images on par with specialized photo printers of two or three years ago.

But if you print a lot of pictures, a true photo printer matters, for several reasons:
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