Which inkjet model is right for me?
Inkjet printers range from around $150 for an entry-level product (home) up to $900 for a state-of-the-art photo printer.
The rule of thumb for deciding which type suits your needs is this: if the majority of your printing will be text and the occasional photo, then a printer between $150 and $300 should be able to fulfil the task. In most cases, you can simply select the printer that will be most cost-effective to run based on the cost of consumables (more on these later). Even the cheapest inkjet models on the market nowadays can produce decent-looking photo printouts on speciality papers, and all excel in producing crisp, clean text.
The massive increase in the number of digital images being taken, coupled with the ease of use and simplicity of models now being released, is propelling photo printers into the mainstream printer market.
If you are looking for a printer specifically designed for photographs, then it could be worthwhile investing in a photo printer. Photo printers can offer contrasting features to standard inkjets, which benefit digital camera users. But be warned: they will come at a higher price.
It's important to note photo printers aren't always souped-up inkjet printers. Most of the photo printers on the market employ either inkjet or dye-sublimation technology. Dye-sublimation (or dye-sub) printers work by diffusing gaseous dye over paper, producing high-quality prints free of the distinctive pattern of dots common to inkjets.
Their output quality makes dye-subs popular in high-graphics environments, but their superior image reproduction has also allowed them to carve out a niche in the portable photo printer market.
Although dye-subs have a reputation for being expensive, it is only partially justified. While large A3-sized dye-subs can get into five digit figures, portable photo printers (outputting pictures no larger than 4x6in) cost little more than a mid-range inkjet.
One of the bigger differences between photo printers and standard inkjets is that the former employs a wider range of printing inks to improve reproduction. Whereas standard printers use the basic CYMK (cyan, yellow, magenta and black) inks, photo printers employ additional colours (light magenta and light cyan being common choices) to iron out impurities.
Colour fidelity is another critical factor. It doesn't matter how vibrant the colours produced by the printer are if they don't match those previewed on your monitor or digital camera viewer.
Consistent colour across compatible input and output devices is much easier now that Windows incorporates a built-in colour management utility, ICM (image colour management). Look for a printer that includes ICM or ICC (International Consortium of Colour) colour profiles that your image-editing application can use to ensure colour fidelity.
Removable storage media
In addition, photo printers offer more functionality than traditional inkjets, including being able to transfer your photos directly to the printer without needing to be attached to a PC. This is great for those who aren't looking to make sizeable changes to their photos before printing them.
If you are looking for this functionality, choose a printer which is compatible with your digital camera's removable memory card format. Most direct photo printers support at least one of the three main types of memory card: Secure Digital (SD), CompactFlash or Sony's Memory Stick. Hewlett-Packard has recently released a range of photo printers that support all removable media formats, making the product choices for consumers even easier.
As well as memory card support, some photo printers feature a small LCD image preview display. This allows users to set print options or even preview images before printing the final product.
There are a few points to note. Even if the printer offers a high-resolution print quality, this will only apply if the photograph you plan to print has been taken at a similar or higher resolution setting. Bear in mind that if you've dropped the resolution setting to fit more on your digital camera's memory card, you are sacrificing the quality of the photo print.
Similarly, high resolutions are generally only useful if you're using dedicated photo paper; it's wasted on more absorbent sheets. See more on paper types in the dedicated section below.
So, like standard inkjets, the most crucial advice that can be given to anyone buying a photo printer is to examine the printout before buying.
Another option which small to medium business users may want to consider in preference to a stand-alone inkjet or laser printer is a multifunction device.
MFDS are gaining popularity among home and small office users because of their easy manageability and convenience. An MFD incorporates a wealth of features - such as printing, scanning, copying and faxing capabilities - into a common housing, and is perfect for people with limited desk space or office realty. It can also save users money, as a good MFD will rival the combined costs of separate devices.
There are varying types of MFDs. Basic devices will include printing and photocopying capabilities, while others may also provide fax and scanning functionality. There are laser and inkjet types: laser printer-based MFDs for relatively large volume output (over 1000 pages per month), or inkjet-based versions.
The advantage is that you can determine your needs and buy the machine that has the most relevant features to meet them.