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Photo Printers Buying Guide

by Staff Writer

Inkjet photo printer producing digital photo prints

Now that all your photos are digital, you no longer have to get them developed to see how they turned out. You can even adjust or edit and print your favorite shots yourself. A dedicated photo printer will give you attractive, glossy prints of the photos you want just like your local photo lab. This photo printer buying guide will help you understand your photo printing options and how to select a photo printer that works for you.

Buying a Photo Printer:

  1. Print size: For casual printing, a small photo printer for standard 4 x 6-inch or 5 x 7-inch scrapbook/album prints will work fine. A full-sheet printer will produce 8 x 10-inch desk or wall frames. A high-capacity printer will let you create large numbers of full-color, detailed prints.

  2. DPI: DPI is "dots per inch" and measures printing resolution for photo printers. The higher the dpi rating, the finer the image will be. A 1200 x 1200 dpi print is all but indistinguishable from film.

  3. Uploading photos: You can connect a photo printer directly to a camera via a USB cable instead of uploading the photos to your computer and then printing. Many photo printers have built-in memory card readers, allowing you to print without even connecting the camera at all. Combined with an LCD screen to preview photos, these photo printers can be your personal photo studio.

  4. Inkjet photo printers: Inkjet photo printers shoot ink onto paper through almost microscopic nozzles. The least expensive, CMY inkjet printers, use four ink colors to mix colors for printing: black, cyan, magenta and yellow. More advanced inkjet printers use seven or eight colors, adding light cyan, light magenta, red or green to produce even more vivid images.

  5. Dye-sublimation photo printers: Dye-sublimation photo printers use a four-part or CMYO ribbon with three colors plus a clear overcoat to protect the image. Sublimation means the ink heats directly from solid to gas. The printer heats the ribbon, transferring gaseous ink to glossy paper. These photo printers have several advantages. Varying the temperature allows dye-sub printers to vary the amount of ink and, thus, the shade. Because sublimation inks are semi-transparent, they can be laid atop one another instead of side-by-side, creating more natural transitions from color to color. With no liquid involved, prints emerge dry from the printer and don't run when wet.

  6. Laser printers: Laser printers use static electricity to apply toner to paper. Laser photo printers have a lower cost per page than other types of photo printers. The true advantage of laser printers is the image quality. Good laser printers create images that are nearly indistinguishable from film prints, and laser photo printers are also extremely fast at producing prints.

  7. All-in-one printers: A photo-quality printer, combined with a scanner, can replace several office machines as well as print photos. All-in-one printers also allow you to digitize your old photo prints, edit them and print the altered photo. This is great for old, over-exposed photos that you'd like to clean up.

  8. Photo printer docks: The majority of dedicated photo printers are small, desktop models, often called "printer docks." These are very popular for their portability and ease-of-use. Some are even designed to connect directly to the camera without cables. This type usually works only when camera and dock are from the same manufacturer, so be sure to check the product descriptions.

  9. Panoramic prints: Traditional prints have a 3:5 aspect ratio. Panoramic shots are typically much wider. The width will vary, depending on the camera. If you plan on making panoramic prints, you may want to check to see what print sizes your photo printer is capable of.

  10. Photo printer care: Like all electronics, photo printers require little maintenance. Dust, heat, humidity and impact damage are the usual causes of failure. You only have two things to worry about to maintain your photo printer.

  11. Dust: Dust your photo printer frequently with a lint-free cloth. Clean the interior and openings with canned air.

  12. Sun: Keep photo printers shielded from direct sunlight. This will keep your printer from overheating and extend the life of your ink and toner cartridges.

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