Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Toolbox: Inkjet Printers
What you need to know about photo printers today
Early inkjet prints didn't last very long. When exposed to light (as when being displayed), they would fade in just months. Printer manufacturers solved that problem, coming up with ink/paper combinations that resist light-fading for many years. Unfortunately, light isn't the only thing that can shorten print life. Atmospheric gases (such as smog) can rapidly destroy a relatively lightfast image, as can high temperatures, humidity and rough handling. Today, Canon, Epson and HP all offer inks and papers that provide excellent longevity, but note that some ink/paper combinations produce better longevity than others; if long print life is important (sometimes it's not), check the manufacturers' specs for the combos you're considering. For an objective look at print permanence, visit www.wilhelm-research.com.
The printing speeds listed in the specifications for printers are often for draft mode, printing text and graphics, not photos. Check the specs for times for printing true photos. Also keep in mind that the spec speeds are the time the paper spends being printed, not the time from the moment you click the "print" button until the finished print comes out. The size of the image file, and the speed of your computer and printer connection (FireWire, USB 2.0 or 1.1, etc.) also figure into the total time. Several companies offer direct-printing 4x6-inch printers that eliminate the computer and external connection.
Photo inkjet printers come in several sizes or formats. You can choose from a variety of excellent printers that make prints up to letter size (8.5x11 inches) for well under $200, and you can get printers that will turn out dandy 13x19-inch prints for around $500. The larger-format printers also allow you to make smaller prints (I make mostly letter-sized prints with my 13x19-incher), so if you want to make big prints even once in a while, you probably should get a large-format printer. If you have no need for prints beyond letter size, get one of the letter-format printers.
Many photographers prefer borderless prints, but not all photo inkjet printers can produce them. If you like borderless and don't like trimming prints, be sure to choose a printer that can make borderless prints.
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