This is an exciting time for photographers who like to make their own prints. You can create small prints, big prints and prints capable of lasting longer than any standard color print made a decade ago, even with the most basic of inkjet printers. There are differences among printers, however, particularly when you compare typical multipurpose printers to dedicated photo printers. Stepping up to one of these models will get you faster print speeds, smaller ink droplets and expanded inksets for finer color and tonal reproduction. You’ll also find smaller snapshot printers that make 4×6 photo prints easily, quickly and border-free.
Inkjet technology started with dye-based inks. They had a greater range of color or gamut, but used to have a very short life. They would fade quickly. Epson was the first manufacturer to introduce pigment-based inks, which had less gamut, but greatly improved print longevity.
Today, dye-based inks retain their color gamut, but with a much longer life. Pigment-based inks also have improved, with better color and new formulations that make them less likely to clog. Still, if you’re not printing frequently and you don’t need 200-year print life, a dye-based printer may be a better choice because you won’t have the frustrations of head clogging. Pigment ink printers need to be used constantly. If you want specifics about print life from different inks, check out print and ink life for all manufacturers at Wilhelm Imaging Research, www.wilhelm-research.com.
Printer resolution refers to how densely the ink droplets are laid down on the paper. Big printing resolution numbers are more marketing hype than being really useful. Once you get beyond about 1200 dpi, visual differences in the resulting print can be hard to see although your printing times will increase dramatically. In addition, the really high resolutions typically don’t use the best photo printing algorithms.
Paper surface affects what resolution can do. Coated papers (glossy, matte, pearl, semi-gloss, etc.) make colors vibrant and images look their sharpest. They also can use the higher printer resolutions up to 2800 (above that, you won’t see much difference). Uncoated fine-art papers give a mellower look, but many photographers prefer that look for displaying photos. Some fine-art papers work best at less than 1000 dpi.
Paper surface also affects the life of a print. Prints on glossy papers typically have a shorter life than matte or fine-art papers.
The main photo printer manufacturers are Canon, Epson and Hewlett-Packard. No other manufacturers do as good a job with photo prints.