Economy printers is being used here to consider printers which cost less than £200 and generally this will mean you are looking at either a small format/on the move printer or an A4 inkjet printer with photo printing capability. For many who want to produce prints for their own use to show friends and family, want to produce the equivalent of what they could get from the local photo processing shop, or want to print just the very occasional photo this may be an option to consider. So what are the options.
Small Format/On The Move Printers
Small Format or On the Move printers usually refers to the type of printer that will generally print up to a 6x4 (10x15cm) photo print, although some models may go to a 5x7 (13x18cm), and are designed for low volume home printing or being light enough to be used on the move. Some models are inkjets while others work using the dye-sub ink process, see this article for more detailed explanation. With consumables the inks and papers can be bought separately, but some have options of buying ink and paper in a combined pack, or in the case of the POGO using a thermal printing technique there is no ink as the colour comes from the paper/printing process. These printers are direct printers and can be used with the DOP facilities on some models of camera, they work with jpg images.
If you want to produce images like those that can be obtained from your local photo processing shop to distribute around family and friends, or to frame for your own use they are an option. They are a form of instant print. They can be run with or without a computer. They are also an option for those who do not have a computer as they come with slots to be able to insert the memory card direct or connect your camera via a USB cable and many of the models also have limited editing capabilities built in so that you can edit brightness and contrast and crop the images, add border frames, other decorative elements prior to print. Some models even have the ability to allow you to transfer the images from the memory card on to CD or into a Digital Photo Frame.
Models Available as at February 2009 include:
A4 Inkjet Printers
A4 desktop inkjet colour printers from all the major manufacturers like Epson, Canon and HP can today produce borderless photo prints, and you can cost as low as £30 to buy. These low cost printers are usually general purpose printers so you can use them for other documents such as letters as well as producing what is termed 'lab-quality' prints from borderless 10x15cm (6x4) prints up to A4. They generally use 4 separate colour ink cartridges or black cartridge and single colour cartridge containing 3 colours, and in most cases can be profiled. One thing to watch is that although some printers in the range are now at a throw away prices, the cost of the ink cartridges will cost more than the printer. For example the Epson Stylus range a set of 4 inks will cost around £35, Canon Pixmia set of 1 triple colour cartridge and 1 black around £35 and HP Photosmart set of 1 triple colour cartridge and 1 black around £30.
They are generally good all round printers and will produce letters and other documents for you as well as photos. The photo quality is good and acceptable in most cases, they are slower to print out photos and you don't get many prints out of a single ink run, so will be more expensive to run for photo printing, than some of the models in the next price range. If the model you choose is able to be profiled then the colours will be accurate within the limitations of the ink set, with models in the next ranges up where more inks are used quality and colour range will be greater.
Inks and Paper used
All printer manufacturers have their own ink sets, all with differing claims. Many are now quoting 100 years life if used with their inks and their paper ranges and kept within certain environments. With the small format/on the move printers the ink is usually in a single cartridge, while the A4 inkjet printers at this lower end of the product scale usually have 4 ink colours, either in separate cartridges or in two cartridges one for black ink, the other for colour ink.
For more details on ink and paper types see the two separate articles we have on this.
Generally with these types of printer the cost per print is going to be higher than some of the larger models. However having said that in most cases here, our demonstrations have shown that cost is around 20-30p per print, which in comparison with online printing at 5p per print is around four times more, but you have the fun of being able to print out your work when you want, how you want, and if in the case of the low cost A4 inkjet printers if it can be profiled the quality will probably be better than that you get done elsewhere.
When at this lower end scale of the budget the cost of a set of consumables can be more than the cost of the printer, but the convenience of having your own printer should out way this.
For a photo printer for less than £200 there are some good quality models on the market today, and as technology moves on quality will improve. Printers at this level have their use and for some with digital compact cameras these are an ideal option, and those with no computer the small format/on the move options are an ideal investment.