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Taking a Look at Printers for the Photographer

Introduction

There are a large number of printers available from small portable through to very large and available for a wide range of budgets from a few pounds up to many thousands of pounds, there are also a number of manufacturers all offering similar but then different products and how we make a choice on what is best for our particular need can be a challenge. There is a printer for every possible need some just being printers and targeted at a single use such as printing letters, photo printers, graphics, while there are others being more than one thing, usually referred to as an 'all-in-one', these models can also be a copier, scanner, fax machine, mini photo editor as well as printer. Some are also produced with a particular activity in mind, like those that are suitable for event photographers, or point of sale devices like you find in your local photo print shop, local supermarket or for printing on other materials as well as paper, such as canvas, transfers for putting on t-shirts, mugs and so on. They generally come in two colour types, mono (black and white print only) and colour which will also do black and white.

Choosing the right printer can therefore be a challenge and it is likely even with some printers being 'all-in-one' that finding a single printer to do all the tasks that you want is difficult. It is likely therefore that most of us will have at least two printers, one for normal everyday/office use and another specifically for printing photos.

Types

Defining printers by a type is difficult and even the manufacturers produce handouts and organise their websites in such a way that allows the same printers to be classified in a number of different ways, such as by ink, size, use, target market, and so on.

Standard - this term is generally used to define those printers that are suitable for home and small office use. They can include both monochrome and colour printers, take paper sizes up to A3+ and be across a number of different ink ranges. This range will generally be the lower priced end and will have a lower output based life expectancy

Professional is generally targeted at the type of user which could be considered the business market or professional photographer. Prices will start at the upper end of the standard models and go up to many thousands. In the photo printer marketplace this will include printers that will take up to A3+ through to the wide format printers. This range will generally have a higher output quantity for it's life expectancy mirroring the fact that a business/professional user will be producing a higher volume of throughput. In most cases they will also have a larger number of individual ink cartridges in the colour models.

Small Format is referred to the type of printer that will usually only print up to a maximum of a 6x4 (10x15cm) photo print, and are designed for low volume home printing or being light enough to be used on the move.

General Purpose is used for those printers that can do more than one thing, an 'all-in-one'. They are suitable for home/small office use and can print everything from the A4 letter through to photos, but can also act as a photocopier, fax machine and scanner.

Photo Printers however have been designed with just that in mind, to print photos, presentations and colour documents. They can also be used for other things, but they have been designed with the photo being the main purpose of the printer. They generally come with more individual ink cartridges to give a wider colour range. Some models can still also be 'all-in-one'.

Sizes

Printers also come in a range of sizes from the small format whose maximum, and in some models only print size is the equivalent of a 6x4 (10x15cm) print through to desktop printers which can print up to A2+ and then on to wide format printers that can print up to 60" wide and any length depending on the length of the roll of paper you install. There are also specialist printers such as those that are aimed at Event photographers which can print 6x4 or 10x8 prints, and fast as through put is what is required in the event marketplace.

Ink Types

Another classification sometimes used to categorize printers is their ink type. This is the based on the type of material used and the method used for putting the ink down onto the paper or other printable material. Some of types are explained below

Dye-Sub. This type of printer will generally produce photographic quality images and uses a heat source to evaporate the coloured inks from a ribbon onto a specially coated paper. The images come out instantly dry to the touch and is the method used on both the small format printers, those printers used in the Event photography field and in photo processing houses.

Inkjet. The printer has a print head with a large number of nozzles in it and the ink, which comes in cartridges, is finely sprayed through the nozzles and transferred onto the paper. This is the most common method used for photo printers now, with the technology improving and allowing faster throughput and higher resolutions to be achieved.

Laser. Laser printers use a laser beam to attract the toner to those areas of a drum not exposed to light, and then the toner is fused to the paper by heated rollers. Lasers come in mono only or in colour.

Thermal. A printer using the thermal printing method produces the printed image by selectively heating a special thermal paper and when it's print head goes over it the coating on the paper turns black where it has been heated. Method used by some fax machines, but there are also some thermal transfer printers which use the same process by use a heat-sensitive ribbon instead of the heat-sensitive paper, in this type of printer you can then get out colours.

We have a separate article looking at the ink types generally used for Photo printers in more detail - see here.

Connections

Most of us will print out images out after we have loaded them onto our computer and edited them a bit. Most printers used by the home or small business market connect to the computer via a USB cable. However there are a number of models on the market that now also have Wi-Fi connections which means that it is wireless, and some use the bluetooth technology. There is no cable required to connect the printer to the computer, although you do need a sending device on the computer or your network box get the information to the printer.

Some of us however may not have a computer, but do have a digital camera, so how do we get our images printed. Well the majority will still probably go along to the photo processor in their local high street and get them processed that way. If we want to do it ourselves then we have a number of options. The small format printers on the market today have the necessary slots to allow the memory card to be put straight into the printer, some also have a USB connection so the camera can be attached directly to it and some models even have limited built in editing capabilities so that some modifications and cropping can take place prior to printing. Some of the standard printer models, all-in-one's and small photo printers also have these capabilities.

Prices

Most will have a budget and to a certain degree this will determine the printer we buy, and will be a major factor is most of our decisions. Once we have decided, which type of printer we want, general purpose, which format, ink type, connection, our main consideration after this will be price. There are two elements to pricing to consider, the cost of the initial outlay on the printer and the cost of consumables, particularly ink. Prices of printers have fallen considerably and you can pick up an A4 colour inkjet printer, which will print reasonable quality prints, in your local supermarket for just under 30, and you can spend up to many thousands of pounds on the wide format printers at the top end of the scale.

However be aware there is a hidden cost to printing which many probably overlook initially and that's the cost of ink. Printer manufacturers seem to have cottoned on to the fact that when we purchase a printer we want a good price but that many of us do not look at the price of the inks before we buy. If you don't look at the ink prices beforehand you can be buying a cheap printer but it will cost you more to run in the longer term. In some cases buying a cheap 30 printer which has 4 separate ink cartridges costing 8.99 each, means that when you come to buy that first set of cartridges is will cost you more than the printer, so making the printer nearly disposable. Some of these lower end cheaper printers do not give many pages out of the small amount of ink in the cartridges, so if you intend to do large numbers of prints don't forget to take the price of ink into account.

So once all factors have been taken into account, we have our budget set which manufacturer do we choose.

Which Manufacturer

There are many printer manufacturers such as Apple, Brother, Canon, Compaq, Dell, Epson, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Kodak, Konica Minolta, Kyocera, Lexmark, Oki, Olivetti, Panasonic, Phillips, Poloroid, Richo, Samsung, Sharp, Xerox and more. All offering different ranges and prices. Which one you choose will be dependent on a number of factors, including; what you have used before, recommendations from others you trust, what is giving the best price, what you want the printer for, what type, price of consumables, reliability, longevity and probably many other factors.

Even when only looking for a photo printer the range of manufacturers and types of printer on offer is wide. Where you are buying from is also a determining factor, if you want to use your local high street as your source you will be limited to what is on offer, although they usually have a range. If you go along to shows such as the annual Focus On Imaging Show in Birmingham or the Nikon Solutions shows you will be limited to who has decided to take part and this will focus you onto some manufacturers. If you take a look on the internet then the choices are endless, and you will find the research and thought processes that you put in to determine which type of printer you need and your budget will help considerably in your choice.

To try to help you make a choice we have put together some more articles which hopefully will help.

Printers -we have decided to break the articles into the following categories, and covering those printers that are generally considered as photo printers rather than the general purpose types, although many of these will also produce other documents.

Economy/Small Printers - Taking a look at both the small format/on the move printers and also the small low cost inkjet printers which will produce photos.

Print On Demand Desktops - looks at the inkjet printers which use multiple ink cartridges to give better quality, publishable photos but limits it to those that you could still fit on a desk top so printing up to A2+.

Event Printers - specifically looks at the printers used by Event photographers, their main purpose to get out good quality photos - fast and at a price that can be sold on the spot.

Consumables - There are two other elements to printing your photos once you have the printer and that is ink and paper. The two following articles takes a look at these in a little more detail.

Ink in Printers - takes a look at what types of inks are used by photo printers, how they work, manufacturers originals over the cheaper compatibles and continuous ink systems that are available for some makes.

Paper  - There is a large amount of different papers available and choosing which is right for you can be just as challenging as getting the right printer. We will come back and look at this subject in more detail in the future, but in the meantime you could take a look at No Cost or Low Cost Media.

For those who want really accurate and true colours then a further consideration when choosing a printer is whether it can be profiled. By this we mean all printers can be profiled, but does the printers dialogue/work flow system allow you to set up and add your own profiles for the type of paper you use. See our article on Printer Profiling on how to go about this.

 


See Also:

Economy/Small Printers

Print On Demand Desktop Printers

Event Printers

Ink in Printers

Printer Profiling

Printing on a Budget

No Cost Low Cost Media

 

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