How long has it been since you printed one or more of your beautiful digital photos? You’ve probably got tons of them stored away on your hard drive and posted on your blog site, but if you miss the sensational rush that accompanies the moment an honest-to-goodness photograph appears on a printer’s tray as if by magic, you’re not alone. And if you’ve never done this before, now’s a good time to give it a whirl.
How to choose the right printer for your needs
The available selection in home printers has never been better, and the print quality you’ll get with them is truly something to behold. Here are a few things to consider.
Inkjet vs. Dye-sub
The first and perhaps most important decision is whether to buy an inkjet or a dye-sublimation printer. They each serve different needs, use different technologies and produce different results.
As the name suggests, inkjet printers spray tiny droplets of coloured ink through a print head onto the paper’s surface in a pattern of minuscule dots. You shouldn’t be able to detect the dots unless you look very closely, but from a distance they trick the eye into seeing seamless image quality. Once considered the second choice among pros, many of today’s inkjet printers are technologically capable of printing excellent high-resolution photos in a wide colour gamut.
Dye-sub printers are designed specifically to produce high-quality prints using a heating process to mix the dyes and create what’s called a professional-looking “continuous tone.” In lieu of patterns of dots, it places the exact colour in an exact amount precisely where it’s required, followed by a protective coat to make the print less vulnerable to scratches. Although inkjet technology has advanced considerably, some photographers still prefer to work with dye-sub printers to obtain a more premium look and feel.
Printers are designed to handle one of two primary types of ink, dye or pigment, and they’re not interchangeable. Pigment-based inks are more expensive but resist the effects of light, last longer and are therefore well suited to archival and exhibition printing. If you’re just printing photos to share with friends and family, however, a less-expensive dye-based printer will do the job just fine.
Standard home printers typically use a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYB) to produce a full range of colours, but higher-end printers offer a broader range, including light cyan and yellow, as well as orange and blue, for more vibrant images. If you’ll be printing a lot of monochromes, something else to consider: how well a printer renders shades of black, which can be trickier than colour. For optimum black-and-white prints, the printer should have at least three black and grey colour pots.
When shopping for a printer, also consider the size of the prints you’ll typically be producing. For enthusiasts, a printer that supports a standard 13×19-inch format usually suffices, but if you’re feeling more ambitious, go for a printer that can handle 17×22-inch prints. Pros with wider-ranging requirements should consider a large-format printer capable of up to 24 inches or more.
Resolution has a huge impact on the image quality of your prints. Any true photo printer will be able to produce decent resolution for most purposes, but if you’re aiming for the best possible results, don’t settle for anything less than 4800×1200 dpi.
Don’t forget to check out our other Printing at Home posts to learn some more helpful tips and tricks!