A printer is a photographer’s friend and as with all friends, should be chosen with care.
The home printer has come along in leaps and bounds and these days even the humblest entry-level is capable of excellent results. D-Photo roped in some of the nation’s experts to talk us through getting the purest shade of perfection from your printer.
It’s a fairly safe bet that most modern homes already have a printer sitting around, but a photographer asks for a lot more from the device.
Should you decide the mouldering monochrome in the cupboard is not going to hack the pace then you’re faced with a new purchase dilemma: single-function or multifunction?
It is a decision that has even the experts divided, with some seeing the benefit of a suite of creative functions built in, and others preferring the pure focus of a photo-only printer.
For HP’s retail product manager Suzanne Wheeler, the former is the smart way forward for the intrepid beginner:
“I would absolutely recommend a multifunction printer. The difference in price from a single-function is just a hop, skip and jump, and it opens up all sorts of creative options.”
Those options are no longer bog-standard office copying and faxing capabilities either. As with everything else, printers are increasingly becoming networked.
While a printer with the ability to surf the web and talk to your phone might sound like more effort than it’s worth, Wheeler says functions like HP’s ePrint are all about ease of use.
“My mother, who is not too IT savvy, just emails her photos directly to my ePrint printer and there are usually a few photos of the children in the printer when I get home at the end of the day.”
For Nika Maltseva, marketing manager at Epson New Zealand, such fancy extras don’t stack up to the drive of a single-purpose printer: “If you are only going to use the printer for colour photo printing then you don’t need one with a fax and a scanner. Go with a single-function.”
“With multifunction printers, if something happens and the scanner is broken then the whole printer won’t work,” Maltseva warns.
Photographically, the key difference between the species is the kind of ink they use. Most multifunction printers use pigment-based ink, whereas photo printers use dye inks, which are brighter and glossier.
Pigment inks leave a matte impression. Dye inks sink into glossy photo paper and maintain a smooth surface, but on normal paper dye inks will run, so for documents pigment is the way to go.
If you choose the multifunction route, look for a model with the clever ability to automatically switch between the two kinds of black. Otherwise, keep your documents well away from your photo printer.
Regardless of which camp you choose, if you are taking photographic printing seriously you will want a device with more colours than standard consumer models, and individual ink cartridges.
According to Canon’s brand manager of print solutions, Robert de Jeu, this is because the more inks a printer has, the better the gamut of its colour reproduction; it’s also a lot more convenient.
“If you are printing a lot of landscape photos with a lot of greens and blues then you are going to use up your cyan and yellow more quickly, and you only need to replace the colours you have used.”
However, at this point in printer development the experts agree almost any machine on the market will do a decent job of producing prints.
Price: For a six-colour entry-level photo printer you’re looking at anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on features.
Epson Stylus Photo T50 – $199: A sturdy entry-level photo printer with a six-colour ink system, individual high-capacity ink cartridges and borderless photo printing.
Canon Pixma iP3600 – $139: A quality entry-level, single-function printer with convenient individual ink tanks and lab-quality prints that can last over 300 years with the right ink, paper and conditions.
HP Officejet Pro 8000 – $379: If cost-effective printing is your aim, this single-function claims low cost-per-page and energy stats while offering water-resistant prints care of HP Officejet individual pigment inks.
Epson Artisan 725 – $329: If you need office functions on top of printing then Epson’s multi-function offers a six-colour ink system along with scanning and fax capabilities and comes wi-fi- and network-ready.
Sony DPP-F800 – $299: This isn’t just a fast, dye-based 4×6 photo printer but also an 8-inch WVGA LCD digital photo screen that can store around 500 photos for display.
Canon Pixma MG5150 – $179: For copy and high-quality photo scanning as well as 9600dpi resolution photo printing this everyday all-in-one should meet every need, including preview and adjustment via a 2-inch TFT screen.
HP Photosmart Plus e-All-in-One – $159: An easy-to-use, feature-rich all-in-one printer, this machine can scan, copy, fax and print wirelessly without a PC.
As you become more adept at capturing images you are going to need a printer that is equally adept at reproducing your refinements.
This will likely mean stepping up to a device that has better inks and is capable of handling a wider range of print media – though getting the right combination can be a trial.
Printer, paper and ink are the three components in the puzzle of picture quality, says Maltseva.
“Drivers must be set right for the type of paper because the printer then uses a certain amount of ink for the certain amount of layers in the paper with a certain finish.
“It is almost like a chemical reaction – using the right kinds of inks with the right kinds of paper.”
It is not just brand allegiance that prompts her to suggest using only Epson paper and ink with the company’s printers. Consumables other than those of the original equipment manufacturer an be problematic.
De Jeu seconds this advice, recommending only Canon ink be used in the company’s printers, because with third-party there’s no assurance of quality and using them can even void the warranty.
“Because printer heads are so fine, down to one picalitre in our top model, most inks from third parties cannot guarantee the pigments are small enough to fit through the print head.”
It is also important to remember that a printer is a device built to last, so don’t just hunt for the features you need right now, says HP’s Wheeler.
“It is about future-proofing yourself; you might not need that functionality now but what are you going to be able to do in the future, what features will you need then?”
As your photographic repertoire gets bigger it’s likely your print sizes will too. At intermediate level you will be looking at a printer capable of at least A3 and perhaps some specialty fine art papers.
With papers, as with inks, it is wise to be cautious of third-party products. Print drivers will come loaded with their own company’s paper profiles and you will have to manually add any other papers, so go for a printer that makes such fussing easy.
Price: For a printer capable of A3+sized prints you’re looking at around $700 to $1500.
Canon Pixma iP4850 – $179: An affordable mid-level single-function, this printer outputs 9600dpi resolution images with a super-fine one picolitre print-head and comes with Auto Photo Fix II software for quick image adjustments.
HP Photosmart Premium e-All-in-One – $349: Those looking for an upgraded all-in-one on a budget can skip the fax function and retain all the communicative convenience with HP’s very net-connected multi-function that can print directly from email.
Epson Stylus Photo 1410 – $799: A mid-range printing step up to A3+ printing, this big boy features individual ink cartridges, CD and DVD printing and PictBridge connection.
HP Photosmart eStation e-All-in-One – $599: A multi-function in the truest sense, on top of 9600dpi resolution printing it can copy, scan and fax without a phone line, as well as browse the web through a detachable 7-inch touch screen.
Epson Stylus Photo R800 – $699: A portable solution for those looking to get serious about photo printing, featuring UltraChrome Hi-Gloss ink in an eight-colour system and supporting roll paper for landscape printing.
Canon Pixma MG8150 – $529: An advanced all-in-one with all the office bells and whistles as well as high-resolution photo printing, wireless connectivity, Intelligent Touch System and 35mm film scanning.
HP Envy 100 e-All-in-One – $499: A slick little all-in-one, this flatbed model offers easy wireless printing with ePrint and a high-resolution touch screen, and is the first printer made completely PVC-free.
For professionals the printing game is all about getting the pedantically captured image from camera to paper without changing a thing, and that means managing colours across different devices.
“Colour management means professionals will have to learn how to use the software as well as the hardware,” says Maltseva.
From camera to scanner to monitor to printer, professionals need to be sure the colour profile on each device matches so images don’t get distorted as they make their way to print.
“Professionals will have their colour profile set in the camera, in their monitor, in their whole workflow, so they also need to be sure the printer’s profile matches that,” says de Jeu.
He claims Canon has the advantage here, as the only company that produces both cameras and printers, ensuring colour consistency across the board.
However, all high-end printers feature robust colour management systems; it comes down to finding the one that works best for your purposes.
For a professional those purposes should be purely photographic. At this point you will have left the convenient trappings of the multifunction behind with a singular focus on the images you hope to produce.
“You need to know what you are after: if colour reproduction is most important, or size, or the type of paper supported,” says Maltseva.
“If you are printing a lot of landscapes you want something with roll paper support. For printing on canvas you need a printer even bigger than A2.
“If you print a lot of monochrome we suggest printers with nine colours, with three different blacks: dark black, light black and light light black.”
Pro photo printers do not get replaced as often as other consumer products. They are designed to withstand the thrashing of a professional environment and because they are of high-quality design the technology doesn’t change much.
“Most of the new technology goes into ink rather than printers; that’s why you see the inks getting replaced every other year,” says de Jeu.
Even so, recent high-end printers have come with their own share of technological flourishes, such as Epson’s advanced automatic paper adjustment features, or Canon’s Ambient Light Correction for exhibition-condition printing.
No matter what you need it for you can bet there is a printer out there for you. You simply need to do the research and be clear on your intent.
Price: For larger formats and even more inks you’re looking at $1500 to $2500 at the top level.
Epson Stylus Photo R1900 – $1299: A pro-level A3+ printer, this device uses UltraChrome Hi-Gloss2 pigment ink in an eight-cartridge system for high-gloss images with a wide colour gamut.
Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II -$1149: Canon’s top-of-the-line pigment-ink printer features 10 individual ink cartridges with three blacks for high definition monochrome printing in 4800dpi resolution.
Epson Stylus Photo R3000 – $1899: This new top-of-the-line model with nine-colour eight-channel print head and auto-switching blacks includes a 2.5-inch LCD display and loads of connectivity options for ultimate control.
Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II -$1599: Eight individual Chromalife ink cartridges produce archival quality prints, lasting upwards of 200 years for black and white, in 4800dpi resolution with borderless A3 printing.
Words: Adrian Hatwell