Path: The Design & Publishing Center _/_ &FOTOgraphic_/_ Doug's Coffee Break
||a message from Doug Clifford
Digital Photo Printers?
Thinking about a photo printer for the holidays? Then don't miss our big Holiday 2000 Gift Guide.
__ Seeing Dr. D'Lynn Waldron's article on the new Epson 2000 digital printer reminds me of the many letters we receive asking which printer is best. Obviously a $700 printer such as Dr. Waldron speaks of would be a superb solution for everyone. However we cannot all enjoy such luxuries. Let's try to answer a few of your questions concerning which printer might best serve your needs.
InkJet Printers: $200 to $600
These are the workhorses of the industry, and actually can cost much more. They also happen to be the most inexpensive and offer affordable results for most casual shutter-bugs.
__ Inkjets operate by spraying ink through nozzles (or 'jets') onto your paper. If you've ever tried to spray paint an image you know this is no simple task. However, companies like HP, Epson and Alps have done a spectacular job of fine-tuning the jets to deliver remarkable images on even the lowest quality paper.
__ On the down side, the spray has a tendency to spread out and flatten the images. Better papers help solve this problem and the high-priced photo paper does a superb job at a price. Fred testifies that his $299 Epson 860 can deliver near photographic quality when used with a coated paper.
Recommendation: test print any inkjet and decide if the price point delivers an acceptable print quality. Buy different grades of paper for different jobs.
Die Sublimation: $400 to $5,200
Die-subs (as they're called) are the printers that get all the fan-fare at trade shows and exhibits because die-sub prints give the look and feeling of traditional photo-finished prints. These too come in all grades and resolutions with prices that match, but the results on even the least expensive die-subs are nothing less than spectacular.
__ Die-subs function by transferring colored dies to special paper through heat and pressure processes. The special dies are delivered to the paper via a roll or transfer membrane and when heated to a certain temperature they 'gasify' (turn into a gas) and are actually absorbed into the surface of the receiver paper -- thus the term 'sublimation.'
__ On the down side: die-subs require special die ribbons and special receiver paper, both of which are more expensive than you may want to justify. These ribbons, or 'perishables' are not reusable either.
__ Recommendations: When pricing a die-sub printer actually price out the perishables to determine a price per print rather than relying on the sales pitch. Keep in mind that in many cases you'll be throwing away as much as 60% of the material if you print snapshots onto 8.5 x 11 or 8.5 x 14 roll receiver stock.
__ Technology to the rescue: Sony, Olympus and Casio have all come out with small 'dedicated' printers that produce great looking dye-sub prints. Sizes vary from 3 x 5 to 5 x 7 and they can be slaved directly to your digital camera. On the Olympus Camedia P-60ne printer Fred determined the 3.5 x 5.5 per print cost to be just under 75-cents each, not including spoilage. Not bad for occasional prints, but still about 30% above drug-store processing of 35mm prints. The saving grace is you never have to print all your shots, so the cost per usable print drops dramatically.
Thermal Wax Printers: $300 to $5,200
Thermal wax is old technology, and predicted to soon be extinct. Remember your Crayolas? Thermal wax printers deliver melted wax onto the surface of the paper. The cost of perishables is always high, and results are never exciting. In 1996 you may have wanted to buy one of these, but not today.
Color Laser Printers: $1,500 to $12,000
Hang onto your hat. While color laser printers do a stunning job of printing they are expensive. These too are giving way to less expensive printers and have been all but replaced in the public by ink-jets. However a saving grace is the fact that laser perishables actually work out to be substantially less per print than other systems. So, if you do a lot of printing or proofing in color -- and throw away a lot of color prints -- then the laser may be the way to go in the long run. Laser technology also seems to be more reliable in the long run. Some color laser printers continue to be in service for nearly a decade.
__ Lasers generate images by shooting the image bits onto an electrically charged drum which picks up the toner to be heat-fused onto the surface of the paper.
__ Recommendation: Test and test for the printer you might seriously consider. Laser printing is very memory intensive, so make sure there is sufficient memory for the kinds of printing you'll be doing.
Hopefully this gives you a good starting point for the most popular, and the most reliable printing technology available today. Sure, there are others, like thermal autochrome printers activate pigment within the surface of the paper; or micro-dry transfer printers deliver resin-based inks to the paper. However these are the tried and proven solutions ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
Drop in at the Ace Camera Directory and we'll show you the best places on the planet to continue your photo printer shopping experience.
Until next month,
(Doug Clifford is the webmaster for the ACE Camera & Photography Directory, an annotated world wide directory of photo commerce web sites. ACE Increases Traffic To Photographic Commerce Web Sites Worldwide!
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