If you’re in the market for a printer, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the huge range of different types and models in the stores. To find the right model you must sift through the options on show, and find the right type of printer for your requirements. The tips in the box on this page will help you make a wise choice.


If you’re in the market for a printer, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the huge range of different types and models in the stores. To find the right model you must sift through the options on show, and find the right type of printer for your requirements. The tips in the box on this page will help you make a wise choice.

Printer Types
Buyers of photo printers must choose between two types: inkjet and dye-sublimation (also known as ‘thermal’ or ‘dye-sub’). Laser printers may be suitable for general office printing but they cannot produce photo quality prints.

Inkjet printers work by placing tiny droplets of ink on the surface of the printing paper. Two different print head technologies are used for ink deposition: thermal and piezo-electric, the former being more common.
In a thermal printer, each tiny ink nozzle is heated to force out a microscopic bubble of ink. As the nozzle cools, the bubble collapses leaving a dot of ink on the paper. This creates a vacuum in the nozzle, which sucks ink in from the cartridge to replace the ink that was deposited. The beauty of this system is that very tiny dots can be deposited, allowing extremely fine detail to be reproduced.

Piezo-electric technology, which is unique to Epson, uses a special type of crystal in the print head, which flexes when an electric current is applied. This changes the shape of the ink nozzle and forces a tiny drop of ink out without requiring the application of heat. The beauty of this system lies in the high degree of control it provides over droplet sizes.


The diagrams above show the structural and functional differences between piezo-electric and thermal print heads. (Source: Epson.)

Epson’s Variable-sized Droplet Technology takes advantage of this flexibility and allows the print head to produce larger ink droplets when printing areas with little or no detail (such as skies) and very small droplets for detailed parts of the image. This enables the printer to work faster than it could if all droplets were of a uniform size.


The diagram above shows how varying droplet sizes can improve printing efficiency. (Source: Epson.)

Each technology has specific – and quite different – requirements. Thermal inkjet printers need print heads that can withstand repeated heating and cooling and many manufacturers offer user-replaceable heads that allow consumers to replace print heads that have been damaged by constant use. Piezo-electric print heads require inks with specific viscosities. If the ink is not viscous enough it will leak out through the nozzles, whereas inks that are slightly too viscous can clog print heads.

Dye-sublimation printers use thousands of tiny heating elements to release coloured dyes from a donor ribbon, which is placed in contact with receiving paper. In most cases, these printers have cyan, magenta and yellow dye ribbons, although some also include black. The amount of heat from each element dictates the amount of dye that is transferred to the paper. The colours blend when they are in gaseous form, creating a continuous-tone image that looks like a photographic print.

Prints made with inkjet printers are usually much more resistant to fading than thermal ‘dye-sub’ prints, the best of which show noticeable fading in un-protected prints within 20 years, according to lightfastness tests conducted by Wilhelm Imaging Research (www.wilhelm-research.com). In comparison, the best inkjet prints have lightfastness ratings of more than 100 years, while the best traditional photographic prints are rated at around 26 years in the same display conditions.

Output Size
How large do you want your prints to be? Many people prefer snapshot-sized prints because they are easy to share and store in albums. Some will occasionally want an A4-sized enlargement to frame but, in the main, most prefer smaller prints.

Photo enthusiasts usually enjoy making larger prints of their best images, although many will be satisfied with A4-sized enlargements. However, serious enthusiasts will be drawn more to A3+ prints that they can frame and display on their walls. A few will look for even larger sizes, particularly if they wish to exhibit their images or take part in photography competitions. But larger output sizes are generally in the domain of professional photographers and printing specialists.

Currently, the printer market is split into four categories, based on output size.

1. Snapshot printers, which produce only 15 x 10 cm (6 x 4 inch) prints. The two main technologies offered in this category are inkjet and dye-sublimation, with inkjet printers providing superior print longevity.


A typical portable snapshot printer that uses inkjet technology and supports direct printing from both memory cards and digital cameras.

2. A4 printers, which are designed to print on A4-sized paper but will usually also print on smaller papers, such as 15 x 10 cm, 17.8 x 12.7 cm and 20.3 x 15.2 cm. Most printers in this category are general-purpose models, although there are a few that have been designed to produce high-quality photo prints (you can usually identify them by the ‘photo’ tag in the model name).


An A4 inkjet printer for photo enthusiasts, which offers CD and DVD printing plus roll paper support for printing panoramas.

Some models can also print on specially-coated CDs and DVDs while a few have roll paper holders for making panorama prints. This category covers both single-purpose inkjet printers and multi-function printer/copier/scanner devices.


A multi-function A4 printer that offers direct printing and combines scanning facilities with photo quality output in snapshot and A4 sizes.

3. A3+ desktop printers which are designed for producing high-quality enlargements from digital photos. Some can also print on coated CDs and DVDs while a few have roll paper holders for making panorama prints. Most models will also print on smaller paper sizes, although a few won’t go smaller than A4. (You can usually work around this problem by printing two or more pictures on a single sheet of paper. Instructions can be found in Test Strips and Proofing Options.)


A sophisticated A3+ printer for professional proofing and serious photo enthusiasts’ prints. This model offers roll paper support and CD/DVD printing.

4. Large-format printers for producing A2-sized and larger prints. A few models in this category are desktop models but the majority are floor-standing units that use roll-feed paper. The features they offer and the cost of acquiring and running most of these models puts them in the professional/commercial market.


Printers for professional photographers include desktop models designed for A2-sized paper.


The latest floor-standing, large-format printers use roll paper up to1626 mm wide.

Single or multi-function?
If you’re in the market for an A4 printer, which type of printer should you buy: single or multi-function? The advantage of a single printer is that it has been purpose-designed to perform only one function: making prints. No compromises have been made that might down-grade output quality; essentially the price of the printer should reflect its performance.

When you buy a multi-function printer (MFP), however, you are buying a device that combines three or more functions. Some compromises are always required to accommodate each capability offered. However, on the positive side, multi-function printers represent great value for money and they take up much less desk space than a separate printer, scanner and copier/fax would occupy. Some are also capable of producing very good photo prints (although they may not be quite at the quality standard of the best single-purpose printers).

The past year or two has seen the arrival of multi-function printers that can scan 35mm negatives and slides and produce photo-quality prints from the scans. Such models have higher-resolution scanners than normal MFPs, a factor that is reflected in their prices. Most are supplied with film holders that accept a strip of film or one or more mounted 35mm slides.


The latest multifunction printers come with high-resolution scanners and long-lasting, photo quality ink sets and memory card slots to satisfy photographers. But they also include excellent document printing facilities – including duplexing (printing on both sides of the paper). Fax facilities are common, along with support for Ethernet and Wi-fi connections.

Direct Printing
Direct printing systems are common on consumer printers today, where they simplify the printing process for novice users. Although they are seldom supported in professional printers, some enthusiast printers come with a PictBridge interface that allows a digital camera to be connected. PictBridge technology is a refinement of earlier systems for making make prints directly from digital cameras and represents a major step up in convenience because it eliminates the need for drivers that allow the camera and printer to ‘recognise’ each other.


PictBridge connectivity is found on some sophisticated printers designed for photo enthusiasts.

Another direct printing system, which was first offered slightly before PictBridge, is the inclusion of memory card slots in many consumer-level printers. Printing from a memory card is very easy. You simply remove the memory card from the camera and plug it into the appropriate card slot on the printer. Most printers with card slots provide an LCD screen to help users select images for printing and control the printing process.

The latest direct printing system involves use of Bluetooth or IrDA (infrared) wireless technology to transmit the image to the printer. Both technologies have become popular since the widespread use of camera-phones, many of which are equipped with wireless communication systems. As with other direct printing systems, printing is usually driven from the camera’s LCD.

Some cameras and printers provide little in the way of printing controls. However, others allow users to:

– Print part of an image by specifying a crop area;

– Produce multiple copies of a single image;

– Print index sheets of all images on the memory card;

– Add a date stamp, frame or text bubble to a print;

– Correct exposure faults and red eyes in flash shots.

Many digital cameras allow users to tag selected images for automatic printing using the DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) setting in the camera menu or by simply pressing the Share button on the camera. Users can usually determine the number of copies they require and specify the paper size and image orientation. Multi-image prints are also supported, along with date and title imprints. When the memory card is loaded into a printer (or the camera is connected via USB cable), the tagged images are printed automatically.


DPOF tagging is supported by most digital still cameras.
The latest version of the DPOF specification also provides support for sending images via email or fax. Cameras with this facility include storage for internet addresses and/or fax numbers. Selected shots are automatically re-sized before they are transmitted. DPOF can also allow images to be tagged for a slideshow, which can be displayed on a connected TV set, computer screen or video projector.

The main problem with all direct printing systems is the lack of control it provides over critical image parameters like brightness, contrast, colour balance and dynamic range. However, all direct printing systems provide the advantage of convenience for point-and-shoot photographers who are not interested in editing their digital pictures.

Choosing a Printer
When selecting a photo printer, focus on the following critical features:
1. The maximum size of the prints you will make.
This helps you to concentrate on a specific section of the market.
2. How you plan to use the prints you make.
Will they be stored in albums, shared with friends or enlarged and framed (or displayed in some other way)?


If you want to print images for display, you need a high-performance printer that can handle large sheets of ‘fine art’ paper. (Source: Epson.)

3. Image quality parameters, such as colour accuracy and reproduction of fine detail.
The importance of these parameters will vary with the end use of the prints.
4. How long you want your prints to last.
Some prints are ephemeral and only produced for use over several days or weeks; others are precious archives. Because the lightfastness of prints is directly related to the type of ink a printer uses, it’s essential to take into account the anticipated lifespan of the prints you will make when choosing a printer.
5. Energy Star rating.
With mains power costs predicted to rise, it’s worthwhile looking for a printer with an Energy Star rating – or at least checking the printer’s power consumption. Make sure you compare printers on the basis of their power usage in both the printing and stand-by modes.
What to Look For in an Inkjet Printer

Regardless of what type of printer you want, when choosing an inkjet printer, consider the following factors:

1. The ‘Look’ of the Prints. How do prints look in colour or B&W on glossy, semigloss or matte papers? Check for highlight and shadow detail and avoid printers that block up tones at either end of the range. Examine the surface of the print for discontinuities in smoothness. These are created when different densities of ink are applied and give the print an obvious ‘inkjet’ look. Watch for signs of bronzing (colour changes) when you look across the surface of the print.

2. Colour Accuracy. Does the printer reproduce the hues in the image accurately? Do those hues look ‘right’ in all types of lighting? Take particular care with B&W prints as some printers impart subtle colour casts, due to incorrect ink distribution. If B&W printing is important, a printer with at least three black inks and sophisticated tonal range control is required.

3. Ink Types and Print Longevity. How long will prints on different types of paper last? More information on this subject is provided in Thinking about Inks and Papers and other Media.

4. Robustness. How resistant are prints to normal handling conditions? Look for papers that can withstand surface abrasions and those that can tolerate exposure to water and humidity. Papers that dry quickly have an advantage over those that take minutes or hours to dry – especially if colour changes occur during the drying process. Prints made with dye inks are more scratch-resistant than prints made with pigment inks because dye inks are absorbed into the top layer of the paper, while pigments sit on top of it.

5. Paper Handling. Can the printer handle the paper sizes and weights you wish to use – including ‘fine art’ papers for display and exhibition work? (See Papers and other Media for more information.) Watch for paper mis-feeds and jams, which can cause paper wastage. If the paper is loaded correctly, it should pass cleanly through the printer.

6. Paper Range. How wide is the range of papers offered by the manufacturer for the printer? The wider the range, the wider your options that ‘benchmark’ papers will be catered for in the driver and the more likely there will be additional ‘out of the box’ support, such as ICC profiles (see ICC profiles for more information).

7. Running Costs. When calculating the cost of making prints, take account of potential for wasting inks and paper through mis-feeds, over-inking and user errors such as incorrect driver settings, poor colour control and unsatisfactory working conditions (dust, power surges, etc). These issues are discussed in Preparing to Print and Using the Printer Driver.

8. Speed. Some printers are fast; some are slow. If you need prints in a hurry, a fast printer can deliver the goods. But check the way the ink is laid down, looking for signs of banding and blotchiness as these may be sacrificed at the expense of speed. Fast printers may also produce less colour-stable prints. Overall, the odds of obtaining a high-quality print are higher with a relatively slow printer.

9. Workflow. How well does the printer fit into the way you work? Can you extend your capabilities and learn more by using this printer?
Outsourcing Printing Services
Photographers who prefer the traditional lab-based printing services are well catered for in today’s marketplace. Many retail outlets have kiosks where customers can plug in their camera memory cards, select the images they want printed and place an order. The prints are often ready for collection within an hour, just as they were in former times.

Online printing services are also abundant and many offer competitive pricing to attract customers. You simply upload the images you want printed from your computer to the service’s website, rotate, crop or add special effects to each shot and order your prints. Many services also allow customers to order gift items like photo books, mugs, mouse pads and key rings printed with a selected picture.


Online printing services are readily available but you have little or no control over the way your images will be printed.

Some services will maintain an online album of your shots, which can be shared with family members and friends. A few services provide the option of having your orders collected at a nominated local photolab, while most rely on having them mailed to you.

Outsourcing can be a good option when you want enlargements that are bigger than your home printer can produce. In such cases, make sure the print will be made on long-lasting media that is heavy enough to withstand the handling it will receive when you display or frame it. (Inkjet prints are usually more lightfast than prints made on traditional photo papers.)

The main disadvantage of outsourcing your printing is the same as for direct printing: you have very little control over the final appearance of the printed image. If your original shot was correctly exposed and has a wide enough dynamic range to encompass all the tones in the subject, the results from automatic printing can be very good. However, shots of contrasty subjects often end up even more contrasty, while flat images (for example, pictures of misty scenes) may be even flatter and colour casts often go uncorrected.

In such situations, you need to take control of the printing process.

The following websites provide additional information on the topics covered in this chapter.

www.cipa.jp/english/pictbridge/ for details of the PictBridge direct printing system.
www.wilhelm-research.com for information on image permanence and the results of lightfastness tests on printers and printing media
www.epson.com.au/videos/ for product demonstrations showing the differences between different printer types.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inkjet_printer for an overview of inkjet printing.



For all your printer needs visit www.epson.com.au. Exceed your vision.