As a photographer, making prints not only allows you to turn your digital images into a tangible asset; it also provides you with a great way to display them. Compared to the facilities our parents had, today’s photo printers are light years ahead in convenience, economy and durability.


Choosing a Printer
When shopping for a printer it’s wise to take one of your best digital photos to the shop (on a CD or USB stick) and ask to have it printed on the printers that interest you. This is the best way to compare the performance of different printers. To help you decide which printer to buy, we have outlined a set of criteria you should examine. It’s up to you to prioritise those criteria in their order of importance.

The ‘Look’ of the Prints. Does the printer deliver a full and evenly-distributed tonal range from highlights to deep, rich blacks? 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 smoothness. Discontinuities are created when different densities of ink are applied, and give the print an obvious ‘inkjet’ look. Watch for signs of surface bronzing – another telltale ‘inkjet’ sign. How do the prints look on glossy, semigloss or matte papers?

Colour Accuracy. Does the printer reproduce the hues in the image accurately? Does the colour balance in the print change in the first 10-15 minutes? Do its colours look ‘right’ in all types of lighting (daylight, incandescent and fluorescent)? If the print takes on a colour cast under one type of lighting and this cast changes under different lighting, the impact of the print will be affected by the lighting in which it is displayed.

Paper Handling. Can the printer handle the paper sizes and weights you wish to use? Note: many desktop printers can’t be used with some of the heavier ‘fine art’ papers that are ideal for enlargements that will be framed.

Speed. Some printers are fast; some are slow. If you need prints in a hurry, a fast printer will 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.

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

Robustness. How resistant are prints to damage under normal handling conditions? Look for papers that can resist surface abrasions and withstand 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.


Try to match your choice of printer to your output requirements, lifestyle and the desk space available to accommodate it.

Lifestyle suitability. How well does the printer fit in with your lifestyle and the environment you will use it in? Will a single-purpose printer be adequate or would you be better served by a multi-function device? Do you require a portable printer that can be taken with you on family occasions or are you happy with a printer that can be left set up on a desk? How much desk space is available for the printer?

Printer Types
Since most people purchase a printer for a specific purpose, printer manufacturers cater for a broad range of customers with different types of printers. For photographers, the best way to classify printers is by looking at output size.

1. Snapshot printers are designed to produce 15 x 10 cm (6 x 4 inch) prints, although most can also print smaller pictures, often by grouping several on a single sheet of paper. Two printing technologies are in common use: inkjet and dye sublimation (also known as ‘thermal’ or ‘thermal dye transfer’). At between 25 and 50 cents per print, inkjet printers are cheaper to run than thermal printers (which normally cost $1 or more per print). Prints from inkjet printers are also usually longer-lasting with at least three times the lightfastness of the best thermal printers and twice the fade resistance of traditional photolab prints.


Many snapshot printers are ‘go-anywhere’ models that can be plugged into mains power or battery driven.


Multi-function printers with scanner/copier facilities are becoming increasingly popular for families.

2. A4 printers all use inkjet technology. This market sector is split into three categories: office printers that can also print photographs, dedicated photo printers and multi-function printer/copier/scanner devices. There are several ways to identify models that are capable photo printers. Where the manufacturer doesn’t use the designation ‘Photo’ to identify them, the number of ink cartridges the printer uses can help purchasers to determine their photo printing capabilities. More cartridges usually means better picture quality.

3. A3+ printers are designed for photo enthusiasts and professional photographers who want to make large prints for display. Almost all models in this category use at least six ink colours; some eight or ten.


A3+ printers use between six and ten ink cartridges, all of which are individually replaceable.

How Many Inks?
The basic ink set required for printing photographs consists of four colours: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. This colour set is popularly known as CMYK, with the ‘K’ representing black, the ‘key’ colour for adding depth to the printed image.
Adding low-strength cyan and magenta cartridges to the four-ink set gives us the six-ink set that is used in most photo printers. The low-strength inks allow the printer to reproduce more subtle tonal nuances than the basic four-ink set, thereby improving picture quality.
The addition of green, red and blue inks can increase the range of hues and depth of colour saturation in these colours. However, the usage of these inks is generally low, so they are not really necessary.
For black and white printing, the only way to obtain truly neutral monochrome prints is to have three levels of black inks: black, mid-grey and light-grey. These additional grey inks greatly extend the tonal subtlety of the printer, thereby improving picture quality for both colour and monochrome prints. They also eliminate the tendency to produce B&W prints with slight colour casts. A dedicated monochrome mode should be available in the printer driver to make the most of these additional inks.


The typical ink set of a six-ink printer has only one black ink cartridge. (The illustration shows the monitor that appears on the computer screen when a print is in production.)


The status monitor for an eight-ink printer. Note the three levels of grey ink: black, grey and light grey, which are essential for truly neutral black & white prints.

Dye or Pigment Ink?
Most general-purpose inkjet printers use dye inks because they’re usually cheaper and easier to manufacture and require printing heads that are easier to design and produce. Dye ink printers are also faster than pigment printers. However, an increasing number of dedicated photo printers – including most professional models – use pigment-based inks.
When you’re buying a new printer, it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each type of ink because buying a printer locks you into the ink type it is designed for. The table below covers the main differences between dye and pigment inks.

Characteristic Dye Ink Pigment Ink
Overall stability lower higher
Short-term colour stability poor excellent
Light Fastness lower higher
Water resistance lower higher
Scuff resistance higher lower
Colour Gamut wider slightly narrower
Colour Impression on glossy paper brighter and more vivid not quite as vibrant
Colour Impression on matte paper not as bright as on glossy paper deep and rich
Printing Speed faster slower

Colour stability – both short- and long-term – is an important reason why professional photographers prefer pigment inks over dyes. Not only are pigment inks more durable, their colours do not change once the print is made. In contrast, dye inks can change in the minutes, hours or even days after a print is produced.
This ‘short-term dry-down’ effect is caused by chemical changes that occur as the dyes are absorbed into the top layers of the paper and through reactions with oxygen and other airborne chemicals. For professional photographers, this instability presents the following problems:
1. They cannot be sure that print colours are correct until prints have received the requisite dry-down time – which may take several days.
2. They cannot be sure that reprints made weeks, months or years after the original prints will match the colours and intensity of the original prints.

Without these sureties, printing with dye inks is not economical for professional photographers. Pigment inks are also much less reactive with the receptive layer on the paper, which makes printing on matte ‘fine art’ papers practical. Dye-based inks – including the new Claria, Lucia and Vivera inks – can be seriously destabilised on those papers. Waterfastness is another area where pigment inks excel and they are not affected by high humidity.

Although pigment inks still offer superior lightfastness (i.e. resistance to colour changes over time) than dye inks, some of the latest dye inks are closing the distance between them. Wilhelm Imaging Research (, the world’s leading independent photo media testing authority, regularly publishes lightfastness ratings for new photo printers, using a variety of inks and papers. Some results of recent tests are presented in the table below to illustrate the differences in lightfastness between pigment and dye inks.

Printing Paper Media Type Print Permanence Ratings:
Displayed prints
framed under glass
Print Permanence Ratings:
Displayed prints not framed
Print Permanence Ratings:
Album Storage
Fujicolor Crystal Archive Silver Halide 40 years 26 years >100 years
Kodak Edge Generations Silver Halide 19 years 18 years >100 years
Sony PictureStation Dye-sublimation 18 years 13 years Still in test

The table below gives some print permanence ratings for popular ink/paper combinations from the major inkjet manufacturers.

Ink/Paper Combination Ink Type Print Permanence Ratings: Displayed prints framed under glass Print Permanence Ratings: Displayed prints not framed Print Permanence Ratings:Album Storage
Epson Claria/ Epson Photo Paper Glossy dye 98 years Still in test  >200 years
Epson DURABrite/ EpsonPhoto Paper Glossy pigment 40 years 28 years >300 years
Epson DURABrite/ Epson Premium Presentation Matte pigment 105 years 54 years 185 years
Epson Picture Mate Photo ink/paper cartridge dye 96 years 17 years  >200 years
HP Vivera/HP RPS Photosmart Paper pigment >200 years 102 years >200 years
HP Vivera 95/Premium Plus Photo Paper dye  68 years 32 years >200 years
Canon BCI-16/Photo Paper Pro dye 41 years 2 years >200 years
HP 57/HP Premium Photo Paper dye 18 years 15 years >200 years

Money-Saving Tips for Digital Printing
Regardless of what brand of printer you are using, all photo printers should be capable of producing top-quality prints. Making prints at home can be easy, convenient and affordable if you follow these simple tips.

1. Control the printing process with the driver software. This allows you to ensure you print with the correct settings and match the driver settings to the paper you use. Most drivers provide two settings for photo printing: Photo and Best Photo (or similar designations). In many cases the difference between prints made at each setting is negligible. However, since more ink is laid down with the higher quality setting your ink cartridges will be depleted sooner.
2. Avoid printing at high speed. There’s a risk that inks may be deposited unevenly, especially on textured paper.
3. Make test prints to check colour and tonal accuracy before committing to an enlargement. The process is outlined below.

The table below provides print permanence ratings for two popular traditional media and a typical dye sublimation printer.

Third-Party Inks & Papers
The permanence ratings shown in the tables in this chapter refer to prints made with the printer manufacturer’s inks and papers. A different story emerges when other, ‘third-party’ media are used. The picture below shows the results of some recent tests by Wilhelm Imaging Research, which compare genuine Epson DURABrite Ultra Ink Cartridges printed on Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper with Calidad inks and papers from various parts of the world.
Poor lightfastness is not the only problem that besets third-party inks. Most are also unable to reproduce colours correctly. Because no standardisation is used for the actual ink colours but when colours are mixed, the results may be quite different from the colours produced by mixing the same genuine inks. The risk of obtaining off-colour prints is very high and print-to-print consistency is generally poor.
The take-home message is that it’s easier and less wasteful to use your printer manufacturer’s inks and papers. It will also save you precious time because the printer driver will be working with stable, accurate, quality-controlled media. Your prints will last a lot longer as well.


The results of accelerated aging tests by Wilhelm Imaging Research showing the difference between Epson’s DURABrite Ultra pigment inks on Epson Premium Glossy Paper and Calidad-branded ‘pigment’ inks on Calidad Inkjet Glossy Photo Paper. Both seets of prints were made on an Epson Stylus C87/C88 inkjet printer. The Epson ink/paper combination has a WIR Display Permanence rating of 40 years, whereas the Calidad ink/paper combination has a WIR Display Permanence rating of less than one year. (Illustration supplied by Wilhelm Imaging Research.)

Test Strips for Inkjet Printing – a Step-by-Step Guide
1. Edit the image in your favourite software application and save it separately at the correct output size – either in a special ‘printing’ folder or with the tag ‘for printing’ added to the file name. Set up the correct page size and orientation in the printer driver.


2. Using the Crop tool, select a strip that runs through a critical area of the image where you want detail to be fully resolved. The strip should be rectangular but it can be almost any size you want – as long as it covers the key ‘exposure’ area. Do not change the size of the image as this could change the print quality. (There is no need to save the ‘test strip’ unless you wish to use the same area subsequently. If this is the case, tag the file name with ‘test’.)

3. Load the printer with an A4 (or smaller) sheet of the paper you will use for your final enlargement and re-set the paper size and orientation accordingly. Set the paper size and orientation to match the paper you’re using. Uncheck Centre Image and use the Position settings to position your test strip on the sheet of paper.


4. Print the test strip using the settings you plan to use for the final print. Now assess the test strip, checking colour, brightness, sharpness and any other adjustable parameter that is relevant. Make the required changes to the saved image file you plan to print from and, if you wish to check them again, get ready to make a second test strip on the same sheet of paper as you used for the first.

5. Repeat the steps above until you reach the point where you position your second test strip. Use the Image > Image Size control to see how large your cropped test strip is (re-crop it if necessary to ensure it fits on the sheet of paper). Measure the distance from the top (or side) of the page and adjust the Position settings to make the second test strip fit in either below or beside the first one.


6. Load the paper in the printer again so the second test strip is correctly printed. (Most printers work from the top of the page downwards, which means you should load the paper top-downwards.) Print the second strip and evaluate it as outlined above.
With care, you should be able to fit between four and six test strips of a suitable size for making A3 prints on a single sheet of A4 paper. The illustration on this page shows a typical example. Success depends on accurately measuring and setting the correct position for each successive strip – and remembering to orientate the paper correctly each time you make a print. (If you’re using an Epson R800 or R1800 printer, turn off the Gloss setting to prevent an excessive build-up of resin on the surface of the paper when making test strips.)


When you have a test strip you’re happy with, use the Page Setup function in the File menu to set the paper size and orientation to match the output size for the final print. Then open the image and adjust it to the correct size for printing. You may need to refer to the printer driver page to match the image Document Size to the Scaled Print Size. Checking the Scale to Fit Media box in the printer driver will ensure your picture fits the paper and is placed centrally on the sheet.



Exceed your vision with Epson.

See for details.