Canon's S600 Bubble Jet printer uses individual ink tanks
that have an optical ink sensor that detects when an ink
tank is low and alerts the user via an on-screen warning.
output was the holy grail of color printers, and Epson's 1994
introduction of the Stylus Color ink jet printer changed the ball game
forever. The original Stylus Color was a 720 dots per inch (more on
this later) color printer that cost $500 and delivered photographic
quality output, especially when high-resolution images were printed
on Epson's shiny High Quality Glossy Paper. Now photo-realistic
color output is possible from many different and inexpensive models
including Canon, Lexmark, and Hewlett-Packard.
Over many years of watching the computer industry I've found that not
only can the pace of technological change be difficult to keep up with
but also the directions it can take can be unpredictable. If you asked
me now to name the best color printer available, you might get a different
answer than if you asked me that same question a week ago. That's exactly
what's happened to photographic quality desktop color printers.
Canon S800 Bubble Jet
Canon's six-color S800 Bubble Jet printer delivers 2400x1200dpi output
with 2,880,000 dots, allowing extension of the color gamut for deeper
colors, especially in shadow areas. It uses Canon's Advanced Microfine
Droplet Technology that has a nozzle and heater system. It features
a higher resolution head, which has 1536 nozzles creating a five-picoliter
droplet size, and it can fire 13.44 million droplets per second. Canon
also claims their system produces more precise placement of ink on the
paper as far as consistency of dot shape, density, and placement. Output
speed is rated at 15 pages per minute (ppm) in black and 10 ppm in color.
And 8x10" photos can be printed on plain paper in approximately two
The big buzz about the S800,
and the four-color S600, is its use of individual ink tanks--one for
each color--that have an optical sensor to detect when a tank is low
and lets you know via an on-screen warning. Canon, understandably, believes
this feature eliminates ink waste. They have tested the inks with their
in-house Photo Paper Pro for archival quality and expect prints to last
approximately 25 years without fading.
To re-size images for printing
on Canon's 4x6 Photo Paper Pro, the company bundles PhotoRecord software
and includes a sample pack of this paper with the printer. Other software
includes a Print Advisor that helps you decide which media and driver
settings are needed for specific tasks. The Print Advisor has a Wizard
that automatically selects optimal print settings. The printer offers
a parallel and USB connection for both Windows and Mac OS users, quiet
operation at 37 decibels in highest quality mode, and bundles a Compact-Flash
card reader. The S800 has an estimated price of $299.
In addition to photographs, the Epson Stylus Photo 1280
delivers crisp text for all kinds of documents including
letters, envelopes, mailing and floppy disk labels--in
black and white or color.
Epson Stylus Photo 1280
The Epson Stylus Photo 1280 offers borderless printing of photo quality
output at up to 2880x720dpi with paper sizes up to 13x19". A roll paper
adapter that was optional with the model 1270 is standard, although it
appears to be of a different design. Computer connections are via parallel
and USB ports, making it compatible with Mac OS and Windows computers.
Improvements in the 1280's driver include a Smooth Edge setting that smoothes
the inevitable jaggies from low-resolution files, such as under 100dpi
images captured from the web. You can also print borderless prints in
4x6, 5x7, 8x10, letter, 11x14, and 13x19 sizes by clicking the "No Margins"
check box in the Page Setup dialog box in Photoshop (Mac OS) or the "Paper"
tab in the Windows Print dialog box.
When used with Epson's Premium-brand
photo papers, they claim an output resolution of 2880x720dpi for color
and black. Test prints made with the 1280 at 1440dpi using Epson Photo
Paper showed subtle but noticeable improvements over the same test file
printed at identical settings with Epson's 1270 model. The new printer
uses the same ink cartridges as the previous one, which means stability
of the output is the same.
Wilhelm Imaging Research (www.wilhelmresearch.com)
reports that prints from the Stylus Photo 1270, when output on Epson's
Premium Glossy Photo Paper, have a life of from 9-10 years and 24-26 years
when made with the company's Matte Paper Heavyweight media. Epson bundles
a copy of Adobe Photoshop LE and includes Monaco EZ Color Lite software
that lets you create a monitor profile. The $499 Epson Stylus Photo 1280
delivers crisp text for all kinds of documents and I use it to print letters,
envelopes, mailing and floppy disk labels in black and white or color.
If you only need letter-sized output, the Stylus Photo 780 is available
Hewlett-Packard's PhotoSmart 1215 ink jet printer has
CompactFlash and SmartMedia memory card slots that enable
printing directly from a digital camera--no computer
is even needed to make photo quality prints.
HP PhotoSmart 1215
In addition to printing images when connected to a computer, Hewlett-Packard's
$399 PhotoSmart 1215 photo quality ink jet printer provides additional
photo-printing capabilities. It has built-in CompactFlash and SmartMedia
memory card slots enabling it to print directly from a digital camera--with
no computer required. The memory card slots can also be used to save images
for later use. The HP PhotoSmart 1215 printer can output pages at up to
15 ppm black or 12 ppm in color. All new HP printers feature an optical
paper sensing technology. You have a choice of selecting paper type and
print settings manually from the software driver or allowing the printer
to detect the type of paper in the tray and automatically adjust print
Built-in infrared technology
enables customers to beam information and print images from compatible
digital cameras, palmtop or laptop computers, and other mobile devices,
eliminating the need to download information into a computer. Other features
include automatic print cartridge alignment, a print-cancel button, low-ink
warning, and a separate 4x6 photo paper tray that eliminates having to
change papers when printing different sized photos. Connections include
both parallel and USB ports, making it compatible with Mac OS and Windows
path through Colorado's Garden of the Gods was captured
on Kodak slide film and then digitized using their Photo
CD process. The image was tweaked and slightly cropped
using the Windows version of Adobe Photoshop Elements
and printed on a Lexmark Z53 ink jet printer on Kodak's
Inkjet Photo Paper.
Photos © 2001, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved
Lexmark Z53 Color Jetprinter
The Lexmark Z53 Color Jetprinter looks much more expensive than its $139
price tag and has parallel port and USB connections as well as drivers
for Linux, Mac OS, and Windows owners. To their credit Lexmark bundles
both parallel and USB cables. When's the last time you saw that? The Z53's
software driver has a clean interface and is easy to understand. I urge
any new users to take a few moments to read the manual and familiarize
themselves with the printer's capabilities before inserting some inexpensive
paper for practice, before putting in the expensive stuff. Taking time
to understand how the Color Fine driver's options let you obtain maximum
image quality will pay off.
For example, using the Natural
Color and Airbrush Dithering settings may slow output somewhat, but will
deliver real photo-realistic output on the Kodak ink jet paper that's
bundled with the printer or other photo quality papers. I tested the Z53
with several other papers including Adorama's (www.adorama.com)
wonderful Double-Sided Matte and Photogloss papers and even difficult
to reproduce colors, such as chrome, were impressively rendered. In addition,
text and business graphics were rendered sharply, colorful and quickly.
The printer does all this in a fairly quiet manner. So quiet (45 dB),
in fact, that the loudest noise is a slight cranking sound indicating
the print is completed and the sheet of paper is being gently tossed into
its interestingly designed paper tray.
The Lexmark Z53 Color Jetprinter
can handle paper sizes ranging from envelopes to legal and its feed tray
holds up to 100 sheets of paper. Output is delivered at up to 16 ppm in
black, and eight in color, but photographs in highest resolution mode
may take up to five minutes depending on size. The Lexmark Z53 Color Jetprinter
is an excellent item for the price.
railroad structures were captured by the author with
a Canon D30 digital camera and downloaded directly into
the Mac OS version of Adobe Photoshop, where the colors
were enhanced a bit before printing on an Epson Stylus
Photo 1280 printer on the company's Premium Glossy Photo
Color Me Ink Jet
These days there are two basic types of color ink jet printers: four
color and six color. Four-color models work with the same colors--Cyan,
Yellow, Magenta, and Black --that commercial printing presses have used
for a long time. They are referred to as CMYK. Most ink jet printers
use two cartridges: One that holds the three color inks and another,
usually larger, for black ink, which is also used to print the day-to-day
text requirements, such as letters, envelopes, and labels, that photo
quality printers do much better than dye sublimation and other photo
quality printers. Six-color models have the same CMYK package but add
a Light Cyan and Light Magenta to the color cartridge to reproduce delicate
textures such as skin tones and metallic surfaces. While four-color
printers may seem less capable than six-color models, I've seen spectacular
results with some four-color models, depending on the original file's
image quality, the paper used, and the print head's design. In addition,
there are some gray scale ink sets available from companies like Lyson
and Cone that let you print full-scale monochrome images using four
shades of black ink.
As is typical in the computer
world, there are a few printers who use something different to keep
pundits from making sweeping generalizations. For example, you might
just find a three-color printer out there. Typically, these printers
use a single three-color cartridge (Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow) to create
all the colors in your photographs. To produce black, the printer mixes
the three colors together. While this same theory usually works well
with dye sublimation printers who use pure dye ribbons, with ink jet
printers it usually produces a muddy black. There is even a seven-color
printer that Epson produced for its home market in Japan. I expect that
the likelihood of having this printer available in America is about
the same as seeing Mitsubishi's hot Evolution VII rally cars that you
can readily purchase in Europe and Japan but not in my local showroom.
While most desktop printers
use one or two ink cartridges, in the world of professional ink jet
printers, there is typically a separate cartridge for each color, something
Canon is bringing to affordable desktop photo printers. Is this a trend?
I'm not sure. My own experience is that when I'm out of yellow, I'm
also out--or almost out--of magenta and cyan, too, but that may be because
of the type of images that I print, which may be vastly different from
what you might output.
the media to the photograph is always a good idea. Here,
Legion Paper's softly textured Photo Canvas Cover stock
was used to make a print of an original color image
that was captured with Fuji's FinePix S-1 digital camera.
The file was converted into black and white, manipulated
with nik multimedia's Midnight filter, and sepia toned
using a Photoshop action before printing on this softly
textured, elegant media.
Ink Jet Paper
Let's be honest. The quality of the ink jet paper you use can have a dramatic
effect on the quality of your output. The better the paper; the better
the output will appear. Printer manufacturers may insist that the best
quality will only be produced when using their papers, and I won't argue
that some of their papers are spectacular. But we wouldn't be photographers
if we weren't looking for something different. When I worked in a traditional
wet darkroom, I used paper from Agfa, Ilford, and Kodak and would try
to match the paper to the image I was printing. Now I try to keep papers
from Adorama, Epson, Ilford, Tetenal, Pictorico and others on hand and
use the same concept of matching the paper to the mood of the image.
A Seven-Color Printer?
An interesting and unofficial Epson ink jet tidbit crossed my browser
just as I was finishing this story. The Epson PM-900C is a Japanese market
only ink jet printer with intriguing characteristics. It's a 1440dpi letter-sized
printer that shares cosmetic similarities to new models introduced at
this year's PMA show, but can print on media up to 2.5mm thick, including
CD-ROMs. Its two-picoliter droplet size is smaller than the current generation
printers' three picoliters and it has more nozzles for faster printing.
The big news is that it's a seven-color printer that adds dark yellow
ink for improved output smoothness. You can read about it on a Japanese
web site (there are a few English words) at www.i-love-epson.co.jp/
Ink On Paper
They all work the same way: They spray ink through nozzles--sometimes
called jets--onto paper. How it is sprayed, how much is used, and the
quality of the spray, is what separates one ink jet printer from another.
The heart of any device is its print head, which must be designed to deliver
precise amounts of ink onto paper. Some printers have nozzles built into
the print head, while others have nozzles in the ink cartridges. I have
not seen any qualitative differences in the output between printers using
these different systems, although you might be able to see something using
a 10x loupe or microscope, which is not the way most people typically
view any kind of photographic print. How much ink exits the print head
is measured in droplet size. In general, the smaller the size, the better
the image quality. Droplets are measured in picoliters, which in case
you're interested is one million millionth of a liter--that's tiny! The
technology used to apply ink generally falls into two major categories:
- Micro Piezo: Piezoelectric
technology is based on the property of crystals to oscillate when subjected
to electrical voltage. Fans of James Burke's Connections on The Learning
Channel have been treated to a wonderful demonstration of how this works.
In Epson ink jet printers, a micro piezo print head squirts ink much
like a tiny Super Soaker. Using electricity and material that changes
shape, it can adjust how much ink it pumps out.
- Thermal: In this system,
used by Canon, Hewlett-Packard, and other manufacturers, ink in the
print head is heated to its boiling point then forced through the nozzles
and onto the paper. All of this squirting and exploding doesn't mean
a thing unless it produces image quality that we photographers might
consider acceptable, which boils down to the device's resolution. Printer
resolution is measured in dots per inch or dpi for short. If a device
has a resolution of 300dpi it means there are 300 dots across and 300
dots down. A printer with this resolution can therefore print 90,000
dots of ink or dye in one square inch and a 720dpi printer will produce
518,400 dots. The tighter this cluster of dots is, the smaller the dots
become. A higher number of dots will produce finer resolution. You may
have noticed that I haven't said anything about speed. That's because
I don't think it's relevant unless you're in a production situation
and if that's true, a desktop printer may not be what you need. There's
an old photo lab axiom that I think applies to ink jet printers as well.
It says: "Speed, quality, price; choose any two." Most photographers
will choose quality first, then price next, which leaves us with speed.
My philosophy is that it takes as long to print as it takes to print.
The speed ratings provided by manufacturers are based on an average
image, not the highest image quality the printer is capable of producing.
Take their ratings with a grain of salt and judge by the image quality
and price, which are far more obvious.
(800) 223-2500 o (212) 741-0052
fax: (212) 463-7223
AGA Chemicals, Inc. (Pictorico Paper)
Canon Computer Systems Inc.
Cone Editions Press
fax: (802) 439-6501
fax: (716) 781-1730
Ferrania Imaging Technologies
fax: (651) 704-4128
fax: (856) 642-9709
fax: (650) 857-5518
HP Marketing Corp.
fax: (973) 808-9004
Ilford Imaging USA Inc.
fax: (201) 265-3443
Legion Paper Corp.
fax: (800) 275-3380
Lexmark International, Inc.
fax: (914) 965-0367
fax: (847) 690-1067
Satter/Omega (Sihl Papers)