Photo Quality Counts
A Roundup Of Ink Jet Printers
Affordable photo-realistic 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.
Canon S800 Bubble Jet
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.
Epson Stylus Photo 1280
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 for $199.
HP PhotoSmart 1215
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 computers.
Lexmark Z53 Color Jetprinter
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.
Color Me Ink Jet
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.
Ink Jet Paper
A Seven-Color Printer?
Ink On Paper
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