Toolbox: Inkjet Printers

What you need to know about photo printers today

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For more than a decade, inkjet printers have provided photographers with a relatively inexpensive way to produce high-quality prints at home. The speed and convenience of being able to print your own images at your desktop, whenever you want, along with the control that doing it yourself offers, makes home printing well worth the investment in a printer, ink and paper.

Inkjet printers produce images by spraying lots of tiny dots of ink onto the paper through lots of really tiny nozzles (my printer has 6,144 nozzles, for example). If you look at an inkjet print through a magnifier, you’ll see that the image consists of tiny ink dots. Today’s photo inkjets use truly tiny ink droplets (from five picoliters to as small as one picoliter—a picoliter is one-trillionth of a liter!), and can place one million to 23 million of them per square inch of print (using as many as 32 droplets to produce a single colored dot), so you won’t see the dots at normal print-viewing distances. The photo inkjet printers from major manufacturers such as Canon, Epson and Hewlett-Packard (HP) all turn out excellent prints. Here are some things you should consider when choosing a photo inkjet.

Just as “megapixel” is the magic marketing term for digital cameras, “dpi” (dots per inch) is the sacred spec for inkjet printer marketing staff. Today’s photo inkjets have resolutions ranging from 1,440 x 720 dpi to 9,600 x 2,400 dpi. But as is the case with camera megapixels, a printer’s dpi figure isn’t the ultimate arbiter of image quality. More important are droplet size and the highly guarded proprietary algorithms that control how the droplets are put on the paper. The quality of the ink and paper used (and their compatibility) also have a bearing on image quality.

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