We live in the age of screens that have incredible technology behind them, designed to bring us the best colors, contrast and detail. Almost every device around us is bound to have at least a full HD screen that is a joy to look at. Display technology is quickly evolving and making everything look interesting.
In contrast to that, a printed photograph pretty much feels the same as it did 40 years ago. Sure, the paper is different, but the irreplaceable feeling of holding an image physically is better than seeing it on any screen. If you don't believe me, head to the nearest photo exhibition or grab a photography album and see for yourself.
More and more photographers are returning to print, or better said, they are adding printed images to their storage methods.
With that said, here is our quick guide to help you buy the best printer for your needs.
There are two major types of printing technologies to choose from: ink jet and dye sublimation printers.
Ink jet printers represent the vast majority of photo printers. They work by spraying ink droplets onto specially coated paper. The ink is sprayed by a head that makes multiple passes over the paper. This process is capable of producing millions of colors. To be even more specific, these colors are obtained with a combination of complex algorithms and paper coatings designed to maintain sharpness and vibrancy.
They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Compact printers are light and portable, making them ideal for family snapshots. Most late models don't even require a computer connection anymore, as ease of use has been prioritized.
Most entry level printers will print at a maximum width of 8"and that might be enough for most amateurs and beginners.
But if you're really serious about your work, you will need something more advanced. Printers like the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 deliver professional results at a size of up to 17". Technologies like the Ultrachrome High Dynamic Range deliver an extremely wide range color gamut and the Automatic Black Ink Mode Switching was added to once again bring the professional lab into the photographer's home or studio.
Pigments and dyes are something you need to pay careful attention to when going shopping for a printer. Most ink jet printers on the market use dye inks. Their strong point is that they're inexpensive and have the ability to produce highly saturated colors. On the other hand, they have poor light fastness characteristics, which means they fade over relatively short periods of time. If you want to invest in longevity, the alternative are pigments.
They are more fade resistant than dye inks, but have a smaller color gamut. In the past few years things have greatly improved in this area, yet there still are some visible differences between dye inks and pigments when it comes to the range of hues and saturation.
Dye sublimation printers are less common and they're usually small, compact models. The process relies on a heated mix of dyes that is printed on a coated paper. The paper then gets a protective, clear layer that makes the print more resistant to finger prints and scuffs.
The popular Canon Selphy series uses dye sublimation and for their small size, they deliver impressive quality.
Paper is also important if you're thinking about prints that will last a lifetime. Usually, the printer manufacturer has its own lineup of photographic paper, and it is strongly recommended to use the same brand, just like with ink cartridges.