About Color Printers

Not all printers are the same, which is why there are so many different options to choose from.  What works great in the office is not necessarily good for printing family photos.  And, using a photo printer is not necessarily a good idea if all you’ll print is letters. Trying to decide on a printer can be daunting. 

It is important to ask yourself questions about how you will be using the printer before you buy. Always keep in mind that while the printer may not be expensive to buy, the long-term expense of maintenance and the cost of supplies should always be considered.

Many sites on the web offer advice on various printer models.  And, as always, go to local stores to see the out-put for yourself. You should bring your own image and ask to use that image as the test print. Below is some basic information to help you decide on the right printer for you.

Laser Printers

The invention of Laser printers and PostScript printers helped bring about the birth of desktop publishing, as we know it today.  These printers made crisp clean type and gray scale images possible.  The I made it on the computer appearance of the jaggies, could easily be wiped away with the right software and fonts.  Laser printers (both PostScript and non-PostScript varieties) are the workhorses of the workplace. Color laser printers have been around for a number of years in both PostScript and non-PostScript format. 

While used mainly for office color work (i.e., charts and business reports), photos can look good on laser printers, especially if better quality paper is used.  Color desktop publishing can be enhanced if using one of the PostScript models. These printers are usually more expensive than other types of desktop printers.  This type of printer is a good all round choice for people who need both excellent type and very good general use images.  If really high quality photos are your main objective, inkjet printers may be a better option.

All-In-One Printers

All-in-one units are handy to have in an office or home office environment. They have a moderate level of resolution and do a little of everything: Scanning, printing, copying, and faxing.  Some models do one or more of these things better than others.  Generally they do not make good photo printers. 

That’s not to say you cannot get an OK print from them.  But the image may fade in a  short period of time, will probably not be water proof, and the track wheels in some models will leave puncture marks on thicker photo papers.

Inkjet Printers.

Inkjet manufacturers usually make a variety of printers to serve different markets. While DPI may be the same on some of these printers, the real differences lie in how small the spray nozzles are, what type and how many ink cartridges it uses, and to some degree the paper it can use.

4-Color Desktop Printers

These types of printers are normally very inexpensive and best suited to solid graphics (graphs and charts) and text.  Due to the limits of the 4-color inks, they can’t produce fine gradations needed for realistic photo reproduction. You will probably see the dot patterns with close inspection, especially in the highlights and color transitions.

Photo-realistic Printers

In general these printers have 6 inks and have more inkjet nozzles or smaller ones, enabling them to produce a higher resolution. With higher resolution comes smoother gradations and more photo-realistic images.

These types of printers almost always use inks that when used with the right paper will last longer (10-25+ years) than 4 ink printers and may also be waterproof.  If you want to print really good photos on your desktop printer, this is where you begin your research.

Professional Printers

These types of printers are where you start if you want exceptional photo quality out-put. They are usually the most expensive of the inkjet families and use a different type of ink than the other inkjet printers. They have a very high resolution and even smaller spray nozzles. 

All of the above inkjets use dye inks. Most of the professional printers use pigment inks (sometimes called Chrome). Pigment inks last even longer (75+) than dye inks when exposed to light.

There is usually a lot more cost associated with pigment ink printers.  They tend to prefer the professional range of paper, making your paper choices much more limited. These papers are not always available in your local paper supply store. In fact using inferior paper can result in very ugly prints.

In general, the photo printers will not handle text well.  It will be OK but probably not as good as a basic 4 color inkjet printer. 

Large (Wide) Format (25 to 44+ inch) Printers

In general, this type of printer is used in professional print houses that cater to artists or graphic design companies.  Many of these large printers can use dye or pigment ink, and they can use a large variety or print materials in interior or exterior use.

None of the inkjet printers use PostScript, so PostScript fonts will not print correctly. Additionally, if you are printing PostScript (or EPS) images from inside a page layout program, your image will not print at its full quality.  It will print a 72 dpi, 256 color bitmapped for placement only (FPO) version of the image.

In many cases, you can buy hardware and software that will interpret the PostScript information sent to the printer. Once installed, any PostScript problems should be corrected.

Solid inks Printers

There are two types of solid ink printers. Both types produce vivid color and are best for producing reports or publications.  These printers have been used for in-house publications and presentations in the business world for years.

They can use just about any type of paper, which keeps paper costs down and allows for creativity. And they excel when making presentation transparencies. Images can be near photo quality but are usually a little over saturated. Since these inks are opaque, fine photo details may be lost as well. These printers usually handle text well, although small font sizes may be fuzzy.  Some people don’t like the raised effect this type of process creates.  These printers are mostly used in the business world and in some graphics print houses as proffers.

Wax Inkjet Printers – Phase Change

These types of wax printers use chunky crayon-like wax, which is melted inside the printer and then sprayed on to the paper. They accept almost any kind of paper stock, which has made this type of printer a good proof printer when testing a design on various paper types.

Solid Wax Printers

This type of wax printer uses a colored ribbon coated with wax. It uses heat to transfer the wax from the ribbon to the paper.  This printer uses a specialty coated paper and transparency material so creativity is very limited.

Dye Sublimation

A number of years ago, dye sublimation (dye-subs) printers where the best option for photo quality images.  With their unique process of blending the ink and paper surface together at 300 dpi, a properly manipulated image could be free of visible pixels.  This type of printer was used mostly in high-end medical imaging. The older models were big, bulky, and extremely expensive.

Today’s photo dye-sub models are much smaller and made for standard size photographs. Some camera makers also make dye-sub printers that can read digital media, thereby bypassing the computer all together.

A number of limitations are associated with these printers.  The dye ribbons are very expensive. Paper choices are very limited. You can only use papers designed to accept the sublimation process.  Any dirt or fingerprints on the paper will become part of the image. The images fade rather quickly and may also be affected by photo sleeves. 

With the newer dye-sub printers being smaller, more affordable, and their supply costs coming down, they are fast becoming serious contenders to the professional inkjet printers.

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