We Know: All About Photo Printers


What is a photo printer?
Photo printers are special dedicated printers that print images from digital cameras. A photo printer has a wider color spectrum than the standard black, cyan, magenta, and yellow of ink jet printers to render true photo quality output.

How do photo printers work?
Ink jet printers use special nozzles to spray ink jet droplets onto a sheet of paper. Photo printers use many of the same technologies as traditional ink jet printers, but also use a piezo-electric nozzle to control these droplets and to create a more precise image. The piezo crystal bends in varying degrees, depending on the amount of electrical current. Ink is sucked into the nozzle when an electric current bends it, turning it "on." Another electric current unbends the nozzle, essentially turning the nozzle "off" and dropping the ink onto the page. The amount of ink dropped depends on the amount of current generated.

What features should I look for in a photo printer?
Features to look for in a photo printer include:

  • At least 1200 dots per inch (dpi). The more dots per inch, the sharper the image.
  • Printer should use separate ink tanks. Single ink tanks must be tossed if only one of the colors goes empty, which could be costly.
  • The printer must print at least 10 pages per minute.
  • The cartridges should have a long print life.
  • The cost of the cartridge should render a low cost per page.
  • Flash memory card slots
  • Network ports
When in doubt, get a print sample from the demonstration printers at your local computer store and compare the quality of each sample.

What are the different types of photo printers?
Photo printers come in all types and price ranges. What you want to buy really depends on how you plan to use the printer.
  • Ink jet photo printers should be adequate for most families.
    • These printers may range anywhere from $50 to $400.
    • Spending more on an ink jet photo printer doesn't necessarily guarantee the best images.
  • Dedicated photo printers
    • Prices range from $150 to $400.
    • Uses thermal-dye technology.
    • Prints 256 shades of color based on cyan, yellow, and magenta color cartridges.
    • Thermal printers transfers a dye onto the paper when it prints, giving photos a more finished feel.
    • Dedicated photo printers are often smaller and travel friendly.
    • The per-page cost can be quite prohibitive.
  • Professional photo printers
    • Designed for professional photographers.
    • Provides additional paper sizes besides the standard 8.5 x 11 or 11 x 14.
    • Includes network connections.

Do I need to use special papers to print?
Paper quality is very important to photo printers. Not only are photo printers sensitive to the types of paper, but it is sensitive to a particular manufacturer. Using papers made by the same manufacturer as the printer renders the best images. Third party papers can be used, but you won't get the same quality, and you may have to break the bank and go back to the manufacturer's recommended paper.

Do I really need a photo printer?
Whether or not you should purchase a photo printer depends on what you plan to use the printer for. Standard ink jet printers do an admirable job. If you don't have a lot of pictures to print, you should stick with the lower-cost ink jet printer since you won't have to spend additional funds for special paper and special inks. If you choose a standard ink jet printer instead, pay close attention to the print quality.

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