Best digital Photo printing
Whether you came of age in the days of darkroom chemicals or began photography in the digital era, there are few things more satisfying than seeing your image on paper as a finished print. Current technology has made producing exhibition-quality prints from the comfort of your own home easier than ever before.
The first step towards achieving high quality prints involves choosing the materials and equipment best suited to your needs and, of course, budget. In the first of this two-part primer we'll explore some basic printer technology so you can make informed decisions as you wade through the numerous options on the market.
In the pursuit of photo-realistic prints that rival or exceed what you'll get from online services or the local drugstore, there are two broad printer technologies from which to choose; dye-sublimation (dye-sub) and inkjet. Dye-sub printers rely on a heating process to mix dyes onto a specially coated paper, producing a continuous tone print. An additional clear protective layer is added over the dyes, making them less prone to scuffs and smears when the print is handled.
Dye-sublimation technology is used only in a relatively small number of consumer-level compact photo printers such as the Canon Selphy lineup (pictured above) and Polaroid's POGO series printers. The specialized media required for these printers is brand-specific, and normally packaged as an integrated paper/ink set which is loaded into the printer.
The overwhelming majority of dedicated photo printers on the market today are inkjets. These printers spray discrete, but tiny droplets of ink onto specially coated papers via a printhead that makes multiple passes across the print surface.
Although these ink dots do not mix together before being ejected onto the print surface, they are extremely small; so small that they're measured in picoliters (trillionths of a liter). Complex dot placement algorithms known as dithering, along with paper coatings designed to maintain image sharpness and vibrancy, are capable of producing literally millions of colors with tonal gradations that appear smooth to the naked eye. Inkjet printers come in a variety of forms.
|Compact inkjet photo printers can be operated without a computer connection. Images (typically 4 x6in) can be printed directly from a USB-connected camera, a memory card or even a Bluetooth enabled mobile device.|
|Desktop models often include input trays for printing directly onto CDs/DVDs|
|Many 13- inch and wider printers include an attachment that allows you to print on rolls, for image lengths extending beyond the standard sheet sizes.|
Ink on paper
At the heart of inkjet printer technology are the printheads, which actually eject the ink as they move left to right across the width of the print surface. Printheads contain rows of tiny openings, called nozzles. As the printhead makes a full pass across the print surface, a motor in the printer advances the paper line by line, exposing un-inked areas to a set of ink-firing nozzles.
Piezoelectric printheads can eject variably-sized droplets from a single nozzle position, allowing for crisp, finely resolved image detail. Thermal printheads typically offer a high density of nozzles per printhead, which increases print speeds. Though there are differences as regards production cost and usable lifespan, both piezoelectric and thermal printheads are capable of producing very high-quality photographic prints.