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Next-Gen Photo Printers

Despite the proliferation of photo-sharing sites online, the print remains the ultimate expression of a photograph. New printer technology and models will have your prints looking better than ever.
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This Article Features Photo Zoom

Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II


Canon PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II

Printing is about sharing. Prints are tacked to the wall for all to see or given outright for others to treasure. Making prints at home heightens the pleasure of sharing your images with others. But you need a printer that delivers quality to match your artistry.

If you’re ready to step up to professional-level output or perhaps you’ve outgrown your snapshot printer, your timing is perfect. Today’s market is flush with printers that produce top-notch quality and won’t bust your budget. And today’s inkjet technology is mature and stable—no more concerns about fading prints or disappearing inks.

Inkjet printers spray tiny droplets of ink to form the image. They rapidly heat ink that’s confined in a tiny cavity to extremely high temperatures until it literally explodes and blasts itself through a tiny opening as a microscopically thin stream. The volume of ink is measured in picoliters and, naturally, the smaller the volume, the tinier the dot that it produces.

Epson Stylus Pro 3880

A picoliter is one-trillionth of a liter. Another way to say it is one-millionth of one-millionth of a liter.

These tiny micro-droplets of ink are assembled on the paper in an orderly fashion, and their density can be measured in terms of dpi or “dots per inch.” In this case, the more, the merrier. A high dpi rating means that the ink is arranged in a very dense pattern, and the image will be closer to what’s known as “continuous tone.”

How fast all of this happens is tabulated in terms of ppm, or “pages per minute.” That pretty much explains itself, except you should be warned that you may never achieve the theoretical numbers achieved by the manufacturers. Nonetheless, the numbers give you some indication of how fast a printer operates and allow you to compare printer A to printer B. In addition to ppm, most manufacturers indicate the average time it takes to produce a certain size print—for example, some printers can spit out a 4×6 snapshot in 10 seconds.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Epson Stylus Photo R2880

The Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II printer produces professional, borderless, large-format photos up to 14 inches wide (on media up to 13 inches wide). It features a high-density, 6,144-nozzle, FINE print head that deposits ink droplets as small as 2 picoliters, which translates to a mind-boggling 11 million ink droplets per square inch. Canon’s 100-year ChromaLife100 ink is stored in eight separate tanks that can be individually replaced. The combination of Canon’s Easy Photo Print Pro software application and the printer’s built-in firmware assures the highest-quality output and can automatically optimize your prints in one of five categories, including hard-to-adjust situations using Night Scenery. Max resolution is 4800×2400, and performance is fast. The PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II cranks out an 11×14-inch print in less than a minute-and-a-half and an 8×10 in 47 seconds.

HP Photosmart Pro B8850

The Canon PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II printer also produces large-format photos up to 14 inches wide. Like the Pro9000, it offers two separate paper trays to allow you to switch media without interrupting your workflow.

The PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II improves on the features of its Pro9000 sibling by offering a high-performance, high-density, FINE print head with 25 percent more nozzles—7,680 instead of 6,144—for finer gradations. The max print resolution is 4800×2400. The PIXMA Pro9500 Mark II also uses Canon’s Lucia-branded pigment-based inks, which are stored in 10 individual ink tanks, including Matte Black, Photo Black and Gray inks, to produce outstanding color, as well as superior black-and-white prints. The addition of Gray ink means that the printer doesn’t have to try to reproduce gray tones by blending other colors. Gray ink also helps counteract metamerism, a phenomenon where certain colors look different under different lighting conditions, while at the same time, other colors in the print appear exactly the same.

HP Photosmart Pro B9180

The Epson Stylus Photo R2880 inkjet printer is built for serious photographers who want to produce high-quality prints that match their vision. In addition to the highly visible high-end specifications, the R2880 possesses a myriad of features that assure the best results from input through output. For example, the permanent print head is treated with a special ink-repellent coating to minimize nozzle clogging, which is something that you can’t see but will most certainly appreciate when it doesn’t clog. Automatic Nozzle Check technology working in conjunction with Epson’s proprietary mist collection system keeps the inside of the printer clean and reduces jamming.

The new step-up Epson Stylus Pro 3880 large-format printer shares these characteristics and adds several features. The 17-inch-wide printer produces gallery-quality color and black-and-white output up to 17×22 inches. The advanced paper-handling mechanism can handle just about everything, from 4×6 up to 17×22 inches. The Stylus Pro 3880 also features one high-speed USB 2.0 port and one 10/100 Ethernet port, and offers a 2.5-inch, backlit LCD control panel for easy, direct printer control and status monitoring.

Both Epson printers use the UltraChrome K3 inks, which are legendary and reputed to create prints that can last for 200 years or more. The Stylus Photo R2880 provides a unique three-level black ink process that produces black-and-white prints with exceptional grayscale reproduction and outstanding tonal range, and the Advanced Black-and-White Photo Mode ensures precision control for neutral or toned black-and-white prints. You can even select from four preset options: neutral, warm, cool or sepia.

Professionals and serious amateurs alike appreciate the way the Stylus Pro 3880 renders black-and-white prints. The Auto-Sharing Photo and Matte Black Ink feature automatically utilizes two different black ink modes—Photo Black and Matte Black—which optimizes black ink density for various types of media.

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Hewlett-Packard inkjet photo-printing systems combine durable, innovative hardware with advanced HP Vivera pigment ink technology and superlative papers and media. The Photosmart Pro B9180 photo printer leverages HP’s third-generation gray ink to maximize monochrome and black-and-white output. Eight individual high-capacity ink cartridges enable high-volume printing that’s quite speedy—4×6-inch photos in as little as 10 seconds and 13×19-inch prints as fast as 1.5 minutes. The Pro B9180 accepts a variety of media, including canvas, photo rag, watercolor, stiff pre-matte and film up to 13×19 inches. HP includes an Adobe Photoshop plug-in to facilitate output and offers an upgrade to professional color management with its optional HP raster image
processor (RIP).

Similar to the B9180, the HP Photosmart Pro B8850 inkjet printer produces outstanding photo-quality prints up to 13×19 inches and also shows off its versatility by delivering sharp text equal to a high-end laser printer. It will produce a 13×19-inch print in less than 90 seconds and can print mixed-color text and graphics as fast as 26 ppm. The Pro B8850 features a built-in color-calibration system for reliable and predictable results using HP’s legendary Vivera inks. It offers support for Adobe RGB, sRGB and ICC profiles, plus full compatibility with Adobe Photoshop. A monitoring system alerts you when one of the individually replaceable ink cartridges is running low, and a built-in self-cleaning system reduces waste and keeps things tidy.

dpi vs. ppi

A note about dpi and ppi: You might see these terms used interchangeably, and when we’re talking about image resolution, we do tend to get careless with them. A printer’s “dpi” rating is frequently over 4000 these days. That means that the printer is capable of laying down more than 4000 distinct dots in a square inch. Each dot is a single color corresponding to the individual colors in the printer’s ink tanks. By laying down those dots of ink in a specific pattern, the printer generates millions of individual colors.

When you set your image file to print, you choose a resolution. In Photoshop, the dialog box asks you for a dpi setting (we usually recommend 300). This is where it can become confusing. If you have a 4800 dpi printer, don’t set the Photoshop dialog box to 4800. The Photoshop dialog box should really say “ppi,” meaning “pixels per inch.” Photo printers are optimized for 300 ppi, and they use their 4800 dpi to lay down the right colors to create a continuous-tone image. Each pixel in your image file is a single distinct color. By having millions of possible colors (thanks to the printer’s 4000+ dpi capability), the printer can generate the exact color for each pixel, and you get a beautiful print without the annoying pixilation that was common in the early days of photo printers.