While looking at a photograph on a camera’s LCD or a large computer monitor is exciting, neither replaces the satisfaction of holding a quality print. Improvements in the stability of inks have led to photo inkjet printers producing archival-quality prints that resist fading for a lifetime. Enhanced ink-delivery systems have meant smaller and smaller ink droplets, creating seamless transitions of color and tone that are virtually indiscernible. And whether you enjoy processing your images first or prefer making prints fast and easy, printers feature advanced color management for optimal control and built-in software drivers for prints without a computer.
We want our prints to last, and this is something that hasn’t been lost on printer manufacturers. Although early inkjet prints threatened to fade even before they had dried, today’s printers promise fade-resistance for decades to more than a century under the best conditions. While not 100% resistant to UV light and pollution, today’s inks are more resilient than ever before, and many beat the longevity of traditional color prints.
Archival quality has been limited to a small number of printers, but it’s now increasingly available across all major manufacturers and at virtually any price point. What’s even more exciting is that photographers are finding a wider variety of paper surfaces that work well with the improved inks.
Initially, matte surfaces were the only paper stock that would be rated as archival. Matte paper’s ability to absorb ink provided greater stability than glossy surfaces, which limited the absorption of inks into the substrate. Now, matte, glossy and other surfaces produce long-lasting prints.
Until recently, there were primarily two camps when it came to inks. If you wanted better color saturation and brilliance, you went with dye inks. Pigment inks were the way to go if you wanted better fade-resistance. Today’s generation of both dye- and pigment-based printers, however, deliver great color and decades’ worth of lightfastness. Resolution And Ink Delivery
Just as resolution has steadily increased in digital cameras, so has the resolution in inkjet printers. When it comes to printers, however, those higher numbers don’t automatically mean better quality.
Although some assume that a printer’s dpi (dots per inch) is directly related to the resolution of a camera, they’re two separate things. A higher-resolution camera affords you a bigger print, but a higher-resolution setting on a printer may only mean the use of more ink with no discernible gain in quality.
A printer resolution between 1440 and 2880 dpi is more than sufficient for a quality enlargement. This is because our eyes aren’t sensitive enough to tell the difference between a print created at a resolution of 1440 dpi and another created with a setting of 5760 dpi. The biggest difference with a printer’s maximum resolution setting is dramatically longer print times and a need to replace ink cartridges more frequently.
But what has become more important to print quality is ink droplet size. Smaller droplets of four picoliters or less mean that a printer can better control how ink is delivered to the paper surface. Such fine control of droplet sizes improves the printer’s ability to render subtle transitions of color and tone. For example, the color and tonality of a fabric in a photograph can change from highlight to shadow; texture also will change. A printer that delivers inks with smaller droplets can better reproduce those subtle differences on paper.
Another way in which inks have changed is that many photo-quality printers include individual cartridges. When inkjet printers were introduced, they often used two cartridges—one for black and the other for cyan, magenta and yellow inks. As technology has improved, however, ink counts have increased, and they have been enclosed in their own cartridges. This provides a cost savings by not requiring you to throw out an entire cartridge when only one ink has been depleted.
Ink sets with as many as eight inks are increasingly common, and these extra colors help photo-quality printers reproduce subtleties of color and tone. This also has led to improvements in black-and-white printing.
The speed by which a printer delivers an enlargement is especially important when you’re creating a large number of photographs. The specifications released by some manufacturers reflect a printer’s speed in draft mode, however, rather than at the higher photo-quality setting. So it’s important to identify which quality setting is being used in addition to the print size when you’re measuring and comparing print speeds.
Although enhancing an image can be gratifying, sometimes we just want to make a print quickly and easily. To accommodate that, several printers feature built-in memory slots that accept a variety of memory cards, including CompactFlash (CF), SecureDigital (SD), Memory Stick and others. By simply inserting the card into the slot and navigating the printer’s LCD screen, you can print individual photographs or a contact sheet of a card’s entire contents.
Increasingly, inkjet printers have incorporated PictBridge technology into their designs, an industry standard that allows compatible cameras and printers to communicate with each other, regardless of whether the products are from the same manufacturer. A Nikon digital camera connected to an Epson printer can communicate seamlessly via PictBridge. Using the camera’s built-in controls, select, crop and apply basic enhancements to an image and then create a print without downloading the files to a computer.