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Upgrading Your Upgrades, Part 3 Why a New Inkjet Printer May be in Your Future

Upgrading Your Upgrades, Part 3
Why a New Inkjet Printer May be in Your Future

Faster print speeds, better photo-realistic output, and better ink management are just three of the benefits of the newest inkjet printers

What's happened with inkjet printers over the last year to make replacing last year's model a great idea? The classic computer answer: "More." More resolution, more photo-realistic output, more speed, but, ironically, less ink used per picture. The result? You get better output faster, and sometimes for less money per page than with older models.

Resolution Climbs Higher and Higher

Maximum resolutions for photo reproduction have climbed higher than ever:

  • 2,880 by 720 dpi (Epson)
  • 2,400 by 1,200 dpi (Lexmark, HP, Canon)

However, the maximum quality at these resolutions can be achieved only if you are using photo paper. In fact, printing digital photos is the best reason I know of for upgrading your inkjet printer. If you've got the room for a second inkjet printer, and you're happy with your current printer's text output, consider buying a printer just for digital photos.

Look Past Resolution for the Real Value

It can be more confusing than ever to shop for an inkjet printer because most vendors sell a variety of models with similar resolutions. To find the best model for your needs, also look at the following:

  • print speed; faster is better, but costs more
  • interfaces; USB works great with the latest versions of Windows (and with iMacs), but if you still use MS-DOS, Windows 95, or Windows NT, or are trying Linux, get a printer that also features a parallel interface
  • durability; if you can locate duty-cycle information, compare the printer's duty cycle to your anticipated use. If you can't get duty-cycle information and plan to run a lot of pages per day through the printer, don't buy the cheapest model. Buy the more expensive model with the features you want. Construction quality is often shortchanged to cut costs on low-priced printers.
  • features; look at ink colors, paper handling, flash memory compatibility, cost per printed page, and print quality

In the following sections, let's examine these additional factors.

More Colors = More Photo-Realistic Output

All inkjet printers must mix colors in order to reproduce the virtually unlimited color palette found in digital photographs, just as with the much more limited color spectrum needed for the reproduction of color logos and text. While the four standard color inks (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) are adequate for spot color uses such as logos and text, they don't produce the best results when digital photos are printed. For superior results, many of the best photo printers have added light cyan and light magenta (also called photo cyan and photo magenta) inks to the traditional CMYK ink colors. Six-color printers often produce distinctly better photo results than otherwise similar four-color printers do.

Wider Paper and Better Paper Handling for Versatility

Another way in which today's inkjet printers surpass even recent models is in paper handling. Many current models are designed to handle rolls of 4-inch and wider paper sizes for easy photo, banner, and panoramic printing. Wide format (13-inch and wider) models are no longer restricted to graphic arts departments, but can be purchased for as little as $500. Wide-format models sometimes also allow the user to print borderless enlargements such as 8 by 10 inch and 11 by 14 inch. Some models support duplex (two-sided) printing for greater economy.

Print Directly from Flash Memory Cards

Want instant photography from your digital camera? Consider one of an increasing number of photo printers with built-in flash memory slots. HP, Lexmark/Kodak, Epson and Canon all offer models with this feature. While all models support Compact Flash memory cards (the most popular type of flash memory), some also support Smart Media and other types of flash memory; an optional adapter may be needed with some printers. You can print directly from flash memory, and some printers will create an index print for you to make selecting the best photos even easier.

Discovering Your Cost Per Page

If you've discovered that your current inkjet printer is eating you out of house and home, consider switching to a printer with a lower cost-per-page. While you'll never find an inkjet printer that can print as cheaply as a laser printer can, there are huge differences in the cost-per-page of different inkjet printers. Printer reviews on ZDNet www.zdnet.com and PCWorld www.pcworld.com frequently list the cost per printed page.

Print Quality

While photo printers produce far better photo printouts than most standard inkjet printers, their text quality often leaves much to be desired. Make sure that you look for a printer that is designed for the print jobs you perform most often. And, make sure you use the right paper. If you don't want to use expensive photo paper for every job, make sure the printer produces adequate results with ordinary inkjet or plain paper. Some retailers display printers which can make demo printouts while you watch. While these can be useful, they're best if the retailer loads the right paper, which often doesn't happen. Look for already-printed samples on the correct paper types and read reviewers' comments carefully to find the print, or contact the printer vendor for print samples.


With the low cost and better-than-ever print quality of today's inkjet printers, you can get great output without spending a fortune.

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