Every multifunction printer can print in color, but only printers that specialize in photos make really good and durable photo prints. Those who invest a little more can even save in the end.
To Make This Clear: If you want the usual ten by 15-centimetre prints to stick in a photo album, you don’t need a photo printer. Neither the price of the device and the ink nor the effort is worth it. Instead, send your digital images via the Internet to one of the major service providers such as Cewe or Orwo. These large laboratories use tried and tested chemical processes and digital exposure to produce good prints on photo paper. This costs an average of fewer than ten cents per image and only takes a few days, including shipping.
The situation is different if you need particularly good quality, want large-format prints or want the photos to be printed on special paper: then it can be worthwhile to use your printer. But do not think about your multifunctional device from the home office: Although the manufacturers often advertise these combinations of the scanner, copier and color printer as “photo-compatible”, you can use the same quality as a photo print or a print from a “real” photo printer Usually do not expect.
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It’s All In The Mix.
Correct photo printers use the inkjet process. The ink – at least six, sometimes even twelve different colors – is applied in tiny amounts to the specially coated paper.
The more base colours are available, the more precisely the colours can be mixed for the printed photo. However, it is also about the grey tones: For Black and white prints, one or two special grey inks are occasionally available. Black often comes in two versions: a matt black for prints on matt paper and another for glossy paper.
The Two Types Of Inks
There are two types of inks on the market – and each printer is designed for just one of them. When you buy a printer, you commit yourself to a kind of ink.
There is dye-based (also called “dye ink”) on the one hand and solid or pigment inks on the other. It cannot be said that either type of ink is generally better than the other. It depends more on the intended use: With dye ink, you can achieve a higher level of saturation, especially glossy papers. So those who prefer strong colors and high gloss are better off with dye inks.
Pigment inks are particularly suitable for printing on matte or textured papers. It is visually a little more restrained, but with a few technical tricks, printer manufacturers can also produce high-gloss prints with pigment. To do this, some pigment printers apply clear ink as a kind of high-gloss varnish to the photo in an additional pass through the ink head. Photo artists almost always print with pigment ink because it lasts for many years and fades less quickly than dye ink.
The Right Photo Paper
When it comes to paper, there is a huge selection – unlike, for example, exposure in a large laboratory. The documents you can buy for photo printing are all coated so that the ink does not run inside the paper – therefore, you should only use designated inkjet photo papers for printing photos.
In addition to the usual photo papers in glossy, matte or semi-gloss, there are extremely matte papers, papers with a shiny metallic effect and a whole range of thicker pieces, some with structured surfaces. Printing on such special papers also falls under the term
It All Depends On The Profile.
As a beginner, the first thing you should do is choose the printer manufacturer’s papers. Both Canon and Epson – there are no more suppliers of photo printers – offer a range of photo papers under their names. The advantage: printer, paper and ink are coordinated, and you can get started right away.
There is a color profile for every combination of printer and paper – a small file that contains instructions on how the printer must print on the paper so that the colors appear genuine. When installing the printer driver, the printer manufacturer’s papers are also installed – you only have to select them if the printing software has not already done this automatically.
The situation is different if you choose a paper from third-party manufacturers: You have to install the profiles yourself and select them before printing. Professionals create such profiles themselves, but they need an expensive colourimeter. In almost all cases, it is sufficient to download and install the shapes from the paper manufacturer. At least all premium paper producers such as Hahnemühle, Ilford or Canson make such profiles available for download free of charge for all common photo printers.
You don’t need a color profile when printing in black and white. Set in the printer driver: Color management by printer or Black and white. This almost always works without any loss of quality and is less prone to color casts than printing with a profile.
These Photo Printers Exist.
Right photo printers for home users are currently only available from two manufacturers: Canon and Epson. Both manufacturers have inexpensive devices in their range from around 200 euros. The most expensive printers cost more than 1000 euros.
The cheaper printers tend to work with the dye inks mentioned above, the very expensive ones with pigment inks. If you only print normal photo paper up to the size of DIN A3, you will also be satisfied with the cheaper printers. Printing from DIN A2, printing on strong writing and printing from a paper roll is only available from expensive printers. All current photo printers have WiFi. Alternatively, they can be connected to the computer via USB.
That’s Why Expensive Printers Can Be Cheaper.
It doesn’t matter whether you choose Epson or Canon: Both manufacturers understand their business. Not only does that mean you get high-quality prints, but it does too that you will be spending a lot of money on ink. As a rule of thumb, the cheaper the printer, the more expensive the ink.
In inexpensive printers, individual cartridges contain between around seven and twelve millilitres of ink, while large, expensive printers contain up to about 80 millilitres of ink in one cartridge. Since the price of the cartridges does not increase proportionally to the volume, you can print more cheaply with the expensive printers in the long term. This shows the conversion to a fictitious price per litre: The contents of the small cartridges for the cheaper photo printers sometimes cost more than 2000 euros per litre, the ink for expensive devices costs around 700 euros per litre.
If you got a shock now: With one litre, you can make a few hundred very large printouts (DIN A2) on average; with smaller formats, the achievable number of printouts is correspondingly multiplied. There are no standardized procedures for determining the range and costs of individual printouts. But you can assume that you will have to invest between around three euros (cheaper printer) and about 1.20 euros (more expensive printer) in ink to print a sheet of DIN A3 (with a margin). Then there is the cost of the paper.
Don’t Accept Ink From Strangers.
While cheap third-party ink from third-party manufacturers often works well for office printers and for printing colorful diagrams, you should only try something like this with photo printers if you have a lot of experience and can measure the printouts yourself using a colorimeter. The reason: such inks have a different color image than the original ink from the printer manufacturer. The photos can have a color cast if profiles that are not adapted to the ink are used. But you have to create these yourself (for each paper!) diligently. As a rule, this effort is not worthwhile for home users.
What “Mega” And “Eco” Printers Bring
Both photo printer manufacturers have recognized the annoyance of customers about expensive inks and now offer printers that have larger tanks for refilling from relatively cheap ink bottles. “MegaTank” is the name of the printer series from Canon, “EcoTank” from Epson.
Initially, the system was only available for office printers, but both manufacturers now also offer photo printers with large ink tanks suitable for photo printing. Canon, however, has so far only had MegaTank photo printers up to DIN A4 in its range; Epson also has up to A3.
The prints with up to six inks are good and sufficient for average demands. However, the quality of the Eco or MegaTank devices cannot match the very good quality of the photo printers mentioned above with eight, ten or even twelve inks.