(98) Buying a Photo Printer (Updated 12/12/04)

by Robert A. Burns

I am often asked to recommend a printer for digital photographs.

I never recommend a specific model, but I have the following suggestions.

Canon, Hewlett Packard, and Epson all make fine printers. You can’t go wrong with any of these companies.

Buy a printer that is specifically designed to print photographs, and use it only to print photographs. Use a second printer for everything else (an inexpensive laser or ink jet can function as your work-horse printer for letters, term papers, web pages, etc.). And yes, you can have more than one printer hooked up to your computer.

Buy a printer with at least four separate ink cartridges (cyan, yellow, magenta, and black are standard; newer printers may use different colors). Upscale printers may add light black, light cyan, and light magenta for better color reproduction. If a printer uses a single cartridge for all colors, then the entire cartridge will have to be replaced when one color runs out. This will be expensive in the long run.

Use only the printer manufacturer’s inks and papers to get the best results and the longest life for your print. Avoid “photo quality paper” from Office Depot, Office Max, Staples, or even Kodak. There is no such thing as "photo paper optimized for all printers.” (Note: as you become more advanced in fine-art printing, you might want to explore specialty papers from other manufacturers. But unless you understand the use of various printer drivers, stick with the above advice for now).

Finally, preserve your prints in protective sleeves or under glass. Protect them from dirt, moisture, direct sunlight and finger prints. If properly handled, your digital prints should last longer than photographs from a conventional photo lab.