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Photo Printer Holiday Round-up

By Allan Weitz

Itty-Bitty Mini-Labs

Sure, you can easily upload your favorite snapshots to the local Big Box store and swing by to pick up the prints up on the way home from soccer practice. However, you can just as easily pop your memory card into a desktop mini-lab, tweak the colors, crop you-know-who out of the picture, hit the ‘Print' button, and maybe even burn the images to a CD without having to step out the door. Now if only you can hoodwink somebody else into to picking the kids up after soccer practice you have the makings of a fine and dandy day.

The Epson PictureMate Dash (PM 260) is a 4th-generation PictureMate. It produces out all-but-bulletproof 4x6" prints in about 37 seconds that according to Epson, should last well over 90 years under proper display conditions. The PictureMate Dash can also print snapshots photos from you camera or cell phone via a USB connection, or wirelessly using the optional Bluetooth adapter. You can also print directly from your PC. Images can be previewed, edited, and modified using the Dash's 3.6" LCD color display.

Canon's SELPHY ES2 is a compact ‘dye sub' printer that can print 4x6" down to credit card-sized photos from a variety of memory card formats as well as your camera, cell phone, your PC, or via Wireless IrDA. Print life is claimed to exceed 100 years under proper display conditions. A variety of editing effects including red-eye reduction, color enhancement, rotate, crop, etc, can be performed using the ES2's 3" tilt-up LCD display. The ES2's vertical design takes up little shelf space, and an optional battery pack makes it possible to print photos just about anywhere.

For fast and easy homemade prints up to 5x7" in under a minute, take a look at the Canon PIXMA mini320. Using ChromaLife 100 inks, the Canon PIXMA mini320 incorporates 1,536 nozzles to print ultra-sharp images at up to 9600 x 2400 dpi. Like the Canon SELPHI ES2, the mini320 can print directly from your PC, or via Wireless IrDA and is capable of a variety of editing effects including red-eye reduction, color enhancement, image rotation, cropping, etc.

The HP Photosmart A440 Docking Printer employs Vivera Tri-Color inks to produce smudge and water-resistant prints up to 4x12" that should last up to 60 years behind glass or stored in an album. The A440 also allows for editing and image enhancements, and will simultaneously charge the batteries of select HP PhotoSmart digital cameras while downloading images.

All-in-Ones and One-for-All

For many of us space is a precious commodity, which means if you can find a gizmo that can make copies, prints, scans, and send faxes and takes up less counter space than your microwave oven, you're buying it even if it doesn't julienne your potatoes.

Canon's Pixma MP610 is a 5-color (C, M, Y, K dyes and a pigment-based Black) bubble jet printer/scanner/copier that utilizes a 4,608-nozzle print head that squeezes out ink droplets as small as 1-picoliter for the finest of details.

The MP610 can make prints up to 8.5x11" (4x6's in about 21-seconds) directly from memory cards (CF, SmartMedia, Memory Sticks, SD/SDHC, & MMC) or from your camera via Bluetooth 1.2 (optional). You can preview, crop, eliminate red-eye, and restore faded colors to your images on the MP610's 2.5" LCD. Included are MP Navigator EX, Easy-PhotoPrint EX, and ScanSoft OmniPage SE software.

If the Canon MP610 sounds swell but you want higher-fidelity image quality check out the Canon MP970, which features a 7-color ink system (6 dye-based inks and a pigmented Black), a 3584-nozzle print head, 9600 x 2400 dpi output, a 3.5" LCD display for viewing, editing, cropping, eliminating red eyes, and restoring faded colors to your images. The Canon MP970 All-in-One handles papers sizes from 4x6 to 8.5x22".

Epson's contribution to the ‘All-in-One' party includes the Epson CX9400F , which features high-speed color faxing, one-touch copying and scanning, an auto paper feed system, a 2.5" LCD that tilts for optimum viewing, and DURABrite pigmented inks for fade-resistant, color-corrected, letter-size prints directly from your camera or memory card. If a majority of your print needs are text-related, an optional high-capacity black cartridge will keep you cranking memos till the sun goes down.

The Epson RX595 is described as an ‘Ultra Hi-Definition', photo-quality printer, copier, and scanner. Using Epson's 6-color Claria Hi-Definition inkset, prints from the RX595 are smudge, scratch, water, and fade-resistant for up to 200-years when stored or displayed properly. The RX595 allows you to print directly from your camera or memory card and no PC is required. A 2.5" LCD allows you to edit your images – i.e. remove red-eye, adjust color & contrast, crop, rotate, etc – before printing them. The RX595 can also print directly onto CDs & DVDs.

The HP Photosmart C4280 scans, copies, and prints photos and documents up to letter-size straight from your camera or memory card. Photos can be viewed, edited, and tweaked on a 1.5" color LCD. The basic 4-color HP Vivera inkset (CMYK) can be upgraded to a 6-color system (CcMmYK) for higher-octane color rendition.

Lastly, we have the HP Officejet 4315, a compact 4-color (CMYK) printer/scanner/copier/fax machine that can bang out faxes at the rate of one page every 3-seconds and has enough built-in memory to store up to 200 pages of text. Optimized scan resolution is rated up to 4800 x 1200 dpi for photos and 1200x1200 dpi for text documents.

The Best of the Desktops

Many of us use desktop printers most every day – and some of us more than one. The following are what we believe to be the best ones out there if your goal is to print high-quality photographic images.

The Canon PIXMA iP4500 employs Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering (FINE) and a 4,608-nozzle print head that produces ink droplets as small as 1 picoliter. The results are awfully nice prints up to letter-size. PictBridge-ready, you can print photos from your computer, your camera, IR-enabled cell phone, or similarly enabled mobile devices.

Also from Canon is the PIXMA Pro9000, which is designed for serious imaging up to 13x19" in size. Using Canon's 8-color ChromaPlus ink system (CcMmYKRG) in combination with Canon's Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering (FINE) and a 4,608-nozzle print head, the Pro9000 producers lush prints that should still look terrific a century from now. Other features include the Canon Easy-PhotoPrint pro Plug-in for Photoshop, and a nice selection of ChromaPlus-compatible fine-art papers designed to make you and your imagery look that much better.

One notch up from the PIXMA Pro9000 is the Canon PIXMA Pro9500, which ups the ante by incorporating Canon's 10-color (MK,PK,C,M,Y,PC,R,G,GY) Lucia pigmented ink system into the act. For black & white enthusiasts, the addition of 2 grays into the mix should make a big difference in print quality over single-black ink systems. Also included with the Canon PIXMA Pro9500 is the Spyder2 Suite Color Calibration System, which allows you to calibrate your printer, monitor, as well as create custom profiles for all of your favorite media.

Epson's desktop selections start off with the Stylus Photo R380, which packs a lot of neat tricks into a fairly compact package. Using Epson's 6-color (CMYKCcMm) Claria Hi-Definition inkset (200+ years), the R380 can print images from your PC, any PictBridge-enabled camera, memory cards (via built-in card reader), or cell phone. Using a 3.5" LCD you can edit, crop, and color-correct your photos before sending them off to the print head. Though technically a letter-size printer, the R380 can also print text and graphics onto CDs & DVDs, as well as print banners up to 8.5 x 44". Includes ArcSoft PhotoImpression software.

If you like the features of the Epson Stylus Photo R380, but prefer the option of printing tabloid-size, check out the Epson Stylus Photo 1400, which can print images from 4x6" through 13x19" as well as 13x44" banners. A copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements is included.

If high-fidelity glossy prints send you soaring, the Epson Stylus Photo R1800 is about as good as it gets, thanks to Epson's 8-color (C,M,Y,PK,MK,R,B, & Gloss Optimizer) UltraChrome Hi-Gloss pigmented inkset. The Stylus Pro R1800 can also print directly to CDs and DVDs, standard-size prints up to 13 x 19", and banners up to 13 x 44". As for connectivity you have a choice of USB 2.0 or FireWire. Epson RAW Print software is included, along with a FireWire cable, and a trio of nik Multimedia Color Efex Pro 2.0 special-effects filters.

And for all you fine-art types out there (and you know who you are) we suggest the Epson Stylus Photo R2400, which utilizes Epson's acclaimed 8-color (C,Cc,M,Mm,Y,LK,LLK,PK/MK) UltraChrome pigmented inkset and is designed to print museum-quality images on matte and fine-art print surfaces. And yes, the R2400 can also print onto glossy surfaces… it's just that the matte prints are simply amazing. Like the Stylus Photo R1800 and 1400, the Stylus Photo R2400 prints standard size prints up to 13 x 19", and banners up to 13 x44".

The HP Photosmart Pro B9180 uses HP's 8-color (MK,PK,LG,C,M,Y,Cc,Mm) Vivera pigment-based inkset, and claims print-speeds of 1.5-minutes for a 13x19" print, though we recommend using a slower, higher-definition print setting if you're planning on using any of the fine-art papers this printer is designed to handle. After all, if the prints claim a life of up top 200 years, you might as well lay the ink down liberally. Right?

Reeeeaally Big Photo Printers

Extremely Large Printers for Extremely Large Print Needs

Epson's newest generation large-format Stylus Pro inkjet printers come in four sizes starting at 17" and go all the way up to… hang on now… 64". The smallest of the wide-bodies is the Stylus Pro 4880, which can handle a maximum roll size of 17". The Stylus Pro 4880 is also the only printer in the series that can handle stacked cut-sheet paper (up to 17x22") as opposed to single-sheet feed with the larger models.

For larger printing Epson offers the 24" Stylus Pro 7880 followed by the 44" Stylus Pro 9880, both of which can accept cut-sheet media of up to 1.5mm thick. All Stylus Pros accept roll paper using either 2" or 3" media cores. The big momma of the new line up is the Stylus Pro 11880, which can handle roll up to 64" across, but more on this honey later.

The new printers share numerous technologies starting with Epson's new Vivid Magenta version of its 8-color, pigment-based UltraChrome K3 inkset, which delivers greatly improved skin tones, as well as stronger blues, purples, and blacks. Robust color aside, the new printers are also capable of producing extraordinary black-and-white images thanks to the inclusion of three monochrome inks - Light Black, Light, Light Black, and Matte or Photo Black, depending on your choice of print media. Black density levels have also been expanded to a D-Max of up to 2.55.

As with the original UltraChrome K3 inkset, there is little if any evidence of bronzing or gloss differential when viewing images regardless of your choice of Epson print media.

To deliver ink efficiently to the print surface, Epson developed an 8-channel MicroPiezo AMC print head that utilizes 180 nozzles-per-channel and AccuPhoto HD Screening to lay down the smoothest tonal transitions your likely to see on an inkjet print. New algorithms enable precise dot placement and greatly reduced 'graininess' as compared to the previous generation of UltraChrome ink, which was mighty impressive in its own right. Viewed under high magnification, the quasi 'half-tone' look common to most all inkjet printers is replaced by a more fluid, natural blending of colors.

To further ensure smooth workflow ink-repelling coating is used on the new heads to reduce the likelihood of botched prints due to clogged nozzles, which is a feature you'll truly appreciate if you plan on printing on pricier fine-art papers. Maximum resolution can be set as high as 2880 x 1440, and ink droplets can be applied in variable sizes as small as 3.5 picoliters. You can also program the new printers to run automatic head alignment and nozzle checks on the fly to further reduce the chance of print-related glitches along the way.

The Stylus Pro 4880 accepts both 110ml and 220ml ink cartridges. Ink cartridges for the 7880 and 9880 - which are also available in either 110ml or 220ml sizes - are pressurized to ensure a steady, even spray of ink regardless of the level of ink remaining in the cartridge.

As for connectivity, you have a choice of USB 2.0 or 10/100 BaseT Ethernet, which was an extra-cost option on previous Stylus Pros. For those running Mac OS 10.5, a new 16-bit driver is also included with all the new Stylus Pros.

Now for those who can never seem to get enough of a good thing, the Epson Stylus Pro 11880 is - at 64" wide - the first Epson wide-body to break the 44" mark. Width aside, the Stylus Pro 11880 sports a host of other features designed to make this big boy a serious tool for graphic artists, commercial photographers, fine artists, and others who enjoy spooling up images files by the square foot.

While the SP11880 uses the same UltraChrome K3 Vivid Magenta inkset as its smaller brethren, the print head in the SP11880 is a new nine-channel MicroPiezo TFP design that contains both primary blacks (Matte and Photo) and automatically swaps them out based on your choice of media. According to Epson, ink loss during the swap can be measured with a spoon.

To keep up with the demands of wall-sized printmaking, each of the 9 cartridges packs 500cc's of ink, which can be replaced on-the-fly for uninterrupted printing. And as with its siblings, the Stylus Pro 11880 can be programmed for automatic nozzle checking, head cleaning, and head alignment. Connectivity is accomplished via a choice of USB 2.0 or a 1-GB Ethernet ports.

Other features unique to the Stylus Pro 11880 include an automatic roll media take-up reel, an automatic media bar-code tracking and identification system, and double the number of nozzles-per head (360 vs. 180). All four Stylus Pro printers are available with or without a ColorBurst RIP for graphic design applications.

Canon's imagePROGRAF-series printers are also worth checking out if you're looking to churn out prints by the cubic yard. For prints up to 17x22" you should take a look at the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5100, which incorporates Canon's 12-color Lucia inkset(C, PC, M, PM, Y, K, MK, Gray, R, G, B, & Photo Gray) for long-lasting color and B&W prints. The iPF5100 also features auto calibration to ensure all print heads are firing and properly aligned, Digital Photo Front-Access software to import images – RAW or JPEG – directly from your camera or memory card for auto image retouching and export to PosterArtist or Photoshop.

For prints up to 44" wide - cut sheet or roll - take a look at Canon's imagePROGRAF IPF8000S, which utilizes Canon's 8-color Lucia inkset to knock out amazing color or black & white prints 40% faster than any other imagePROGRAF-series printer. To help deliver image data to the print drivers efficiently the IPF8000S packs an 80GB hard drive, includes both a USB 2.0 and Ethernet connectors, and like all Canon imagePROGRAF printers can print 16-bit image files when processed through the included Print Plug-in for Adobe Photoshop & Digital Photo Professional. And if your print needs go beyond 44" (Bully for you!), Canon's imagePROGRAF IPF9000S can handle print, posters, and murals up to 60" wide.

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