Photography / Hands-on Review

The Printer Makes the Wedding


While digital photography and the multiple screens at our disposal have pushed printing to the realm of afterthought, weddings continue the tradition of documenting pictures on paper. That’s because a marriage and the memories incurred from the big event are supposed to span decades. Yet, as digital formats and photo-sharing sites come and go and machines capable of reading files disappear, paper in its ancient way rises above technical obsolescence. One thing you can say about a cared-for photograph or cherished wedding album is

that each belongs to a medium that will always work—no Internet connection necessary, no access code required, no power needed.

As a professional photographer running a business, you may want to keep more of the print output work in-house rather than relying exclusively on service bureaus. Smaller format printing from one or more printers you bring along can be done at the reception itself, wirelessly from your cameras or from the smartphones of wedding guests. You are the photographer of record, hired for the occasion, the person who needs to occupy the best vantage point for every scripted moment of the wedding and reception. Still, many of the guests will be carrying camera phones or point-and-shoot models of their own, so what better way than to get them on your side then by empowering them with takeaway prints? Event printing is an emerging category that can help promote your business. Good will is sure to be generated by enabling instant printing. Back at the studio, of course, you’ll be able to edit your own photos and create oversize prints using larger-format equipment.

In terms of the higher quality, larger-format output, options include printing museum-like photographs onto a variety of traditional, fine art, and canvas media that are well within the financial and technical means of any digital photographer. For wedding photographers who prefer to keep as much of the shooting fee in their own kitty as possible, rather than forking over a piece to the local lab, printing equipment can pay for itself. To paraphrase a representative of one of the leading inkjet manufacturers, “Some people say our printers print gorgeous photograph. I like to say in the right hands, they print money.

Event Printing

Before we cover the larger, wide-format printers that create the type of prints meant for framing, an update on the new generation of wireless printers compatible with mobile apps is in order. Guests will love having the ability to use an iPhone or other camera-endowed smartphone to take a picture, transmit the bits to the printer and hand the resulting snapshot to a relative. If they’re using a point-and-shoot camera and the printer has an SD card slot, they’ll be able to move the card from camera to printer and choose what to output from the printer’s LCD screen. Maybe you’ll have an assistant to man the printer and assist guests. In any case, the reception’s hosts—your clients—will be delighted that you’re involving their friends and relatives. Suddenly, you’re not just a photographer; you’re also an enabler, the party maker!

Thermal printers that use dye-sublimation paper may be the most appropriate type to bring to the reception. They’re adept at outputting small photo-quality prints. Since they’re not encumbered by other functions like scanning and copying or printing letter-size business documents, they’re extremely compact. One of the most convenient is the Photo Cube Compact Photo Printer from VuPoint Solutions. Guests can dock their iPhones directly to the top of the printer, choose the image and be delighted when a 4 x 6-inch print pops out 55 seconds later. Images print at 300 dots per inch using a CMYK ink palette capable of 256 graduations and 16.7 million colors. The Cube weighs only 3.1 pounds. Keep in mind that the dock connector also charges the iPhone, so if a number of guests are in line to print, someone may shout, “Hey, don’t bogart that Cube!” The free Photo Cube app downloadable from the iTunes App Store works with any camera-endowed iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. (Because of its larger size, an iPad is connected through the Cube’s USB port.) The USB connector also accommodates an Android Samsung Galaxy S. The latter requires a free download of the Photo Cube app from Google Play.

The Canon SELPHY CP8000 Compact Photo Printer outputs a 4 x 6-inch print in about 47 seconds. It features a 2.5-inch tilt-up LCD display for choosing the image once you insert one of 22 popular memory cards. The printer is also compatible with PictBridge and USB flash drive devices and is optionally Bluetooth-compatible. The printer weighs only 2 pounds.

For smaller photos created by printers that weigh under a pound and can operate on rechargeable batteries, consider these two models:  the Polaroid CZA-10011 POGO Instant Mobile Printer and the Polaroid Grey Label GL10 Instant Mobile Printer. The POGO can receive a photo file wirelessly from a Bluetooth compatible camera phone and print a borderless 2 x 3-inch color photo in 60 seconds. The GL10 prints a 3 x 4-inch photo in 45 seconds wirelessly from a Blackberry, Android- or Windows-compatible phone using a Polaroid app.

You will have to plug the 5.5-pound Hi-Touch S420 Passport Photo Printer into a power outlet, but this dye diffusion thermal transfer printer creates 4 x 6-inch glossies at 403 dpi in 70 seconds. The printer accepts a CF or SD card and a USB device. A different model, the HiTi P110S PocketStudio Photo Printer Kit, comes with a battery pack and carrying bag for the 4.85 pound (without battery) printer. The PocketStudio can turn out a 4 x 6-inch print at 300 dpi in 63 seconds.

The Epson PictureMate Charm Compact Photo Printer is a 7.9- pound portable with optional battery that frees you up from a PC. Capable of turning out a 4 x 6-inch photo at a maximum resolution of 5760 x 1440 dpi in 37 seconds, the PictureMate Charm is compatible with a variety of memory cards and USB devices. The more capable PM300 PictureMate Show Compact Printer sports a 7-inch LCD for sharing a slideshow on the ample display even before printing—and the printer contains 270 Megabytes of internal memory so files can be transferred from inserted memory cards, no waiting. Like its sibling, the PictureMate Show can turn out a 4 x 6-inch photo in 37 seconds. A remote control is included.

Three dedicated inkjet printers, each weighing about 12 pounds, are worth special attention. Unlike the printers above, you can use plain paper and print at letter sizes. The Canon iP3600 PIXMA Inkjet Photo Printer offers a resolution of 9600 x 2400 dpi and can churn out color prints at up to 17 ppm. The Canon PIXMA iP4920 Photo Inkjet Printer can print a 4 x 6-inch photo in 20 seconds with a maximum color resolution of 9600 x 2400 dpi. The Epson Artisan 50 Inkjet Printer outputs at resolutions up to 5760 x 1440 dpi. The Artisan 50 is equipped with six individual ink cartridges (black, cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta and yellow).

Of course, there are practical considerations such as transporting a printer or two. Between these two wireless color inkjets from Brother, for example, the MFC-J625dw weighs 19.8 pounds; the MFC-J6710DW twice that at 40.1 lbs. The former is adept at outputting 4 x 6-inch photos; the latter at printing pages up to 11 x 17 inches in size. Clearly, the model to be let out from your studio is the J625. Still, both are compatible with Brother’s iPrint&Scan Mobile Printing App freely downloadable into Android devices from Google Play or iOS devices from the iTunes App Store. The app should be set for each printer’s 4 x 6-inch paper size setting. Both printers accept SD memory cards in a variety of sizes and capacities, too. Likewise, HP’s 12.4-pound Photosmart 6510 e-All-in-One Printer, 16-pound ENVY 110 e-All-In-One and 18.5-pound Photosmart 7510 e-All-in-One Printer enable iPad/iPhone/iPod touch printing.

The 18.3-pound Canon PIXMA MG5320 Photo All-In-One Inkjet Printer, 19.3-pound PIXMA MX420 Wireless Inkjet Office All-In-One Printer and 20.1-pound PIXMA MG6220 Wireless Inkjet Photo All-In-One Printer allow you to print wirelessly from an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch or an Android device. The printers also accommodate a memory card or USB device.

Epson makes a variety of wireless printers, including the WorkForce 845 All-In-One Printer, which prints from mobile devices. At 22 pounds, it’s less likely to weigh you down than the heavier-duty WorkForce Pro WP-4530 All-In-One Printer at 30.4 pounds. In between, at 24.9 pounds, is the Epson Artisan 837 All-In-One Printer that also lets you print wirelessly from an iPad or smartphone. A cool feature of the 837 is that you can print directly onto a CD or DVD. So, assuming you’ll also be supplying the wedding couple and guests with photos and/or videos on optical discs, you can imprint a signature image directly on each disc. See the bride and groom spin.

Jumbo printers with the capability to output page widths of 24, 44 or 60 inches and even larger sizes can produce extraordinary photographic prints, but none of them are what you’d call desktop printers, even if your desk was cleared of all else. Jumbo printers are the type better left to service bureaus. B&H sells them, but they’re not covered in this article. For professional photographers looking to make an impression with an affordable and reasonably-sized printer there are plenty of 17-inch models that fit quite readily onto desktops and are adept at outputting beautiful 16- x 20-inch prints quickly and easily.

Epson’s Wide Inkjets

Epson offers two series of 17-inch-wide Stylus Pro series inkjet printers: three models of the lighter-duty Epson Stylus Pro 3880 series inkjet printers and two versions of the heavier workload Epson Stylus Pro 4900 series inkjet printers. Both series utilize variations of Epson’s long respected pigment-based UltraChrome ink sets, which when used with compatible Epson inkjet media can produce museum-quality prints that display accurately rendered color, smooth tonal and highlight/shadow transitions, and rich blacks on matte or glossy surfaces. And because three of the color channels of both series are monotone (Photo or Matte Black, Light Black and Light Light Black), each of Epson’s 17-inch desktop printers are also capable of producing exceptionally rich black-and-white photos. That’s quite a feat for an inkjet printer.

Epson’s Stylus Pro 4900 series inkjet printers are available in two models: the standard Epson Stylus Pro 4900 and the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 Designer Edition. The Designer Edition has all of the features and functionality of the standard Stylus Pro 4900, but it also contains EFI eXpress RIP software for use with graphic-design applications such as Adobe InDesign and similar publishing software applications. If you regularly output text and images from a graphic arts application, this is the printer to use. If not, go with the standard model and spend the money you just saved on backup ink and print media.

The heart and soul of an inkjet printer can be found in its inks and print head, which in the case of Epson’s Stylus Pro 4900 series inkjet printers are Epson UltraChrome HDR inks, and a precision 10-channel Epson MicroPiezo TFP print head. Epson’s 10-channel UltraChrome HDR inks consist of 10 individual pigment-based colors (Photo/Matte Black, Light Black, Light Light Black, Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan, Vivid Light Magenta, Orange and Green). To Epson’s credit, the Stylus Pro 4900 utilizes the same size replacement cartridges as Epson’s wider format roll-paper printers (200ml per cartridge), which is in keeping with the volume of work the 4900 is designed to handle. The cost-per-milliliter of larger cartridges translates into lower per-print costs.

When printing on glossy, semi-gloss and satin print surfaces, the Epson Stylus Pro 4900 automatically defaults to Photo Black, and back to Matte Black when printing onto matte surfaces. This cartridge swap occurs automatically when you select your choice of print media in the Epson print menus. Unlike many of the earlier printers containing swappable photo black/matte black ink cartridges, the process wastes little ink. Also, it doesn’t require babysitting during the swap process as with some of the older dual-blacks inkjet printers. Depending on your choice of Epson print media and how the prints are displayed or stored, Epson’s UltraChrome HDR inks are rated fade-resistant for up to 200 years for color prints and longer for monochrome prints.

In addition to extremely accurate color, contrast and tonal rendition, the advantages of Epson’s UltraChrome HDR inks include improved microcrystal encapsulation technologies that greatly diminish, if not eliminate, gloss differential issues. The inks afford extremely quick dry-down and color stabilization for time-sensitive proofing. The printer is optimized for use with Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper.

The print head on both versions of Epson’s Stylus Pro 4900 series inkjet printers is a one-inch High-Precision 10-Channel Epson MicroPiezo TFP print head that sports 360 nozzles per channel (for a total of 3600 nozzles), each of which can lay down variably sized ink droplets as small as 3.5 picoliters. Maximum resolution for the Stylus Pro 4900 is 2880 x 1440, which is fine enough to stand up to the tightest scrutiny.

To control the shape and placement of the individual ink droplets, the MicroPiezo TFP print head features low-vibration meniscus control, and to prevent clogged nozzles, key portions of the head have an ink-repelling coating applied to them. Auto-sharing between the two black channels (Photo and Matte Black) is performed automatically when you choose your choice of print media, and with little measurable loss of ink in the process. There’s also an automatic print head alignment process that runs in the background as you work to better ensure exacting ink placement uni- and bi-directionally.

Epson’s Stylus Pro 4900 series inkjet printers are also fast. In Fine (720 dots per inch / Hi-Speed) mode the Stylus Pro 4900 can produce an 8 x 10-inch print in as little as 59 seconds. In SuperPhoto (2880 dpi Hi-Speed) mode, it can turn out the picture in as little as 2 minutes and 26 seconds. For outputting a 16 x 20-inch print the times are 2:46 and 6:48, respectively. Using your choice of cut sheet or roll paper, Epson’s Stylus Pro 4900 series inkjet printers contain ICC profiles for the full range of Epson Premium glossy, semi-gloss, matte, fine art, and canvas media, including posterboard up to 1.5mm thick, and can output prints in a variety of cut sheet sizes ranging from 4 x 6 inches through 17 x 22 inches, as well as 6-, 13- and 17-inch roll media.

If your print demands are a lesser part of your daily workflow you can also consider Epson’s lighter-duty Stylus Pro 3880 series printers, which like their heavier-duty brethren can also output prints up to 17 inches wide, albeit in cut sheet only (no roll paper) and with Epson’s 8-color UltraChrome K3 ink set, an equally permanent pigment-based ink that has a slightly narrower dynamic range compared to the UltraChrome HDR inks found in the Stylus Pro 4900, and a one-inch MicroPiezo AMC print head.

Epson’s 8-color UltraChrome K3 ink set consists of Photo/Matte Black, Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan, Vivid Light Magenta, Light Black, and Light Light Black. As with the Stylus Pro 4900, the Photo and Matte Black ink cartridges are automatically swapped out when you choose your choice of print media quickly and with little waste of ink in the process. In terms of color and tonal characteristics, Replacement ink cartridges for the Stylus Pro 3880 contain 80ml per cartridge.

In SuperFine mode (1440 dpi Hi-Speed) the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 can output an 8 x 10-inch print in as little as 2:03 minutes;  in SuperPhoto (2880 dpi w/o Hi-Speed) mode, 7:47;  in SuperPhoto (2880 dpi with Hi-Speed) mode, 3:50. Increase the size to 16 x 20-inch prints, and the waiting times comes out to 5:32, 18:40, and 9:46 respectively.

As with the Stylus Pro 4900, Epson’s Stylus Pro 3880 series printers are available in a choice of models; the standard Epson Stylus Pro 3880 and the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Designer Edition. Like its Stylus Pro 4900 counterpart, the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Designer Edition contains an EFI eXpress software RIP for use with graphic design applications. The Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Signature Worthy Edition is essentially a standard Stylus Pro 3880 that’s bundled with a selection of Epson’s premium Signature Worthy fine art and fiber-based print media including Exhibition Fiber Paper (8.5 x 11-inch – 25 sheet pack), Cold Press Bright (8.5 x 11-inch – 25 sheet pack), Cold Press Natural (8.5 x 11-inch  – 25 sheet pack), Hot Press Bright (8.5 x 11-inch – 25 sheet pack), Hot Press Natural (8.5 x 11-inch – 25 sheet pack), and a Signature Worthy Sample Pack.

Epson’s Stylus Pro 4900 series inkjet printers and Stylus Pro 3880 series printers both feature a high-speed USB 2.0 port and 10/100 BaseT Ethernet jack; they come with a one-year limited warranty that includes toll-free phone support and a next business day exchange program for printers beyond the scope of phone support.

Canon’s Wide Inkjets

In addition to Epson, Canon also produces a 17-inch desktop inkjet printer, the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5100. The  imagePROGRAF iPF5100 utilizes Canon’s 12-color LUCIA ink set (Cyan, Photo Cyan, Magenta, Photo Magenta, Yellow, Black, Matte Black, Red, Green, Blue, Gray, Photo Gray), which like Epson’s UltraChrome ink sets is an archival pigment-based ink set designed to produce exacting image quality that under the proper display and storage conditions, can last a century or two.

As with Epson’s UltraChrome ink sets, Canon’s LUCIA ink set features three monochrome channels (Black, Matte Black, Gray and Photo Gray) that enable the iPF5100 to produce richly toned black-and-white prints, as well as smoother tonal transitions in color prints. When switching from matte print surfaces to glossier print surfaces, the imagePROGRAF iPF5100 swaps from Matte Black to Photo Black (and vice versa) with the push of a button. According to Canon, the LUCIA ink set is relatively scratch resistant and does an admirable job combating bronzing issues.

Canon’s imagePROGRAF iPF5100 accepts rolls and cut-sheet media, and Canon’s catalog currently lists about 35 premium traditional print surfaces, fine art surfaces and canvas to match a variety of output needs. Media as thick as 1.5mm can be hand-fed through the iPF5100’s front paper feed, and there’s a built-in self-calibration system that can align all 12 channels for optimal image quality in about 10 minutes. For standard (thinner) media surfaces there’s also a 250-sheet cassette for batch printing.

The FINE (Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering) print head used on the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5100 contains more than 30,000 spray nozzles that can place ink droplets as small as 4-picoliters onto the media surface for the finest detail. It’s also designed for easy user replacement, which reduces repair costs and down time when problems do arise. Software plug-ins and export modules are also available for printing from 16-bit image files via Canon Digital Photo Professional software. Also available are a number of third-party RIP software applications that enable you to print images that have been imported into Adobe InDesign and similar graphic design applications. Dry-down time is as little as 10 minutes when hard-proofing prints for color and tone accuracy.

Business Printing

Though inkjet technology like that used in the Epson and Canon printers above dominates color photo printing, laser printing is great at gray scale but less vibrant than inkjet for color. Laser printers excel at speed and can lower your ink replacement costs. As such, you may not want to use a color laser for final photo output, but it’s great at churning out contact sheets and proofs meant for marking up. And a multi-function (scanner/copier) color laser could be used to make quick and dirty duplicates of an inkjet original. If there’s a lot of back and forth between photographer and client over image selection for the album or framed portraits, a color laser could prove indispensable. And, of course, a multi-function laser printer is vital for running an office, since it can also be used for all types of documents including printing leaflets, scanning expense receipts or faxing bills to clients. In fact, for non-photographic purposes, you might even be able to get by with a 256 grayscale multifunction printer like the Xerox Phaser 3635MFP/S. For a lower-duty cycle black-and-white printer, consider the HP LaserJet Pro M1536dnf Multifunction Monochrome Laser Printer or Canon imageCLASS MF4450 Black And White Multifunction Laser Printer. Brother’s monochrome laser printers offer great value: the MFC-7860DW All-In-One B/W Laser Printer with Wireless Networking & Duplex and the MFC-8480DN Multi-Function Monochrome Laser Printer with Networking & Duplex. The former features wireless printing and compatibility with the free Brother iPrint&Scan app for wireless printing JPEG images from and scanning to your Android or iOS device. (Shades-of-gray photos are especially poignant if the bride and groom have themed the reception as a black-and-white ball.) The MFC-8480DN isn’t wireless and therefore not compatible with mobile apps. But it does afford expandable paper capacity.

While color isn’t vital for documents, it is primary to most photographs. Multi-function color laser printers include the HP LaserJet Pro CM1415fnw Color Multifunction Laser Printer and HP TopShot LaserJet Pro M275, both with wireless connectivity. There’s also the Canon ImageCLASS MF8080Cw Color Laser Multifunction Printer with 12 ppm black-and-white printing and 8 ppm color printing. Konica Minolta offers an entry level multi-function color laser, the Magicolor 1690MF Multi-Function Laser Printer and the higher-duty cycle Magicolor 4690MF Multifunction Printer. The former prints 12 pages per minute in black and white and 8 ppm in color; the latter up to 25 ppm for either. Also, the 1690MF claims a printer duty cycle of 35,000 prints per month while the 4690MF touts 120,000. In terms of similar price points, the Canon imageCLASS MF8080Cw Color Laser Multifunction Printer (with the ability to print black and white at 12 ppm and color at 8 ppm and a monthly duty cycle of 30,000 prints) is an alternative to the 4690MF, while the Ricoh Aficio SP C242SF Desktop Color Laser MFP (with its ability to print black and white or color at 21 ppm) is an alternative to the 4690MF.

Brother offers a couple of color laser all-in-one heavyweights. The MFC-9560CDW at 58.4 pounds pumps out 25 pages per minute in black and white or color. You can scan or print at sizes up to 8.5 x 16 inches. The printer is Ethernet and Wi-Fi compatible. Another wireless network model, the Brother MFC-9325cw Digital Color Multifunction Printer, outputs at a somewhat slower 19 ppm and is less expensive and not as heavy. Brother describes the technology used in the latter as electro-photographic LED. Instead of using a single high-beam laser, an array of LEDs forms the image. Still, the technology is closer to laser printing (both use drum cartridges) than to nozzle-spraying inkjet printing. Both Brother printers enable you to print from or scan to a USB thumb drive.

Meanwhile, all-in-one color inkjets abound including the HP Officejet Pro 8600 Premium e-All-In-One. The 27.8-pound printer contains a legal paper-size (8.5 x 14-inch) scanning glass and the ability to scan and fax to a network folder. It has a 4.3-inch touch screen control panel, too.

The Bottom Line

Summing up, wedding pictures that customers hold in their hands, frame under glass and insert in albums are perhaps the last bastion of hard copy photography in an era of screen- and cloud-based digital imagery. To capitalize on the allure of tangible photographs at weddings, add one or more small-format printers to the equipment roster you bring to the reception. A dedicated photo printer that uses dye-sub paper is your best bet in terms of portability. While it’s clearly not cool to charge guests for the privilege of printing their images, you can certainly suggest event printing as an optional service negotiated with clients. It’s also the edge you may need in competing with other wedding photographers who don’t offer event printing. Then, to keep more of your fee in-house rather than subcontracting work to an outside printer, invest in a larger format printer or printers. You’ll also have more control over the quality and scheduling of print jobs without competing with a service bureau’s other customers.

A desktop inkjet capable of handling 17-inch wide paper is a format large enough to match the outsize memories of the bride and groom and their families. If they want still larger prints, you can always take those jobs to an outside service. Finally, you’ll want a multi-function business printer that can handle a variety of tasks including scanning, copying, printing and faxing. A laser printer typically beats out an inkjet printer in terms of pages per minute and consumable costs per page. If you want to emphasize the printer’s multiple purposes, consider a color laser. That way, besides printing your business documents, you’ll be able to print and duplicate color photographs quickly and cheaply in the lead-up to final printing from a more photo-capable inkjet.

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