• Apr

    For Photographers: How to Buy A Printer


    If you’re planning on buying a high resolution printer, whether for home or office use, you need to think about is what you want to do with it. If you print large quantities of text documents in black and white, a laser printer would be the logical choice, but if you want to create photorealistic imagery an inkjet printer is a better option, partly due to the lower cost.

    Recommended Features

    When planning to buy a printer, reliability is one of the top concerns. Fortunately, most printers meet that requirement. Other things to look for are printer durability (especially if you print many documents), local servicing and ink components that can be removed. Being able to refill ink cartridges, even a couple of times is a big plus, due to the high cost

    Another important consideration is the type of printing you have in mind. If your main output is documents, a bottom fed printer will do the job. If you print several different types of papers, such as heavy card stock or photographic papers, a top or gravity fed printer is a better option, since bottom fed printers could bend (and possibly damage) the paper. This is especially crucial when printing business cards. Depending on the type of card stock, it could separate in a bottom fed printer, causing a paper jam.

    Ease of Use

    Look for printers with easy to follow instructions, easy installation and replacement of cartridges, paper that is easy to load, support for many types of paper (including Giclee and photographic papers), function buttons that are easy to access and smooth graduations of color (no banding).

    Pros and Cons of Office Printers vs. Photo Printers

    A couple of important differences between lasers and inkjets are the cost of printing paper and maintenance. For printing paper, lasers are more economical than an inkjet and they don’t need much maintenance. In contrast, inkjets are considerably slower and the cost is 3 x 5 times that of a laser. On the plus side, a $200.00 inkjet will easily compete with a $4,000.00 laser printer in terms of quality. Business inkjets are cheap to run & very fast these days.

    Paper Options

    I recommend the use of 24 lb. bond laser paper (especially with an Inkjet), rather than 20 lb. bond. The reason for this is that 24 lb. Bond paper is heavier, so it’s less likely for ink saturate the paper, secondly, the heavier paper will help stop the formation of ragged or blurred edges.


    To make sure that you’ve got a printer that meets your needs, test it with different sheets of paper. The bottom line is that all inks saturate the paper, partly due to the type of ink used and the quality of paper. Make sure that you buy high quality cartridges. The cheap ones might not work properly; if at all (this has been my experience).  Waterfast (pigment) inks may be important for documents but are not for photographs


    Prices for inkjets can range from as low as $50.00 to $1000.00 for a networked inkjet printer. If you’re looking for a CMYK (CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) printer with individual ink cartridges and Postscript, prices can start $300.00.

    With higher end printers, one important difference is that they’re faster than lower cost machines, but some also give you the option of using larger sheets of paper, such as 11 x 17 inches or larger.

    Printers come with drivers and often some basic image-editing software. For advanced editing, you’ll need an image editing program, which will give you more options.


    The number of pages you can print varies depending on several factors, such as the quality setting you use and the paper type. As an example, draft mode uses considerably less ink than the best setting, which goes through ink at a rapid pace. (Some of the new printers have really small cartridges, making frequent refills inevitable.) Buying a cheap machine almost always costs you more for ink in the long run – in some cases, double.

    One thorny issue involves color cartridges. If you can afford it, buy a printer with individual color cartridges. If you use a cartridge that contains several colors and one runs out before the others, you need to replacethe entire cartridge (or refill all the colors).

    Note: A good source for cartridges is ebay.


    Generally, maintenance is pretty straightforward. One simple method is regular printing; another involves cleaning the printer heads using a sheet of paper and the software that comes with the printer. If you don’t use your printer regularly, the nozzles can gum up which could create banding problems or ruin your print-head completely. Another issue concerns your ink, which should be replaced every six months since it tends to settle and gum up over time. Also, when you get new cartridges, give them a good shake before using them.


    Many printers these days use USB (Universal Serial Bus), an interface that’s less taxing on the CPU, especially if you need to print large numbers of pages at a time (4-50+).The USB connection is easy to set up. If the printer is USB 2.0 and you have USB 2.0 ports on your computer, this will give you the best results. When the spool prints you’ll still have access to your system resources, unlike a parallel interface printer, which slows down the computer and makes it almost impossible to get anything done while the printer is active.

    Parallel interface printers are less common now, but they’re still useful with Linux and older versions of Windows, assuming driver support is still available. Business environments might need an Ethernet port which will allow others to use the computer. Postscript emulation could be useful as well. Another option is to implement wireless printing. Here, you have three options: 802.11b Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and infrared or IrDA (Infrared Data Association).

    Print Quality and Resolution

    Magazine quality tends to be 300 dpi (dots per inch), but printers can give you much more than that. In theory, the greater the dot pitch the better the print, but some printers lay down colors by the dot while others spray the ink onto the paper, causing varying results.

    The best way of getting the print you want is to create a test image, then bring it and the paper you intend to use to your local computer store and test it. Look for the presence of banding, dithering, artifacting (where colors clump together and/or blurred/ragged letters. Any one or a combination of these will degrade the quality of your print. Another factor is the printing time, which will vary from printer to printer.

    Duplex Printing

    Duplex Printing is an automatic feature which allows for printing on both sides of a sheet. Duplex printing on an inkjet will cause he inks to soak through the paper but this varies depending on the paper thickness. Another factor is the amount of ink you use (24lb. is recommended here). If you want excellent results without this problem, I recommend using a laser printer.


    Invented by Adobe in 1985, Postscript is a printer standard and allows you to print high quality text and vector graphics. A great strength of Postscript is that it’s resolution independent, which means that images can be scaled with little or no quality loss. If Postscript is important to you, look for a printer with this feature built-in, but unless you’re doing professional printing (layout), it’s not necessary


    The standard warranty for a laser or inkjet printer is one year, but there are extended warranties that are available from different stores.

    Multifunction Printers

    In years past I wouldn’t have recommended these printers and it’s mostly due to the issue of one part of the machine breaking down and losing service for the other components while the machine is repaired. These days, though, the prices have come down so much that one could have a second machine as a backup in case the first machine goes down. And as for warranties, if the printer is inexpensive, a warranty extension would be inexpensive so it doesn’t hurt to get it.

    Recommended Printers

    Generally, the most popular printers are made by Hewlett Packard (HP) and Epson. There are many different choices and options. To decide what’s best for you, I recommend checking out reviews and see which printer will give you the results you’re after. As for photographic paper, I prefer Epson, but there are many others. In my experience it gives an excellent result.

    During the warranty period, I recommend that you stay away from cloned cartridges. Even afterwards, it’s been my experience that the quality of these cartridges can be unreliable, especially if the service bureau refills the cartridges directly. I recommend using genuine cartridges and having them refilled by a service center that thoroughly cleans the cartridges before refilling. This will reduce clogging issues.


2 responses to “For Photographers: How to Buy A Printer” RSS icon

  • Great article, Nathan. Too many people buy inkjet thinking they’re the best buy and then, since they don’t use them enough, the ink dries out. I run Linux and have used Brother laser printers for several years and they work great.

    A tip for Brother laser printer users (and maybe other brands): When the printer says the toner is low, it actually has quite a bit of toner left in the cartridge. Placing a small piece of electrical or duct tape over the sensor hole on the non-gear side of the cartridge will make the printer think it’s still full. When it actually does run out of toner, the printer will just top printing. I have been able to actually double the amount of sheets I can print by using this. For additional info and printers see: http://leeunderwood.org/r/0i (I have checked this “trick” with a friend who repairs copiers and printers and it doesn’t harm the printer.)

  • Excellent tip, Lee. Thanks for sharing.

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