How to Shop for a Photo Printer

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Prices and Features

A good printer will cost you anywhere from $50 to $400, depending on features. Though you should be skeptical of budget-priced printers that seem too good to be true, some models costing $50 to $80 have performed well in PC World tests, such as the $80 Canon I455 Desktop Photo Printer and the Lexmark Z615. Spending more money up front won't necessarily get you more attractive photos or a faster printer. The specs you'll see that describe these attributes are dots per inch and pages per minute.

Any ink jet printer worth buying has a pretty high dpi ratio, which refers to how many dots of ink per inch a printer lays down on the paper. You shouldn't buy a model that can't print color at 4800 by 1200 dpi or higher, though most current models do. The same goes for black; most printers max out at 600 by 600 or 1200 by 1200 dpi. But a higher dpi doesn't ensure a sharper print. PC World has seen a 600-by-600-dpi printer generate sharper text than a 1200-by-1200-dpi model.

While you're printer shopping, you'll probably hear about ppm until you're cyan (blue) in the face. But the bottom line on pages per minute is that the specs and your real-world experience will probably vary wildly. In PC World tests, most models print at a fraction of their specified maximum speed. Expect to see manufacturers tout speeds of anywhere from 15 to 22 pages per minute (text), and 10 to 16 pages per minute (color). Once you get the printer home, however, it's more likely you'll be printing text at about 5 ppm and color graphics at around 1 ppm. In PC World tests, most ink jet printers took anywhere from 1 to 4 minutes to print a 5-by-7-inch glossy photo at best-quality settings.

To get an idea of a printer's real-world speed, check out PC World's test results in product reviews. For example, see the $100 HP Deskjet 5150 test report--the HP Deskjet 5150 is one of PC World's latest Best Buys.

At a Glance
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