How to Shop for a Photo Printer

Page 5 of 10

The Ink Itself, Part 1

When you buy a printer, you'll usually get one set of ink cartridges with it. Some ink jet printers, like the $100 HP Deskjet 5150 and the $80 Lexmark P707, use two ink cartridges at once. This setup usually consists of a three-color cartridge and a black cartridge. For best results when printing photos with either printer, you must buy a special $25 photo cartridge, which you swap with the black cartridge.

The three basic colors that printers use are cyan (blue), magenta (red), and yellow--abbreviated to C,M,Y; black is shortened to K. Photo ink cartridges usually contain light cyan and light magenta, designed to reproduce a broader range of subtle hues and shadings of light and shadow. Most photo printers use six or more colors, usually in individual tanks. For example, the $200 Canon I960 uses six individual ink tanks, so no need to order an optional photo cartridge. The $200 HP Photosmart 7760 has optional gray ink, making it a good choice for photographers who are fond of printing black-and-white photos.

So, are six- or eight-ink photo printers better than four-ink models? Well, there's no hard and fast rule that says "yes" in every case. For example, the four-ink Canon I455 Desktop Photo Printer printed photos just as attractive as more expensive models that use six or eight inks.

Of course, the cost of replacing ink cartridges can add up quickly: For example, HP's inks for the HP Deskjet 5150 cost $20 for a black cartridge and $30 for the color cartridge. Replacement inks for the Canon I560 cost $14 for the black and $12 each for the three single-color tanks. For a typical page of color graphics (not glossy photos), expect to use anywhere from 8 cents' to 14 cents' worth of ink. In PC World tests, printers with individual cartridges tended to have a lower per-page ink cost than models that use a tricolor cartridge.

At a Glance
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