How to Shop for a Photo Printer

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Necessary Accessories

When you're doing your research, remember to find out what accessories actually come with the printer. Note that almost no photo printers come with connection cords of any sort, so make sure you have a spare USB or parallel cable lying around, or be sure to pick one up when you get your printer. (Parallel cords cost about $4 to $5, and USB cords cost roughly $7 to $20.)

You also need to think about the printer's software. Along with the printer's drivers, many photo printers come with extra software in the form of fun stuff like greeting card templates, photo albums, and image-enhancement tools (for cropping pictures, removing red eye, and so on). Some manufacturers are more generous with their software bundles than others. If you're torn between two similar printers, the software extras may sway your decision.

Remember that your new printer may not come with paper--some models include just a handful of sample sheets. Printing good-quality photos requires photo paper; there's just no way around it. For basic glossy photo paper, expect to pay about $10 for 20 sheets of 8-by-10-inch stock and about $6 for 20 sheets of 4-by-6-inch paper. Generally speaking, it's a good idea to use your printer manufacturer's brand of paper, and to make sure you use a paper type that was designed for the printer. Most ink jet printer makers brand their own papers.

Two Important Standards

During your shopping spree, you'll encounter the terms EXIF (exchangeable image file format) and PIM (Print Image Matching). EXIF and PIM are two standards used by camera and printer manufacturers to help ensure that digital images look good on paper.

EXIF- and PIM-compatible cameras record information about their settings when they take pictures. Printers that support the same standards have software that can read this information--such as whether the flash was used--and apply it to the print job. If your camera is only a year or two old, it probably supports one (or both) of these standards. Having a printer that supports the same standard can take some of the guesswork out of creating beautiful photographic prints.

At a Glance
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