Inkjet Printers: An Introduction

Online photo processors and drugstore kiosks are fine choices for printing your personal photos, but if you want to take photo printing matters into your own hands, there's no beating owning your own inkjet printer.

Still, it takes some know-how to differentiate one inkjet model from another. We've got some tips on what to look for should you plan on purchasing a photo printer this holiday season. We've also selected three inkjets that you may find appealing.

Inkjet printer buying advice

Ink is expensive Once you buy a photo printer, that's not the last dime you'll ever spend on it. In some cases, replacing the printer's inks just once can cost more than the printer itself. Quality photo paper isn't cheap either, and it's difficult to know just how much you're going to spend per print on most of these units. So set your budget accordingly.

Most portable photo printers make these ongoing costs a little easier to measure by bundling paper and ink together in to 100-print kits.

Size matters Inkjet printers come in all shapes and sizes. The right one for you depends on how--and where--you want to use it.

Sizes range from large format models that can print poster-sized pics of your grandmother's 80th birthday party to small, portable models capable of printing glossy 4-by-6-inch photos while you're still at the party. Standard desktop inkjets can print directions to the party, as well as 8-by-10-inch photos when you get back home.

The more the merrier? Inkjets use different combinations of inks. General-purpose inkjets use anywhere from three colors (Cyan, Magenta and Yellow) to four (adding black). Three-color inkjets tend to be less expensive and you only have to replace the one cartridge; the tradeoff is that those three colors must be used to make the color black, and in some three-color inkjets, these "composite" blacks and grays can exhibit a blue or greenish hue.

Inkjets that specialize in just printing photos can use twice the number of inks described above as well as gloss optimizers to increase the quality of printed photographs. But there's a high price per print for these photo-specific inkjets, so using them to print out something more mundane like airline boarding passes or Web articles can be a costly proposition.

Our favorite inkjet printers

The PictureMate Zoom PM 290 from Epson is a portable photo printer. Limited in size to 4-by-6 and smaller prints, the PictureMate gives you lab-quality, smudge, water and fade resistant photos in about a minute for as little as 25 cents a print. You can also save your photos to CD via the built in burner. Read our full review. [US$230 (Get best current price for the PictureMate Zoom PM 290), Epson]

hp, hewlett-packard, deskjet, d2545, printer
The HP Deskjet D2545 is an inexpensive, good all-around inkjet printer with a streamlined feature set and an environmentally friendly design. HP uses mostly recycled and recyclable plastic in the printer's construction. Read our full review. [$45 (Get best current price on the Deskjet D2545); HP]

epson, stylus, injet, r1900
The Stylus Photo R1900 is a photo-specific, wide-format inkjet printer from Epson. It uses seven inks in individual cartridges, plus an eighth cartridge containing a gloss optimizer to print large and lovely, pigment-based photos--as large as 13-by-19 inches. The prints will last anywhere from 85 to 200 years. Not recommended for printing out black-and-white documents, this speedy printer is for advanced amateur photographers looking to take control of their large-sized prints. Read our full review. [$549 (Get best current price on the Stylus Photo R1900); Epson]

[James Galbraith is Macworld Lab director.]

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