Bob Atkins Photography

Choosing a Digital Printer

Which one is right for you?


In the last century (before 2000), if you wanted a good photo quality printer you basically looked at whatever Epson had most recently released. However in the last 3 or 4 years, high quality photo printers have become more common and while Epson still ranks up there with the best, they have been joined by Canon and HP. So now you have three companies to choose from! All make consumer level printers which can produce prints which are virtually indistinguishable from conventional color photographs - and sometimes which look even better then conventional color photographs.

Digital photo printers come in two basic flavors:

  • 4 color printers (black, cyan, magenta and yellow inks)
  • 6 color printers (black, cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan and light magenta)
In fact HP have "upped the ante" on this by offering an 8 color printer
  • 8 color printers (black, medium gray, light gray, cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan and light magenta)
The 6 (and 8) color printers produce better color images than the 4 color printers, and the 8 color printers (with gray inks) can do a much better job at printing B&W images - though with some work, 6 color printers can give excellent B&W images. The problem with the 6 color printers is that shades of gray must be produced by mixing the 6 color inks, so there is often a residual color tint. This isn't always bad - in fact many people want sepia tinted prints for example - but it can be bad if you don't want it!

Printing costs

If you're buying a printer to save money on commercial printing, you're going to be disappointed I'm afraid. Home printing isn't cheaper than commercial printing when it comes to digital images. If you add up the cost of the ink and paper you'll probably find that you could get cheaper prints from a lab, especially for smaller sizes. There should be some links on the left from labs offering such services (e.g. Ofoto, which is a Kodak company). Of course printing at home does have some advantages. First it's a lot more convenient. Second it's a lot faster. Third you have full control over print quality, paper type and print size. But if you want 100 4x6 prints of your church group, it will be a lot cheaper to send them out for printing than to print them at home.

It's not easy to make an exact predication of what a print will cost since it depends how much ink it uses, the price of the ink, what paper you choose and how much it costs. These vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and printer to printer. However you're probably looking at something around 50 cents for a 4x6 print and couple of dollars for an 8x10 (or 8.5x11).

What's the difference

So what's the difference between the various models retailing under about $500? Here are a few of the things which differ:
  • Printing width. Typically either 8.5" or 13". Obviously if you want large prints, you need a wide printer.
  • Number of ink colors (4, 6, 8)
  • Ability to print really neutral B&W images right out of the box (requires gray inks)
  • Individual ink tanks or multiple inks in each cartridge. With multiple inks, you have to replace the cartridge even if only one of them runs out
  • Borderless printing option
  • Printing directly from a link to a camera
  • Printing directly from a memory card
  • Stability of inks - how long will prints last
  • Printing speed. Time for an 8x10 print can vary from 90s to over 6 minutes
  • Price

Epson Printers

The Epson Stylus Photo R300 is the basic full featured 8.5" carriage printer
  • 6-color Photo Inks and up to 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi
  • Prints directly on ink jet printable CDs/DVDs
  • PC-Free printing with built-in memory card slots
  • Fast print speeds
  • BorderFree™ printing in all your favorite sizes
  • Cost-saving individual ink cartridges
  • Optional Bluetooth wireless printing
The Epson Stylus Photo 960 (8.5") will print on many surfaces, from poster board to printable CDs!
  • 6-color Photo Ink system with individual ink cartridges
  • World's first 2-picoliter ink droplets for phenomenal precision and detail
  • Three paper paths for a wide range of media, including sheet paper, roll paper and poster board
  • Print directly on ink jet printable CD/DVDs.
  • Roll paper holder and automatic cutter for fast, borderless printing
  • True BorderFree™ photo printing in standard photo sizes (4" x 6" and 5" x 7")
  • Longer-lasting prints (light resistance rated up to 27 years¹)
The Epson Stylus Photo 1280 is the lowest cost 13" wide printer
  • 6-color Photo Ink System
  • True BorderFree™ photo printing in 6 popular sizes
  • 4-picoliter variable-sized ink droplets
  • Water-resistant and lightfast media
  • Standard individual black ink cartridge
  • Windows® and Macintosh® compatible
Finally the Epson Stylus Photo 2200 is the "Rolls-Royce" of the consumer printer line. It's a 13" wide printer and is the choice of many fine art printers. The ultrachrome inks are said to produce prints which will last up to 90 years.
  • 7-color UltraChrome™ inks and individual ink cartridges
  • 2880 x 1440 dpi resolution with ultra-fine 4-picoliter ink droplets
  • Roll paper holder and automatic cutter
  • Interchangeable Photo and Matte Black inks
  • PRINT Image Matching™ technology (P.I.M.)
  • Fast USB, FireWire® IEEE 1394 and parallel connectivity


Canon printers

The Canon i860 is the basic 4 color 8.5" wide printer from Canon. It uses an additional special black ink cartridge for better text output
  • Maximum 4800 x 1200 color dpi with droplets as small as 2 picoliters
  • Advanced 5 color ink system (4 color plus special black for text) for true-life photos and laser-quality text
  • Cost-saving individual ink cartridges
  • Direct photo printing from compatible digital cameras & camcorders
  • Edge-to-edge true borderless photos (4 x 6, 5 x 7 & 8.5 x 11 in.)
  • 4" x 6" dual paper feed
The Canon i960 is a 6 color 8.5" wide printer. It's fast, producing and 8x10 print in around 1 minute.
  • Maximum 4800 x 1200 dpi with microscopic 2 picoliter droplets
  • 3,072 nozzles for fast edge-to-edge borderless photos (4 x 6, 5 x 7 & 8.5 x 11 in.)
  • Direct photo printing from compatible digital cameras & camcorders
  • 4" x 6" dual paper feed
  • 6 individual ink tanks can save you money
The Canon i900D is also a 6 color 8.5" wide printer, but which also can print directly from memory cards. Printing is slower than the i960 though (~3 minutes for an 8x10). I've used and tested this printer and I was very impressed with the quality.
  • Built-in 2" LCD display for easy viewing, editing and printing
  • Direct photo printing from compatible digital cameras & memory cards
  • 6 individual ink tanks can save you money
  • Edge-to-edge true borderless photos (4 x 6, 5 x 7 & 8.5 x 11 in.)
  • Easy previews and fast prints with Canon Photo Viewer
  • Advanced MicroFine Droplet Technology™ for speed and quality
The Canon i9100 is a 13" wide printer, capable of producing a 13" x 19" print in around 5 minutes.
  • 13" x 19" edge-to-edge true borderless photos
  • 3,072 nozzles for exceptional speed and quality
  • Up to 4800 x 1200 dpi for precise detail
  • 6 individual ink tanks can save you money
  • 74 million droplets per second for fast printing


HP Printers

The HP 7260 These HP printers use cartridges which contain 3 colors each, so you have to replace all 3 colors if one runs out. The 7960 uses 8 inks for color printing (the usual 6, plus medium and light grey). This not only enables you to make true B&W prints, but HP claim that it also improves the color performance, especially in the areas of dark colors in an image. The 7760 and 7660 can also use the same gray ink cartridge as the 7960 - though it's not supplied with either printer. I've seen reports that the B&W prints produced by the 7660 and 7760 aren't quite as good as those produced by the 7960, even though the same ink cartridge is used. On the other hand I've also seen reports from people who are happy with them. I've used and tested the HP 7960, and the B&W images it produces are very good indeed. I have not seen B&W images from the 7660 or 7760.
  • six-ink color printing or up to 4800-optimized dpi
  • easy, one-touch buttons and memory card slots
  • print and save photos at the touch of a button
The HP 7660
  • six-ink color printing or up to 4800-optimized dpi
  • memory card slots, front-panel buttons and text LCD
  • 4 x 6-inch and standard tray for printing borderless photos
The HP 7760
  • six-ink color printing or up to 4800-optimized dpi
  • 1.8-inch image LCD allows editing before printing
  • memory card slots and easy-to-use front-panel buttons
  • 4 x 6-inch and standard tray for printing borderless photos
The HP 7960
  • up to 4800-optimized dpi color and stunning black and white
  • 2.5-inch image LCD, easy top-panel buttons and card slots
  • studio-quality photos and fast, laser-quality black text
  • 4 x 6-inch and standard tray for printing borderless photos

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