There are many home printers on the market these days and deciding which one to choose can be a bit tricky. I know I have found myself spending days if not weeks trying to make my mind up.
However there are really only a few basic decisions to make, cost, quality, ease of use, maintenance and perhaps speed.
Your first decision when choosing home printers is to know what your actual requirements are. Ask yourself these questions:
Once you have the answer to these questions, choosing your printer will be much simpler, as you can check the printers you are looking at meet these requirements.
Now lets look at some of the finer points of the different sorts of home printers there are.
Although it is possible to buy very large printers for your home, these are extremely expensive and are really designed for the printing business or top end photographers who own their own studios. In the main the very large printers are not practical for home use.
There are three main sizes of home printers available:
A4 printers - This is probably the most common and most practical for most home users. They can print out your photographs but can also be used for everyday general printing needs.
However even A4 printers come in a wide range and are designed for specific users i.e. the photographer or the home office. There are a few things you should check:
A3 Home printers - A lot of photographers like to see their work printed and displayed larger then A4 size. However the largest practical home printer is one that can print up to A3 size.
These A3 printers take up a lot more physical space and cost quite a bit more to their smaller A4 brothers.
The A3 printer is also a little bit more technically demanding as they are designed for the professional photographer.
So expect them to take up more of your time to get the best results, however the extra effort is usually well worth the final print quality.
The Direct printer or photo printer - these little printers have been a round only for the last couple of years and are designed more for the casual photographer snapper.
They are much smaller in physical size to the other printers and so can only print the standard 6 x 4 prints (some may allow a little larger).
Their appeal comes from the fact that they are light and portable and do not need to be connected to a computer to work.
In most cases either a specific camera can be connected to the printer directly or a memory card can be slotted into it for image downloads.
These small direct printers are designed to produce good quality photographs and so if all you require is the ability to print the occasional family photo etc, then these are a good option.
Most home printers use either one of these two ink systems. The differences between them are:
Inkjet - the printer sprays tiny dots of ink onto the paper.
Dye -sub - uses an ink ribbon of at least three colors. A heated print head passes over the ribbon and transfers the image to the paper. Most also apply a clear coating to the print giving it a more realistic look which also water proofs the print.
Traditionally Dye-sub printers produce a smoother finish but are much more expensive than inkjet printers.
However the inkjet printer has become the more popular choice and have become better and better at producing high quality images.
Ok so you thought you had nearly made your mind up which printer to buy. Well hang on one more minute there is still one more thing to consider, which ink system do they use and which will suit your needs the best.
The choices are:
Pigment or dye - Pigment is more colorfast and light fast but is the more expensive option. Dye is more reliable and can produce a wider range of colors and create vibrant images.
Four ink systems - This is the most common set up for standard home printers. The colors are cyan, magenta, yellow and black. However some printers do not use the black when printing photographs and so do not produce deep black tones.
Six ink systems- this is similar to the four ink systems but also includes a light magenta and a light cyan color, which allows pastel colors to be printed better. However the more nozzles you have the more the likelihood of ink blockages.
Eight plus Ink systems - Some printers allow extra color cartridges to be added to allow a wider range of colors and tones to be expressed. In some cases it is possible to a use a special cartridge that applies a gloss to the prints to enhance the color and provide some basic water protection.
Separate ink tanks - Some home printers now allow for the separate ink cartridges to be added one at a time rather than as one block. This can be advantageous if you constantly find that you use one particular color before the others.
Generally speaking the best inks for your home printers are the one made by the printer manufacturer. Although they may be more expensive than third party ink suppliers they will ensure quality prints first time.
However there are now many third party ink manufactures that say their inks are just as good. I find that in 8 out of 10 cases I have produced excellent prints with third party cartridges, although when printing for exhibitions I do still tend to use the printer manufacture's own inks.