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A Quick Introduction To Photo Printing Equipment and Maintenance
These days photo printing equipment is increasingly affordable and easy to use. The average home photo printer churns out clear, rich images in quick time at the press of a few buttons!
The problem is - as with all things digital - this convenience makes us completely switch off and forget we have to be aware of anything! So here's a quick summary of the main bits of equipment you need for good digital photo image printing, with key pointers to bear in mind when buying and using it.
Home Digital Photo Printers
Although other technology exists, the best type of photo printers for the general consumer, in terms of value and quality, are liquid inkjet printers. These printers work by spraying thousands of little droplets of ink on to paper, producing great detail and smooth graduations between colours.
Digital photo printing equipment works on a colour system known as CMYK. This stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and 'key' black. So printers must have at least 4 ink cartridges, one for each of the basic colours, to do a satisfactory job.
But actually, when you're printing photos it's necessary to have 5 or 6 cartridges including one or two variants of the standard colours, like 'light cyan', in order to create nice quality reproductions.
(The Canon Pixma MG5250)
So bear this in mind when you're buying home photo printers. There are lots of very affordable 6 cartridge printers around that produce fantastic quality prints like the Canon PIXMA MG6150.
The other key thing to look out for when buying printers is the 'dpi' or dots per inch. This just refers to the number of little dots of ink a printer can place on a piece of paper within one inch.
So the more dots the more detail! Inkjet printers tend to offer about 300 - 600dpi. 600 dpi will give you really nice photo prints and it's not usually worth chasing higher numbers because the quality gap becomes imperceptible on most sized prints.
Looking After Your Home Photo Printers
Is there anything you need to do to make sure your digital photo printing equipment remains in good order and keeps producing great photos? Yep, but not much!
It's important not to ignore what's called the 'printer driver' software that comes with your printer. It allows you to fine tune your prints to increase the colours, run checks on the printer's functions and perform cleaning routines on certain parts.
Here's how to access it in Windows: 'Control Panel' > 'Printers and Faxes' > Click on the name of your printer. Select 'Printer' from the toolbar and 'Properties' from the drop down menu.
In the dialogue box that appears you'll be able to adjust the balance of colours in your prints to correct any inaccuracies. There's no need to remain infuriated by red skin tone or green skies!
The printer driver software also enables you to run checks on the alignment of print heads and correct any problems. Plus you can check if the nozzles have become clogged or the bottom plate needs cleaning, and perform the required cleaning at the click of a button!
Printer manufacturers frequently improve printer driver software for their printers, so make sure you have the best version by downloading updates (for free) from their website. It's a good habit to get into if you want your digital photo printing equipment to perform well for a long time.
The creative and technical aspects of post-production are really nicely explained in this introductory guide from DPS.
Photo paper is a really important part of digital photo printing equipment. The 1 key rule to remember when first starting to print pictures at home is to always buy paper of the same make as your printer.
Canon printers are tested with their own paper, HP perfect their printing technology with HP paper, and so on. Different papers absorb ink differently so this is an important thing to remember. As you get more experienced, by all means test out the top quality third party papers from companies like Ilford and Canson.
Beyond that, choosing photo paper is just a question of having fun experimenting with all the different options. It's an area over which you can exercise some creative control. Unfortunately, the naming of photo paper has become pretty creative too! It sometimes seems that any number of inventive names refer to pretty much exactly the same paper!
But the most common varieties for use in home photo printers are: matte , semi-matte , satin and glossy. There are no rules, but as a starting point colour pictures tend to work well on glossy, whilst black and white shots look great on matte paper.
Photo printing is quite heavy on ink. But luckily, replacing ink cartridges is incredibly simple and takes all of 5 seconds! It's worth purchasing fade resistant ink for printing photos that you intend to frame or put in albums that will be around for a long time.
I started printing a lot of photos a few years ago and quickly realised that ink cartridges can be quite an unwanted expense. Not to mention the fact that I always seemed to run out at the time I most needed to use the printer!
But more recently I've found a way of sidestepping these frustrations by ordering online and in bulk. I have a constantly replenished supply from PrinterInks which costs me far less per cartridge than when buying from a photography store in lesser quantities.