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Nearly everyone has a digital camera these days, but half the joy of photographs is to hold them in your hands or put the best ones on the mantlepiece, rather than just leaving them as files buried somewhere in your computer. So it's worth looking at a home photo printer that will print out top quality photos in the comfort of your own living room. But with so many models now on the market, it's hard to know which one to go for. The first thing to bear in mind is that the cost of decent printers has gone down considerably over the last few years, so only pay above the odds for extra features that are actually going to be important to you, as nearly all standard models (except the really cheap junk, obviously) will provide perfectly good snapshots for the family album. And don't take too much notice of manufacturer's claims of 'speediness', which is measured in pages per minute, but has little relation to the real world. A little patience goes a long way and the added cost of so-called 'superfast' printers is hardly worth the few minutes of your life you might save - go and make a cup of tea while you're waiting!

With that in mind, the next most important consideration is obviously going to be the quality of the pictures that the thing will produce. Although the proof is clearly in the pudding, and the best way to judge the quality is to see an actual print produced by the machine, there are some indications that will help you make a decision. For example, the more inks a printer uses, the wider colour range it will be able to reproduce. Most photo printers use between four and six inks, which is more than adequate for most amateur use. Although there are models that use many more, these are really more for professional use. Another good point to check is the 'dpi' or 'dots per inch' of the printer's resolution. The higher the dpi, the smaller the dots of ink that make up the final image. The best 'photorealistic' ink-jet printers make dots so small that the final print looks just like a high-quality photograph. Dpi on home printers ranges from about 300 dpi to 3500 dpi, with anything above 600dpi considered photo quality.

Then think about what size prints you want to end up with. Most home printers will happily churn out your standard 6x4 inch snaps, but there are now many models that can handle a whole range of sizes up to A3. For most people that like to have bigger prints, an A4 model is a good balance, as you can use it to print out text and stuff on the same page if you want, although you will pay a premium for these machines and it's worth bearing in mind that if you only want large prints once in a blue moon, it's more economical to take your digital file down to a high street developer and get them to do it for you. Larger format printers also take up a lot more room on your desktop, whereas some of the 6x4 models are so compact that you can easily pick them up and take them with you on trips away.

It's no use pulling your shiny new photo printer out of the box and then putting it straight back in again because you can't make head or tail of the instructions. Buy a machine that suits your level of technical expertise - there are machines out there that require no setting up whatsoever, you just pop in your camera's memory card and push the big green button, and there are those that offer every kind of setting imaginable for the serious photographer. In between these two extremes are basic photo printers that connect to a computer and can be controlled with either supplied software or your own photo-editing products, giving you the choice of 'easy printing' or almost unlimited control over the final printed photograph.

Finally, look at the cost of the consumables. Often manufacturers will sell you a great machine at a very low price, because they know they can then sell you the consumables, like ink cartridges and paper, at a very high premium for the rest of the machine's life. It's worth thinking about buying a unit that uses separate ink cartridges for each colour, so you can just replace those as they run out, rather than having to buy a whole colour cartridge set when just need one colour.

Author R. Germain
date added Wed 29 07 2009

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