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While inkjet photo printers have been available for some time, some companies are hoping that what consumers really want is to create glossy 4-by-6-inch prints at home. Epson has announced a new inkjet printer which uses a cost-saving print process similar to commercial photo finishing, while Fujifilm and Sony have unveiled new dye-sublimation printers capable of producing colors not possible with most inkjet printers.

Epson's New Stylus Photo Line

Epson ( www.epson.com ) has announced the Stylus Photo 870, the Epson Stylus Photo 1270 and the Epson Stylus Photo 875DC. The company claims that the new inkjet printers can reproduce the look and feel of traditional silver halide prints. The printers use new inks, which the company said should last longer than the inks in their earlier printers.

The printers feature a continuous edge-to-edge 4-by-6-inch snapshot printing system, similar to systems used in commercial photo labs. A roll paper holder feeds a 4" wide roll of glossy photo paper through the printer. The printers then produce marginless snapshots, which save paper. Epson claims it is the only company to offer this technique on a consumer printer. The printers all feature 1440-by-720 dpi resolution.

The Epson Stylus Photo 870 will sell for $299 and is both Windows and Mac compatible, featuring USB and parallel port connections and optional Ethernet connectivity. The printer comes with the Epson Digital PhotoLab Starter Kit, which includes the roll paper holder, a sample roll of Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper, Epson Software Film Factory and Adobe Photo Deluxe.

The Epson Stylus Photo 875DC sells for $399 and includes a built-in PCMCIA digital film reader that makes the printer compatible with most digital cameras, including cameras that use CompactFlash types I and II, CompactFlash USB, SmartMedia types I and II, and Sony Memory Stick. The Stylus Photo 875DC starter kit includes a CompactFlash Type II Adapter, a roll paper holder, roll paper sample, and Epson Photo Quicker, and Adobe Photo Deluxe software. It can connect with either Windows or Mac computers through USB.

The Epson Stylus Photo 1270 will sell for $499. It includes a 13-inch carriage, which makes it compatible with more print sizes than the other, narrower printers. This model comes with more software, including Adobe Photoshop 5.0 LE, which can be upgraded to the professional version of Photoshop for $299. Users can purchase an optional external Ethernet card, and the printer supports Adobe's PressReady color-proofing software.

Fujifilm's FinePix Printer

Fujifilm ( www.fujifilm.com ) has leveraged its experience with conventional film-based photo finishing to offer a different type of digital photo printer. The company yesterday unveiled the FinePix Printer NX-500, a portable printer that uses Fujifilm's Thermo-Autochrome dye sublimation printing technology to produce 4-by-6 inch, 306 dpi prints in two minutes. The company claims the printer is environmentally friendly because it requires no inks, toners, or ribbons. Instead, like conventional photo printing, the dyes are formed in the paper.

The printer uses Fujifilm's own paper, and can also print stickers, ID photos, greeting cards, and calendars.

The NX-500 is about the size of a laptop computer, measuring 10.6" x 3.1" x 1.4". The printer also includes a SmartMedia slot, so images can be transferred directly from the camera to the printer. The printer connects to a computer via a USB port.

It should arrive in May 2000 and cost $299. Twenty-sheet packs of the special Thermo-Autochrome paper will sell for $15.

Sony's Answer to Digital Photo Printing

Not to be outdone, Sony ( www.sony.com ) expanded its interest in the digital photo market by announcing the UP-DP10 photo printer. Using Sony's special paper, the dye-sublimation printer produces laminated 4x6 borderless photo prints with 300 dpi resolution.

The UP-DP10 includes an auto-color-correction feature that will adjust the contrast, tone, color balance, and image sharpness. It connects to a computer via USB or parallel ports. It is similar in size to the Fujifilm printer, and measures approximately 12" x 8.25" x 3".

The printer will ship in the spring of 2000 for $389. Sony's paper, which comes in sizes to accommodate digital cameras with 2:3 or 3:4 CCD aspect ratios, will sell for around $15 for 25 sheets.

How Dye Sublimation Works

The printers from Fujifilm and Sony both use a dye-sublimation printing process, as opposed to Epson's printers, which use an inkjet process. In inkjet printers, the ink is stored within the printer, and must be refilled. Dye sublimation printers do not use ink. Instead, the more expensive paper actually contains the ink. Both Fujifilm and Sony claim that the prints will last longer than prints from most inkjet prints.

The photo paper is produced by heating ink into a gas and transferring it to the paper. The paper can produce more colors than inkjet printers. In fact, Sony claims its process can produce 16 million colors and 256 gradations for yellow, magenta, and cyan at each pixel.

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