Photo-Quality Printers

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With digital cameras becoming ubiquitous and more capable, the need for photo-quality printers has never been more pressing. Although dye-sublimation technology once reigned supreme, today's photo-quality ink-jet printers offer equal or better quality, with a much wider choice of paper stocks. We rounded up ten of the latest and greatest photo printers -- seven ink-jets and three dye-subs -- and put them to the Macworld Lab torture test. The two clear winners, the Epson Stylus Photo 1270 and the Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 932C, are both ink-jet printers, but one of the dye-subs -- the Panasonic PV-PD2100 -- deserves an honorable mention.

The three dye-sub printers are limited to a maximum output size of 4 by 6 inches and are generally more expensive than the ink-jets. They are, however, about twice as fast, so if you need to crank out a lot of 4-by-6-inch prints quickly, a dye-sub may be a reasonable choice.

The Panasonic PV-PD2100 produced excellent color, although, like the other dye-subs, it yielded less highlight detail than the ink-jets. It includes a PC Card adapter that lets you print images directly from digital-camera media, and though it lacks a USB interface, it did print successfully through a serial-to-USB adapter.

The Sony UP-DP10 has USB and parallel connections and produced images with decent color but poor shadow detail. The Olympus P-330N, which doesn't have a USB interface, didn't work with our adapter. Phoning Olympus's tech support proved fruitless, and we were unable to print from the iMac. When we finally managed to print through the serial connection from a beige G3, it produced the worst images of any of the printers.

The ink-jet printers are somewhat more flexible in terms of print size and choice of paper stock (with dye-subs, you have no choice of paper). All can print on paper as large as legal size, and the three Epson printers can also print panoramic images as large as 8.5 by 44 inches, using roll-fed paper. Only the Stylus Photo 1270 can manage paper wider than 8.5 inches; its maximum print width is 12.76 inches.

Photo Printers Compared

Ink-Jet Printers
Canon Computer Systems BJC-8200 2.0 mice $399
800/423-2366 parallel, USB 9.2 X 22.7 Good plain-paper text quality. Complex setup; poor color and shadow detail.
Epson America Stylus Photo 1270 4.0 mice $499
800/463-7766 parallel, USB 12.7 X 43.7 Excellent image quality. Poor plain-paper text quality.
  Stylus Photo 870 3.5 mice $299
800/463-7766 parallel, USB 8.2 X 43.7 Very good image quality. Poor plain-paper text quality.
  Stylus Photo 875DC 3.0 mice $399
800/463-7766 USB, PCMCIA Type II 8.2 X 43.7 Very good image quality; handles wide variety of media. Poor plain-paper text quality.
Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 932C 4.0 mice $199
800/552-8500 parallel, USB 8.5 X 14.0 Quiet; good plain-paper text quality. Poor plain-paper photo reproduction.
  DeskJet 952C 3.0 mice $299
800/552-8500 parallel, USB 8.5 X 14.0 Quiet; good plain-paper text quality. Poor plain-paper photo reproduction.
Lexmark Z52 2.5 mice $179
800/539-6275 parallel, USB 8.0 X 13.4 Good plain-paper text quality. Poor color and highlight detail.
Dye-Sublimation Printers
Olympus America P-330N 1.0 mice $499
631/844-5000 Video, S-Video, serial, parallel, SmartMedia 3.4 X 4.5 None. Can't print from USB-equipped Macs; poor image quality; limited Mac support.
Panasonic PV-PD2100 3.5 mice $599
800/272-7033 Video, S-Video, serial, PCMCIA Type II, parallel 3.4 X 4.7 Excellent image quality; flexible connectivity options. Small image area; expensive.
Sony Electronics UP-DP10 3.0 mice $389
800/222-7669 parallel, USB 4.0 X 6.1 Small footprint; good image quality. Poor shadow detail.

In addition to printing on photo-quality paper, we printed an image and a page of black text on plain paper. The Epson printers produced much better images on plain paper than any of the others, although the results were nowhere near as good as with photo paper, and printing took much longer. But the Epson printers fared much worse with black type; only the HP DeskJet 932C produced text output we'd characterize as good. Although all the ink-jet printers are fine for printing the occasional page in a pinch, they're clearly designed with photographic images in mind; we would recommend only the DeskJet 932C as a general-purpose printer.

When we printed to photo-quality paper, the two clear winners in the ink-jet category were the DeskJet 932C and the Stylus Photo 1270, both of which tied with the PV-PD2100 in our scores for image quality. The DeskJet 952C -- which is slightly faster and heavier-duty than its less expensive sibling -- and the two remaining Epson ink-jets produced decent-looking images, but the color was pleasing rather than accurate. The Canon BJC-8200 and the Lexmark Z52 received lower scores than the other ink-jets, but they still produced better results than the Olympus dye-sub.

Surprisingly, the DeskJet 932C showed slightly better highlight detail than the Stylus Photo 1270, even though the Epson's six-color ink system is designed to produce better highlights than four-color printers such as the HPs. But the Stylus Photo 1270 produced noticeably better shadow detail than the DeskJet 932C and had more accurate color overall.

If you want to print great-looking images that will last, the Epson Stylus Photo 1270 is the obvious choice. If you're less concerned with longevity and want to save money, the Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 932C produces good images and also does a decent job on text. If you're satisfied with 4-by-6-inch output and need speed and convenience, the Panasonic PV-PD2100 dye-sub is worth a look.

More Info:
For useful information on print longevity, visit Wilhelm Imaging Research's site.

Page 103 September 2000

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