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Tech Take-Apart
Photo Printing 101
by kp

With dozens of holiday pictures to print, choosing the right printer and paper can be a daunting task. Laser or inkjet? Matte or glossy? Full bleed or borders? There are hundreds of options to choose from. Understanding some features can help you find the perfect printer and paper to handle all of your pictures.

The Right Printer
The first step is choosing the right printer. The basic choices in printer types are laser and inkjet. Laser printers use a xerographic printing process that utilizes toner cartridges. A laser inside the printer creates an electrostatic image in which the toner attaches to. Some advantages of this type of printer are that it produces better quality images at a higher resolution, improved ppm (pages per minute) and impermeable (less vulnerable to water damage) images. The disadvantage is that the cost of the printer and supplies tend to be slightly higher than an inkjet.

Unlike laser printing, inkjet printers use a liquid dye to transfer images onto paper. There are two types of inkjet printers - impact and non-impact. These terms describe the method in which the ink is applied to the paper. For impact printers, the ink is applied directly to the paper, but the non-impact printers spray the ink onto the page. Laser printers fall into the non-impact category too, because they use static to attract the toner to the paper and heat to bond the toner to the page. There are also other types of non-impact printers such as thermal wax, but for the purposes of photo printing, basic toner or inkjet printing is sufficient. An advantage of the inkjet printer is that it is less expensive than laser. Some disadvantages include lower resolution images, lower ppm, and use permeable ink.

Another variation of the inkjet is the specialty photo printer. These printers are exclusively designed to output photos directly from your digital camera or computer. The pictures don't require resizing or cutting, because they are printed full-bleed (no borders) using pre-cut photo paper. Photo printers usually support most types of digital media like CompactFlash®, SD, and Memory Stick® that can be plugged right into the printer. There, you can format and edit your images instantaneously. The advantage of a photo printer is the convenience, but these printers lack the versatility to print other types of documents.

The Right Paper
Once you have the right printer, the second most important part of printing great photos is choosing the right paper. The biggest advantage for using photo paper versus plain paper is image quality. Photo paper is better than plain paper, because it has a coating to hold the ink in place. Uncoated paper allows the ink to bleed or spread causing a blurred image. Many printer manufacturers have their own line of photo paper that they recommend to use with their products. This paper can differ greatly in color, weight and texture. Here are a few definitions for paper specifications:

  • Brightness - describes the luminance of the paper. The higher the brightness percentage, the more luminance the paper has.
  • Glossy - describes a highly-reflective finish with a smooth surface.
  • Matte - describes a non-reflective finish with a rough texture.
  • Weight - photo paper is measured in millimeters for thickness. The higher the weight is the heavier or thicker the paper is.

Choosing the right photo paper depends on what purpose it going to be used for. Are your pictures going into a frame or used for scrapbooking? For framed photos and scrapbooking, heavier photo paper would be better to use for preservation. Light-weight photo paper would be well-suited for greeting cards or business photos. There is also the paper texture to consider. Glossy paper with a high brightness can make colors appear brighter, more saturated with high contrast. A matte paper texture can subdue colors and reduce glare. For more information on selecting the right paper, try Hewlett Packard's paper guide.

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Resources:
Hewlett Packard – www.hp.com

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