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Photo Printers: What You Need to Know
August 15, 2019
While technology has brought us many ways to communicate and share memories, photographs still rank high as a method of preserving those special moments. Today’s photo printers easily allow consumers to produce affordable lab-quality prints right in their own home. The combined cost of the printer, paper, and ink is still modest enough to avoid having them done by a photo lab.
In this article, we’ll discuss what you need to know to choose the best photo printer for a variety of home and business uses, including graphic design. The latest portable and wireless printer options are budget-friendly and easy for anyone to start using right away.
What are photo printers?
Many printers on the market today are sold as “photo printers,” but what does this mean exactly? While these products are essentially inkjet or thermal dye printers for home use, they contain some innovative features specific to printing photos.
The resolutions of their prints may be higher, or they may work with specially-sized printer paper. Some even use specific printing cartridges to print on a sticker or other novelty material. Others work with popular social media and photo apps to create prints at the touch of a button.
Consumer photo printers have many of the same features as commercial printers. They can print affordably without requiring you to ever leave your home or wait in line at retail kiosks. Because the newer models support wireless and Bluetooth networks, they’re often ideal photo printers for iPhones and Android devices, too.
Features of a photo printer
No set standard makes a printer specific to photos. You can, in theory, use almost any home printer to create black-and-white or color prints. Most printer software products include custom settings that will change the resolution of your print job to make them near perfect for photos.
By investing in a printer that’s marketed as a photo printer, however, many of these settings are preset. Much of the guesswork is removed and your memories can be preserved on paper with the touch of a button. Any photo printer marketed as such should have the following features at a minimum:
- High resolutions or dots per inch (DPI) printing capability
- Full-color ink or thermal printing
- Options for automatic borderless printing and popular photo sizes (3 x 5 and 4 x 6 inches, for example)
- Intuitive software or mobile apps for one-touch printing
- Ability to receive photo files from computers or connected network devices
- Wireless or Bluetooth capability, or both
Also, they are usually smaller than standard home office printers. Their sleek design and slim profiles make them perfect for taking from one room to another, or even on-the-go. Even stationary photo printers should take up less space than most bulky all-in-ones.
Truly portable photo printers can be used without a computer. They can receive photos from your phone or another connected mobile device, while others can be loaded via a memory card or USB drive. These should be small enough to take with you in a backpack or purse and are popular among younger consumers who want to share photos at social events. It’s certainly an upgrade from the days of printing from cameras.
Choosing the best photo printer
Deciding which model is appropriate for your printing needs will depend on who you are and what you value. Do you want a printer for your growing family? Are you a student with a limited budget? Would you like to update your office marketing materials with a fresh, new look?
Whether you choose something like an HP large format photo printer or a trendy, portable gadget like the HP Sprocket, it’s important to understand how and how often you’ll print. The good thing about selecting the best photo printer is that there are so many exciting options to explore.
When you have a good idea of what you’re in the market for, consider a brand that provides ongoing support for their products, as well as an assortment of printing supplies and paper. You’ll also want to shop for printers that use current sustainability standards, such as ink cartridge recycling. It’s easier than ever to support the planet when you print your own photos from home.
Other considerations include:
- How many people will be using the printer
- The rooms in the home where you’ll use the printer
- If it needs to match your décor or home layout
- If the printer will be stationary or taken on the road
Imagine where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing when you print out a photo. By envisioning your unique printing experience before you shop, you can ask the right questions to pick a printer that works with your lifestyle and goals.
Uses for photo printers at work
While many people buy these products to use in their home, the professional possibilities are endless. Because photo printers create crisp, high-resolution graphics and displays, they are often considered the best printer for graphic design work. Marketing materials pop when printed on high-quality paper made just for your most brilliant projects, allowing you to create your masterpiece at home or in the office.
Other uses for these printing solutions in the business space include:
- Media kits for influencers, bloggers, and social media personalities
- Headshots for models and actors
- Samples of marketing materials, including newsletters and brochures
- Mock-ups for books, magazines, and other full-color publications
- Art portfolios
The professional uses are numerous, but students can enjoy the high-quality output of photo printers, too. They can make printing your full-color projects, artwork, and design assignments into a simple task. Imagine how impressed your professors will be when you turn in a full-color print you made yourself.
Pro tip: Commercial photo printers cost significantly more, and most are not labeled for home use. Ensure that any photo printer you buy is FCC-compliant for home use before purchase.
Portable printing options for everyone
While most people are more familiar with inkjet photo printers, they aren’t the only option. Thermal print technology, such as that used in the HP Sprocket printer, is another high-quality way to get color prints fast. With the ability to connect to all of your friends in one room, it’s the printer everyone will want to use.
The HP Sprocket is the size of a cell phone and requires no computer, and you can even edit photos before printing. The 2 x 3-inch photo size is more than enough to commemorate the good times, but if bigger is better, consider the HP Sprocket Plus with larger prints and Bluetooth tech. All photos come printed on the signature, glossy HP Zink paper, so you don’t have to think about finding the right paper to make your pics look their best.
For those who don’t have a digital camera or would rather not use their phone, the HP Sprocket 2-in-1 has its own camera included in the device.
Why wireless works
Things have certainly improved for printers over the years. While past models needed tethering with clunky cables, the invention of the wireless photo printer has made printing more mobile than ever before. As long as you’re connected to a wireless network, you can send files from any connected device straight to the printer.
Even the most protected networks can be used with a wireless printer, provided you know the password. Set up can be done in minutes without installation CDs or lengthy software downloads. You don’t even need a computer in most cases.
Wireless printing ensures you can send photos in seconds and get beautiful prints any time you want. Print just one photo directly from your phone or print 100. Either way, this flexibility allows you to get the same low-cost, quality prints from a single device.
The cost of owning a photo printer
Some folks may mistakenly think that it’s expensive to print your own photos at home. While photo labs have become more affordable, so has the cost of photo printers and accessories. Many printer manufacturers have made it just as cost-efficient to print at home.
HP photo printers produce lab-quality prints for as little as $.05 each, and the printers can provide reliable printing for years. By taking advantage of a program such as HP Instant Ink, printing high-quality color photos is even more affordable. The program charges users a low monthly fee for a set number of printed pages, and color pages don’t cost any more than black and white.
Many new photo printers come with a free HP Instant Ink trial, and others come with free months as part of a promo deal. Shop around to see what printers give you the best value straight out of the box. You may be surprised to see how affordable inkjet photo printing has become.
The different print technologies
Inkjet is common, but thermal printing technology is making its move. How does each compare? It depends on how you want to use your photos, but the HP Zink paper used in the HP Sprocket line of printers and cameras is the best example of thermal printing done right.
For most large photo printing jobs for the home or office, however, inkjet technology is the way to go. With a variety of paper and ink options, you can buy as much or as little as you need. All of HP’s printing products are backed by our quality standards and are made to be used in authentic HP printing devices.
Whichever method you choose, printing at home has many advantages, and the price is just one of them. By saving a drive to the photo lab, printing kiosk, or post office, you’ll have more time and money for making additional beautiful photo memories.
Questions to ask before buying
Before you spend money on any photo printer, see if it’s possible to do a test run in the store. Some retailers offer demo models to help you see what the printing process looks like. Otherwise, customer reviews, video demonstrations, and chats with the sales staff can give you the answers you need. Be sure to ask the following questions:
- How loud is the printer? Does it have a “quiet mode” for printing at night?
- Does this printer take special ink or cartridges?
- If I run out of one color, is it possible to replace just that color? Or will a new multi-color cartridge be necessary?
- What sizes of paper does the printer take? What finishes are available (matte, glossy, etc.)?
- How fast does the printer work? What is the page per minute speed for both color and black-and-white prints?
- Does the printer only print photos? Can I use it for printing office documents, emails, or reports?
- Does the printer do other tasks, such as scanning or copying?
Make sure you know if extras are included with the printer. Check for accessories, such as full-sized ink cartridges, paper samples, and any cords or connectors that are required for setup. Most printers do not come with USB cords, so be sure to purchase one if needed.
Is a photo printer right for you?
With the most basic models starting at under $150, it’s now more affordable than ever to give a photo printer a try. When you imagine that your days of running to the retail kiosk or slowly uploading your family photos to an online printer could be over, it’s an easy decision to make.
Home photo printers also give you incredible control over your printing. If you don’t like the way something looks, you can pause the process and make edits before you waste 20 more copies. There is no reason to wait until your photos come in the mail to catch lighting mistakes or bad cropping.
Anyone who appreciates the flexibility that comes with living in the moment will be a good fit for a photo printer. Capture special events on the fly and print them the same day. No longer will you have to dig through months of memories to find the perfect prints. With HP photo printers, print as little or as much as you want at just the right moment.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.
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