Sunday Business Post – Printing and Output Supplement – Nov 18 2007
Advances in affordable digital photo printer technology mean growing numbers of consumers can now print their own digital photos at home, according to Phillip Brady, country manager with Canon Consumer Imaging, Ireland.
“Inkjet technology has developed radically over the last ten years,” said Brady. “We are increasingly seeing printers with faster printing capabilities, producing higher quality images, with an increased colour range.”
“Seventeen years ago, a four colour inkjet printer would set you back around €5,000 – a machine now with similar printing capability will now retail around €350. Inkjet technology has been refined to the point that even entry level printers are capable of producing excellent photo results.”
Sean Healy, consumer business manager with HP Ireland’s Imaging Product Group, said he expected considerable growth in the photo printing market for consumers in the run-up to Christmas.
“There will be a pretty significant market this Christmas for photo printers,” said Healy. “Last year, the market was quite big for digital photo frames, but the new devices have a seven inch LCD (liquid crystal display) screen so you can put in your memory card or your USB drive and you can view your photographs. Then, if you want to print, you can do that quite easily. There are a whole lot of editing features there as well.”
Entry-level photo printers usually produce prints measuring 10cm x 15cm. Users can either connect their digital camera to the printer using a USB (universal series bus) cable or by inserting the camera’s memory card into a slot in the printer.
“Flexibility is important to consumers and many photo printers allow you to print photos directly from a camera, or from a memory card or a USB key, so there is no need to connect to a computer,” said Mark Robinson, senior product manager, Epson UK.
Basic single function home-user photo printers start at under €100 and are available from high-street and online retailers.
Healy said prices for entry-level products had stabilised this year. He added, however, that manufacturers are now adding more features to basic products.
“At the entry level, you are looking at a similar price point to where it was last year, but features would have improved,” said Healy. “You would be getting a slightly faster printer – you now have an LCD display.”
Other features that are now standard with most digital photo printers include basic editing software, battery packs and one-touch printing functionality. More expensive models can have wireless and Bluetooth connectivity, higher dpi (dots per inch) resolution and print larger images (13cm x 18cm up to A4).
Larger photo printers can also be attached to a PC or laptop and used as a conventional printer – or as a scanner, fax and photocopier. Smaller portable models are designed to be used on the move.
Digital photo printers require glossy paper and ink designed specifically for photographs. A range of different paper types is available.
“Costs for consumables vary greatly, depending on paper and ink type,” said Brady. “What you need then depends on the type of photograph that you are looking to produce. You can produce great photographs on our printers from as little as 30 cents.”
Entry-level printers may not produce images of as high quality as those printed in retail photo-labs. Robinson said, however, that vendors continue to improve on the quality of the consumables available.
“Epson have developed an advanced pigment-based ink technology that encapsulates each pigment particle in a protective resin coating,” he said. “This makes the ink resistant to water, smudging and fading and provides laser-like text and glossy photos, which last up to 200 years when stored in a photo album.
Higher end models produce professional quality images, said Robinson.
“We also have professional devices, which are very much aimed at the higher-end professional user,” he said. “There is a vast difference in terms of features and overall quality. You have single ink technology on the entry-level photo clients, whereas the professional devices have six ink print technology. You also have age resistance up to 200 years.”
The majority of the photo printers available on the market now allow users to perform basic editing tasks prior to printing, according to Healy.
“There would be editing features that would allow you to manipulate the image and remove red eye and things like that,” he said. “Also there is a touch-screen pen with it so, if it is a birthday, you can write happy birthday on the photo.”
More expensive models can have more extensive editing features. Brady said users could access built-in editing software via the LCD panel on the front of the printer to manipulate their images prior to printing.
“Images featuring skin tones, landscapes and skylines are detected automatically and reproduced with enhanced colour settings to improve the overall tones and contrasts,” he said. “It is particularly useful when the subject in the photo is darkened by shadow. There is also a new night scene mode in the preset list to improve the sharpness of night time shots.”
Users of image manipulation software – such as Adobe Photoshop, iPhoto or Picasa – can load images from their digital camera to their PC or laptop, work on it there, and then print the edited image directly.
“You would have a bit more flexibility in terms of manipulation of photographs if you are using a software package on your PC,” said Healy. “You can also use the printer to print other photos from your PC. But you get the best quality, when you print direct from your memory card or from the camera.”
Robinson said he did not see home printing ever taking over completely from retail printing in high-street photo laboratories.
“The expansion of digital photography into the consumer market has resulted in a massive increase in the number of photos taken and total print volumes have increased as a result,” he said. “Retail and home printing have both benefited from this increase in print volumes.”
Healy said that the larger players in the digital imaging sector are also exploring other image printing avenues.
“We are developing retail kiosks, this is a big area for us,” he said. “People can also put their photographs up on the web, whereby you can upload your photographs onto the web and get them delivered to you.”