Lab Test: Prints charming

Anthony Caruana
21 November, 2010
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My first camera was given to me in 1976. I don’t recall the brand but the film came in a cartridge that popped into the back. I usually got a 12-exposure film as the 24 was too dear to develop. The flash was a cube shape that could deliver four shots, after which you threw it away and bought another.

Once the film was used, you took it to the local pharmacy, left it there for a few days and then came back to collect the shots. Photography was expensive in those days.

Today, digital cameras are ubiquitous and film has largely gone the way of the dodo. We shoot pictures with reckless abandon as there’s no real cost to it.

One thing that has been lost along the way is the tactile element of enjoying a photo. Holding it carefully, by the edges, and passing it around so that everyone can look carefully at that point in time captured for posterity.

With colour printing now ubiquitous, it’s easy to print photos. However, there are significant differences in print quality.

The nature of prints is dependent on several factors. For starters, there are lots of different types of photo paper. In our tests we used the paper recommended by each manufacturer. You may find that different papers produce different results.

It’s possible to also get tools that can calibrate your display so that the colours, brightness and contrast that come from your display are mimicked by your printer. This is important as your printer and display use very different ways to produce colour.

With a printer, it’s the combination of different inks on the paper. A screen uses a light source and transistors to produce colour. Printers use at least four different ink colours – cyan, yellow, magenta and black (usually abbreviated to CYMK) – whereas screens use red, green and blue.

One other thing – print quality is, to some degree, subjective. What one person thinks is vivid may seem too bright for someone else. Get your salesperson to demonstrate the printer you’re considering.

Photo printers can be either desktop printers that can print photos or purpose-specific ones. In our testing, we found that both can produce great results. However, at the consumer end of the market, we found that only multi-function printers were really affordable if you want to produce A4 sized prints.

Finally, there’s the cost. If you’re going to print a lot of photos, it’s probably cheaper to go to a store where digital printing is offered. With some now charging less than 30c per 5in x 7in (12.7cm x 17.8cm) print they are cheaper than any of the solutions we tested. But home printing does deliver a level of convenience.

This Lab Test originally appeared in the October issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

[Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_caruana]


  • Lexmark Interact S605
  • HP Photosmart B110a
  • Epson PictureMate PM235
  • Epson Stylus Photo TX810FW
  • Canon Selphy CP770

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