December 22, 2009, 10:19 AM — Although any ink jet printer can print photos, a specialized photo printer will produce images better than all but the most professional photo processing services. There's no magic, but the ingredients for a great photo printer are high resolution, a good range of color inks, and specialized photo papers. Some extra features to make photo printing a snap, such as memory card readers and easy software tools built into the printer, make photo print productino easier than ever.
Higher resolution means better output, period. Resolution for text will be in the 300x300 DPI (Dots Per Inch) range, or maybe as high as 600x600. Photos need much higher resolution. 1200 DPI is too low. 2400 DPI and 4800 DPI (sometimes listed with resolution in two direction, such as 4800x1200 DPI) is better. Some new printers are hitting the 9600 DPI mark.
While low end ink jets may have two ink cartridges, one black and one with multiple colors, photo printers should have four cartridges, often labeled CMYK for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and K for Black. This is the printer version of RGB for Red, Green, and Blue on computer monitors.
Each manufacturer of photo printers also has a line of specialized photo papers. All photo papers do a much better job of producing photographs than basic white paper used in most printers. Sticking with the paper from your printer manufacturer will help assure the best compatibility between the inks and papers, giving you slightly better prints. High resolution printers, however, may spit out prints so good you can't tell the difference without a microscope no matter which paper brand you use.
Some vendors have been including memory card readers for years in their printers, making it a snap (pun intended) to pick and print the image you want directly from your memory card. A newer technology, PictBridge, builds software into cameras and printers so they can work together directly.
Many photo printers have touch screens to help you edit photos before printing, or special red-eye reduction software built in. Check the list of features from the printers you're considering, and make sure you get what you need.
In today's world of digital images shown by passing around a camera or cell phone, physical photos make an impression. With the printers available today, you can make the impression for less money and less effort than ever. The gift of a touchable photo on high quality paper is a rare but appreciated gift.