January 15, 2010, 11:54 AM — Everyone grew up with personal printers attached to personal computers, so we naturally believe a computer must be part of the printing equation. Like so many things we learned growing up, that truth has “matured” to the point it's almost an untruth. There are at least two easy ways to print on many modern printers without a computer: memory card reader slots, and PictBridge.
Printers vary in their support for different memory card readers, of course, but almost all ink jets have memory card slots to support easy photo printing. Slots are more rare on black and white laser printers, and high end corporate printers. But if you see some odd little slots on your printer, you may discover how easy it is to view, edit, select, and print images without touching your computer.
Put your camera memory card in the appropriate memory card slot on your printer, and I bet dollars to donuts your printer will read the images, present them in some fashion on your LCD screen, and let you print them. Most printers offer cropping, and better ones will let you adjust colors and do common chores like red-eye reduction, with a push of a button.
Some folks use extra memory cards in their printers as storage locations. Plug in a card, make sure you have current printer drivers, and your computer should see that memory as extra storage. While this isn't a reason to buy a printer by itself, if you use this trick you won't need to buy an external memory card reader, so you save the $25-$40. A dollar saved is a dollar earned, according to the 21st century version of Ben Franklin.
PictBridge, an industry standard developed by the printer makers along with CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Association), lets you plug your camera directly into your printer. Effectively, you get to skip the “pull the memory card out of the camera and find the right slot on the printer” step, but it also does a little more. All digital cameras have some type of USB connection available to link to computers, and PictBridge adds some of those smarts to the printer. If your camera has some editing features built in, they should work with your printer to help you massage your photos as much as you want before printing.
Yes, printing without computers is not only possible, but fast, easy, and fun. Printed photos are much better than asking people to squint at your digital camera display.