One of the best things about having a digital camera is that you can see your images right away. Also, you don't have to print a whole roll...

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One of the best things about having a digital camera is that you can see your images right away. Also, you don’t have to print a whole roll of film to find your exposure was off and nothing came out.

One of the drawbacks to digital cameras is that photos — even the good ones — tend to stay on the computer instead of being printed. Fortunately, the options for digital printing are growing in both number and ease of use.

In his Seattle Times Practical Mac column Jan. 8, Glenn Fleishman covered the wide range of options open to digital shutterbugs, including printer stations at the pharmacy, online photo services and personal printers.

If you want control over your prints, of course, you’re going to want a printer. Most printer makers offer a line of personal photo printers — either inkjet or dye-sub printers — that cost around $200. Generally, however, these printers are limited to prints no larger than 4 x 6 inches.

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If you want the ability to print to larger sizes you’re going to have to spend a bit more. And the higher investment means it’s all the more important to do your homework.

One resource I’ve come across that has been very helpful is Steve’s DigiCams, a Web site that covers not only cameras, but photo printers as well. You’ll find reviews of a wide variety of models as well as discussion forums and technical advice. Check the site out at: www.steves-digicams.com.

Another source of good information is your local camera store. If you’re looking for something beyond a simple snapshot camera, you may want to take your time talking to a number of shops. Be sure to include stores where the pros take their business. In Seattle, I’ve found Glazer’s to be an invaluable resource. Its Web site is www.glazerscamera.com.


Canon i9900



Maximum resolution:
4,800 x 2,400 dpi


Compatibility:
Windows XP/Me/2000/98 and Mac OS (8.6 to 9.x), Mac OS X version 10.2.1 to 10.3.x.


Interfaces:
USB 2.0, USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, Firewire, Direct Print Port (cables not included).


Ink cartridges:
8


Size:
22.7 x 13.1 x 7.2 inches


Weight:
21 lbs.


Price:
$499


In my personal search for a quality, large-format photo printer, I visited several photo stores and consistently received the same advice: The two top printers for under $1,000 are the Epson 2200 and the Canon i9900. I took a look at both.



Canon i9900:


If you want a high-quality, large-format photo printer that can do double duty as a document printer, the Canon i9900 is a great choice. The printer’s 4,800 x 2,400 dots-per-inch resolution means that even large photographs can be printed without loss of quality.

A 4 x 6-inch color photo takes only about 40 seconds to print; the largest size, 13 x 19 can be printed in about three minutes.

The i9900 has eight ink cartridges — one more than the Epson 2200 — giving it a broad color gamut.

I found photos printed on the i9900 to be slightly sharper and a tad darker than the same ones printed on the Epson 2200.

The i9900’s high resolution and relatively fast print speeds result from the unit’s new print head design.

It features an unprecedented 6,144 nozzles, which can squeeze about 11 million droplets of ink per square inch.

By comparison, the Epson 2200 does its work with 672 nozzles.

The other advantage of the Canon is a price tag $100 to $200 less than Epson’s. You can find the i9900 on the street for $450 to $500.


Epson Stylus Photo 2200



Maximum resolution:
2,880 x 1,440 dpi


Compatibility:
Windows 98, 2000, Me and XP, and Macintosh OS 8.6 — 9.x and OS X 10.1.3 or higher


Interfaces:
USB, FireWire (IEEE 1394), and parallel port


Ink cartridges:
7


Size:
24.3 x 34.1 x 15.4 inches


Weight:
25.7 lbs.


Price:
$699


On the down side, I was a little disappointed to find the i9900 does not allow you to feed paper straight through the unit, which means you can’t use heavier stock paper.

Nor does it allow you to print with the broad array of paper types supported by the Epson 2200.

Also, because the i9900 uses dye-based inks, the projected life span of prints is limited to 35 to 40 years. That may make a difference for those wanting to preserve family or fine-art photographs.


Epson Stylus Photo 2200:

Yes, the Epson Stylus Photo 2200 costs more than the Canon i9900, with a street price of $650 to $700. And, yes, it offers significantly lower top resolution at 2,880 x 1,440 dots per inch. And, yes, it’s slower to print than the i9900.

In fact, the same 8 x 10 photograph that printed in 2 minutes on the i9900 took about 3 minutes on the Epson 2200.

That said, the 2200 has an awful lot going for it. For starters, I found colors to be truer — if a little less sharp — than those produced by the Canon printer.

The Stylus Photo 2200 offers more flexibility in paper use and handling. You can print on anything from standard glossy photo paper to matte papers, even watercolor and rag fine-art papers. And the 2200 does allow for straight feeding of thicker papers.

Finally, Epson’s inks promise a significantly longer life span for your photographs than the Canon printer can offer. Prints made on premium glossy photo paper, for example, have a life of up to 85 years.


Bottom line:

Although the Epson Stylus Photo 2200 and the Canon i9900 are both excellent ink-jet photo printers, no printer is going to be the best at printing all types of photographs on all types of paper.

Generally, and especially if you’re printing primarily on glossy photo stock, I found if you like your images to have a jump-off-the-paper sharpness and you like a slightly darker printer, you’ll prefer the Canon i9900.

If color fidelity is your priority, you’ll lean toward the Epson 2200.

Whichever printer you settle on, keep in mind there will be hidden costs that may surprise you. The Epson printer’s seven ink cartridges, for example, go for $11.35 each on Epson’s Web sites, though I’ve seen them for just under $7 per cartridge from other dealers.

Still, you’re looking at more than $50 to replace a full set of ink cartridges.

Paper can be costly, too. Twenty sheets of Epson’s premium glossy photo paper will cost you about $15. And you can’t figure the amount of ink you’re going to use without knowing which paper you’re using.

In other words, there are so many variables, it’s difficult to have an accurate estimate of what it will actually cost to print a photo. If you factor in inks, paper and wear and tear on the printer, the price per 8 x 10 photo could be more than $1.

Given these costs, you may want to send out your run-of-the-mill snapshots for printing and save your large-format photo printer for special prints.

Patrick Marshall writes the weekly Q&A column in Personal Technology.