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What is a Photo Printer?

By Heather Kaefer
Updated May 16, 2024
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A photo printer is usually an inkjet printer, although it can be a thermal dye printer, which has the ability to print high-quality digital photos and other vibrant color projects. The appeal of being able to print pictures instantly, along with the drop in digital camera prices, has enticed many people to purchase a photo printer. Prior to that, these types of printers were larger, more expensive and generally used only by professionals.

A photo printer can either be a printer dedicated to printing photos alone, or it can be a printer that can print photos as well as other types of documents. Photo printers differ from other printers because they have more color cartridges, which allow for a wider range of hues and tones, and some even contain special photo ink. Claims that a printer is a "photo printer" may be misleading because technically all inkjets can print a picture; however, not all inkjets will have the quality or the various options of true photo printers.

A portable photo printer is easy to transport and doesn’t have to be connected to a computer. Equipped with slots for reading digital media cards, or memory cards, these printers also typically have parallel and USB ports. It’s rare for a printer to come with connection cords, so it’s wise to know what you'll need before you hit the store.

The price of a photo printer can vary widely depending upon a number of factors. DPI, which stands for Dots Per Inch, is a measure of print resolution that indicates how many dots of color, or pixels, a printer can create per square inch of print. A DPI that is too low will produce grainy, speckled photos that appear pixelated or blocky. A DPI of 4800 x 1200 is thought to be of lab quality.

Most photo printers have editing functions such as red-eye removal, border options and creative coloring effects such as creating sepia and black and white photos. If you’re in the market for a photo printer, you should research the numerous available features keeping in mind what you’ll actually use the printer for so you can buy what you need and not pay a higher price for the a printer with features you don't need.

Testing out a photo printer in the store before you buy it is also a good idea. You can turn it on and see how loud and fast it prints. PPM, or page per minute, specifications can be exaggerated. You may also want to check the software that usually comes bundled with photo printers to make sure that you'll have everything you need to operate it once you make your purchase. Printing a test page will allow you to assess the quality, including the variations of flesh tones and shaded areas. Checking out long the ink cartridges last will help you predict how much you'll have to spend on the ink and paper associated with using the printer. Finally, checking the construction of the printer, including the sturdiness of the hinges and paper trays, will help you assess whether printer will last long term use.

Although a photo printer can be more expensive than a regular inkjet and may not print as quickly, they’re ideal if you want instant pictures and a variety of creative options.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahSon — On May 30, 2011

I use my photo printer at home all the time! I did some price and performance comparisons before deciding which one to buy. I ended up buying one of the Canon photo printers and have been very pleased with it.

You can usually find good sales on the ink and photo paper, and I love being able to have the photos right away to keep or share.

By honeybees — On May 28, 2011

@sunshined - I have found the same thing with my photo printer. It seems like by the time you buy the printer, the colored ink, and the special photo printer paper, you aren't really saving much money.

There have been many times when it has been very convenient, but I usually want to print off several copies so will order them online if there is a large amount.

By sunshined — On May 27, 2011

I bought an inkjet photo printer a few years ago, and while I enjoy the convenience of having one at home to print out pictures whenever I want to - I find that I don't use it as much as I thought I would.

Most of them time I just take my digital card to Walgreens or WalMart and order my prints from there. If I am not in a hurry I save a few cents by picking them up in a few days. If I want copies right away, I can usually get them in less than an hour.

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