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Easy Digital Imaging...

Printing Your Images

Digital and traditional photography are the same in that you can make prints yourself or have a lab do it. But in the digital world, printing your own photographs is a lot easier because it doesn't require a darkroom, running water, or paying attention to time and temperature. And although there are a variety of digital printing processes available I'm only going to discuss three that are most likely to be of interest to you; however, keeping in mind that we're operating on a budget, only two of these are reasonably priced.

Dye Sublimation: The dye sublimation (dye-sub) process produces a photographic quality print but it's rather costly...$1500 for a Fargo Primera Pro Elite printer and about $3.50 for materials to do an 8x10 print. It works by transferring images to special paper using a ribbon coated with colored dyes, causing them to fuse under heat to produce a smooth continuous tone print. However, it can only do photographs (no word processing) and, until recently, was the only photo-quality printing process available for digital images.

Dry Ink Transfer: The Japanese Alps is not a newly-discovered mountain's a printer. The MD-1000 from Alps Electric of Japan ($300) uses four separate typewriter-like ribbon cartridges ($6 each), and lays down dry, waterproof ink on almost any kind of paper. However, where the cartridges come in contact with the paper you can sometimes see faint pressure bands, especially in solid dark areas. The banding's not generally noticeable, though, unless you move the print around so that light reflects off it at an angle.

The MD-1000 is not a speed demon, but once it gets underway it chugs right along, laying down ink, one color at a time, and retracting the paper between colors. It's fascinating to watch and the registration is perfect. The Alps will print well on almost any plain paper, but there's a special glossy paper available (about 50 cents a sheet) that makes prints look almost photo-perfect. When a ribbon color runs out, the printer will patiently pause until you snap in a replacement cartridge and then resume printing...without missing a pixel. Kids (and kids-at-heart) love it because it has a personality; it makes interesting beeps and other wonderful sounds and they can see colors "developing" as each is printed over the one before.

Ink-Jet: The quote most applicable to ink-jet printers is: "You've come a long way, baby." Just a few years ago, the Epson Stylus line of ink-jet printers totally re-defined what this process could deliver, and Epson continues to deliver more and more with each new model.

The new Stylus Photo 700 (and its bigger cousin the EX) uses five colors plus black to produce extraordinarily smooth color transitions and realistic flesh tones. It can place 1440 dots-per-inch of ink on paper (300dpi was once thought to be the limit) and can output an 8 x 10 inch print in as little as five minutes (it used to take up to ten times that long). For about $270 you'd be hard put to find a better machine to print your photographs.

There are other "photo-quality" ink-jet printers out there, but to paraphrase Will Rogers, "I never met an Epson I didn't like." I'm still doing beautiful ouput on a three-year-old Stylus Color II that uses only four colors and prints at a maximum of 720 dpi. It's not that I can't afford a new one, it's just that, like my 1988 Mustang convertible, it's a faithful old friend that has never let me down.



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