The personal inkjet printer was the most important development in digital photography. You could argue that the digital camera itself was more important, but for most people a digital camera doesn't change how they capture photographs; it just makes the process easier.
Affordable inkjet printers freed photographers from the chains of the one-hour photo lab, enabling them to save money by printing only the photos they wanted, at the size they wanted, when they wanted.
Figure 7.2. Today's high-quality photo inkjet printers allow photographers to do their own printing. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)
Every all-in-one photo software package on the market enables easy printing of photographs by clicking a button. All you have to do with most programs is click on the photograph you want to print, and click the print button. Many of the programs, including Apple's iPhoto, will let you print your images at different sizes and will even print multiple images on the same page, or create the digital equivalent of contact sheets of your photos. (This can help you decide which pictures you want to print at larger sizes.)
Figure 7.3. Like most all-in-one programs, Apple's iPhoto gives you the tools to print without leaving the application. (Photos by Reed Hoffmann)
All of the photo-editing programs (such as Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, Corel Paint Shop Pro, Microsoft Digital Image Pro, and so on) will allow you to print your own photos. Because you'll likely have to resize the photograph first, the all-in-one packages are easier for the casual computer user, though even some pro photographers occasionally turn to the all-in-one programs for printing.
Regardless of the program you use to print, keep in mind that you'll want to look for a printer that has the word "photo" somewhere in its name and has at least six inks. Many of the least expensive color inkjet printers are designed to do text and the occasional graphic, but they're not designed to print beautiful photographs. That's the reason for the photo printer's extra inksthey give it the ability to make true photo-quality prints. High-end professional printers often cost upwards of $800, but a great consumer photo printer can be had for as little as $100. Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Canon make the most widely sold printers, and they all have models in each price category. Since printer technology is constantly improving, you'll want to look for printers advertised as being great for photography. Models that tout both the speed of their black output or the crispness of the text they produce are aimed at a more office-like environment.
And your choice of paper is just as important as your printer. Each of those little tiny dots sprayed out by your printer has to land somewhere, and the better the surface it lands on, the better your image will look. Cheap paper lets the little droplets of ink spread out and blur, while a "photo" paper is designed to keep that dot right where it is, without blurring or smudging. Most printer manufactures recommend sticking with the paper carrying their brand, and for good reason. Theses companies put a lot of effort into developing their printing technology, and they know how to formulate papers that will give you good results. That's not to say that putting HP paper into an Epson printer will produce poor quality photos, but you'll generally get better looking images sticking with the Epson stock when using an Epson printer.
When shopping for paper, keep your eyes out for the words "professional," "pro," or "premium." A "premium gloss photo paper" is going to produce better results than a "glossy photo paper." Another way to figure out the quality of the paper is to look at the price. Twenty-five sheets of higher quality paper will cost more than the same quantity of less expensive stuff.
But don't limit yourself to high-end papers. Keep on hand packages of less expensive papers. While you'll want to print out your truly best shots on a professional-level paper, there's no reason to spend a fortune just to give someone a printout of a snapshot.
In any case, many photographers love the convenience of printing as many (or as few) copies of an image as they wish. Even if they also use other sharing tools, they'll still print the occasional image on their trusty inkjet.
Bottom line? You'll have more artistic control over the images that come off your own printer. The trade-off is that you may need to tweak or adjust the images for optimal output, and you'll need to keep print supplies like ink and paper available. If you're looking for a way to output a large order of prints, send lots of individual orders to many different people, or create a photo book, photographic service providers are the way to go.
Figure 7.4. Using good-quality inkjet photo paper designed by the manufacturer to work best with your printer and ink will make it easier to produce high-quality prints. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann)