Dye-Subs Aren't Dead Yet

SAN FRANCISCO (07/27/2000) - With digital cameras becoming ubiquitous and more capable, the need for photo-quality printers has never been more pressing.

Although dye-sublimation technology once reigned supreme, today's photo-quality ink-jet printers offer equal or better quality, with a much wider choice of paper stocks. We rounded up ten of the latest and greatest photo printers -- seven ink-jets and three dye-subs -- and put them to the Macworld Lab torture test. The two clear winners, the Epson America Inc. Stylus Photo 1270 and the Hewlett-Packard Co. DeskJet 932C, are both ink-jet printers, but one of the dye-subs -- the Panasonic Corp. PV-PD2100 -- deserves an honorable mention.

The Contenders

The three dye-sub printers are limited to a maximum output size of 4 by 6 inches and are generally more expensive than the ink-jets. They are, however, about twice as fast, so if you need to crank out a lot of 4-by-6-inch prints quickly, a dye-sub may be a reasonable choice.

The Panasonic PV-PD2100 produced excellent color, although, like the other dye-subs, it yielded less highlight detail than the ink-jets. It includes a PC Card adapter that lets you print images directly from digital-camera media, and though it lacks a USB interface, it did print successfully through a serial-to-USB adapter.

The Sony UP-DP10 has USB and parallel connections and produced images with decent color but poor shadow detail. The Olympus P-330N, which doesn't have a USB interface, didn't work with our adapter. Phoning Olympus's tech support proved fruitless, and we were unable to print from the iMac. When we finally managed to print through the serial connection from a beige G3, it produced the worst images of any of the printers.

The ink-jet printers are somewhat more flexible in terms of print size and choice of paper stock (with dye-subs, you have no choice of paper). All can print on paper as large as legal size, and the three Epson printers can also print panoramic images as large as 8.5 by 44 inches, using roll-fed paper. Only the Stylus Photo 1270 can manage paper wider than 8.5 inches; its maximum print width is 12.76 inches.

In addition to printing on photo-quality paper, we printed an image and a page of black text on plain paper. The Epson printers produced much better images on plain paper than any of the others, although the results were nowhere near as good as with photo paper, and printing took much longer. But the Epson printers fared much worse with black type; only the HP DeskJet 932C produced text output we'd characterize as good. Although all the ink-jet printers are fine for printing the occasional page in a pinch, they're clearly designed with photographic images in mind; we would recommend only the DeskJet 932C as a general-purpose printer.

When we printed to photo-quality paper, the two clear winners in the ink-jet category were the DeskJet 932C and the Stylus Photo 1270, both of which tied with the PV-PD2100 in our scores for image quality. The DeskJet 952C -- which is slightly faster and heavier-duty than its less expensive sibling -- and the two remaining Epson ink-jets produced decent-looking images, but the color was pleasing rather than accurate. The Canon BJC-8200 and the Lexmark Z52 received lower scores than the other ink-jets, but they still produced better results than the Olympus dye-sub.

Surprisingly, the DeskJet 932C showed slightly better highlight detail than the Stylus Photo 1270, even though the Epson's six-color ink system is designed to produce better highlights than four-color printers such as the HPs. But the Stylus Photo 1270 produced noticeably better shadow detail than the DeskJet 932C and had more accurate color overall.

Macworld's Buying Advice

If you want to print great-looking images that will last, the Epson Stylus Photo 1270 is the obvious choice. If you're less concerned with longevity and want to save money, the Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 932C produces good images and also does a decent job on text. If you're satisfied with 4-by-6-inch output and need speed and convenience, the Panasonic PV-PD2100 dye-sub is worth a look.

More Info: http://www.wilhelm-research.com/2/2.html For useful information on print longevity, visit Wilhelm Imaging Research's site.

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