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Illustration by Christoph Niemann

Who hasn’t been romanced by an inkjet’s impressive dpi (4,800 by 1,200) or speed (17 pages per minute!) specs? Unfortunately, this is a formula for disappointing prints. The most important (though not sole) consideration these days is actually drop size-not something printer makers play up on the packaging. Here’s what to look for when purchasing your next photo printer, along with a measure of importance.

SIZE OF INK DROPS
Importance: *****
Why? The smaller the ink drop, the better your photo
Look For: At least 4 picoliters. Even better is 2 picoliters, currently the smallest available. The Holy Grail is 1 picoliter, the point at which the human eye wouldn’t be able to perceive any graininess

NUMBER OF INK CARTRIDGES
Importance: ****
Why? More colors mean blacker blacks, richer hues, reduced graininess
Look For: Cyan, yellow, magenta, and a dedicated black cartridge-plus light cyan and light magenta. The light colors fake the eye into seeing the equivalent of a 0.6-picoliter drop

PRINTING SPEED
Importance: ***
Why? It’s critical if you print lots at once
Look For: A printer that can output a 4 by 6 in less than a minute. (If you plan to do a lot of 4 by 6s, also look for borderless printing.) Warning: Plain-paper speeds are faster, so specifically check speeds of photo-paper printing

INK AND PAPER TYPES
Importance: ***
Why? Longer-lasting inks and paper mean you won’t have to redo your scrapbook in 10 years
Look For: A printer that handles pigment-based archival inks. Avoid generic paper; paper formulated for your printer’s inks works better

IMAGE PROCESSING
Importance: **
Why? You want your prints to look like the image in your viewfinder
Look For: Print Image Match or Exif 2.0, technology that your camera also must support. Each enables your inkjet to print better skin tones and richer landscapes

DOTS PER INCH (DPI)
Importance: **
Why? More dots are always better
Look For: At least 1,000 dpi (the number of dots horizontally and the first number in the resolution spec). Some inkjets print at a lower dpi in draft mode, so double-check your settings

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