Should I be willing to pay more for a printer with very high resolution?

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April 15, 2015 at 10:30 am  •  Posted in Q&A, Tips & Techniques by  •  2 Comments

I’m in the market for a new inkjet photo printer and noticed that some of the new 13 x 19-inch models have very high resolutions, such as 5760 dpi. Is that a really useful feature? Should I be willing to pay more for a printer with such high resolution? Thanks for any advice you can provide.
—Bella E.

The good news, Bella, is that you do not need to pay more for 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi in an Epson Stylus R or SureColor model or the equally impressive 4800 x 2400 dpi available with a Canon PIXMA Pro machine. That feature is standard with the current lines, even in the most affordable models. The more important issue is whether you will need to use 5760 dpi or 4800 dpi, regardless of the printer that you choose.

All of the current Epson and Canon 13 x 19-inch printers targeting serious photo enthusiasts and pros (including the new Epson SureColor P600 shown here) offer an option for ultra-high resolution. However, it's unlikely that you'll use that level frequently, as discussed below. Photo Courtesy of Epson Canada

All of the current Epson and Canon 13 x 19-inch printers targeting serious photo enthusiasts and pros (including the new Epson SureColor P600 shown here) offer an option for ultra-high resolution. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll use that level frequently, as discussed below. Photo Courtesy of Epson Canada

In my experience, much lower levels of resolution can provide optimal results with sophisticated print head technology. For example, an Epson Stylus Photo R3000, quality Level 3 (Super Fine), for 1440 x 720 dpi resolution, produces beautiful 13 x 19″ glossies on premium photo papers. Epson offers two higher options, including Level 5 (Super Photo) for 5760 x 1440 dpi, when High Speed mode is set to Off. When I selected Level 5, the resulting 13 x 19″ print exhibited slightly better definition of intricate detail than one made at Level 3. The difference was visible only under very close observation—much closer than the optimal viewing distance of about 75 cm or the more typical viewing distance of 150 cm.

The advanced driver screen for any 13 x 19-inch printer provides several Quality Level options, but some may be available only when the high-speed printing option is off. With the Epson R3000, for example, Level 3 (Super Fine, 1440 x 720 dpi) is the default since it provides beautiful prints at a reasonable speed and does not use an excessive amount of ink. © 2015 Peter K. Burian

The advanced driver screen for any 13 x 19-inch printer provides several Quality Level options, but some may be available only when the high-speed printing option is off. With the Epson R3000, for example, Level 3 (Super Fine, 1440 x 720 dpi) is the default since it provides beautiful prints at a reasonable speed and does not use an excessive amount of ink. © 2015 Peter K. Burian

Note too that an ultra-high dpi setting (with any machine) uses a lot more ink and dramatically increases the printing time without providing a significant “real world” improvement. Here’s the bottom line: in my estimation, you’ll probably use 1440 x 720 dpi (or similar level with another machine) when you want very good prints. Switch to 1440 x 1440 dpi (Quality Level 4, Super Photo, with the R3000, for example) when you need 13 x 19″ prints of gallery quality. However, if you’re working for a client who might examine the prints with a magnifying glass, then, sure, you’ll want to take advantage of the very highest resolution level.

2 Comments

  1. Richard / February 10, 2017 at 11:23 am / Reply

    Thank you, thank you, thank you…..finally someone who puts the whole dpi printer war in perspective for most people.
    Most descriptions you find for high dpi comparisons are from photographers who start talking about minute detail or colour changes which most people wouldn’t even notice. Half of those down to the paper or software used most likely.
    Refreshing, honest, laymans description here. Thanks.

    • Jenny Montgomery / February 10, 2017 at 11:39 am / Reply

      Richard,
      Glad this resonated with you!
      Jenny

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