You’ve got your new digital camera.  Now, it’s time to think about printing your color photos.

First, though, a little something to think about . . . Color printer choices are many and varied, from a traditional inkjet printer, to one of those multifunctional inkjet devices (three or four out of four – fax, print, scan, copy), to a dedicated photo printer in the higher quality category over inkjet, called dye sublimation, or dye sub (another info resource), for short (from Sony, Canon, Olympus.  Or, you could choose to have no color photo-capable printer at all, and still get photographic prints (longest lasting, just like traditional film prints) from your digital photos through an online uploading service, such as ofoto, or through a local retailer (put your pix on a CD or bring in readable media) that provides this service (If you are a member and live near a Costco, 4×6 prints from digital are only 19 cents each!).

Dedicated photo printers have the advantage of being easy to use and, in the case of printers dedicated to 4×6 prints, they are usually quite small.  Many users will consider both a “standard” inkjet printer as well as one of these dedicated inkjet photo printers.  The advantage is the instant gratification one gets from getting quality prints fast and with the convenience of doing it at home or just about anywhere else.

This HP Photosmart 230, $200, is both easy and convenient on many levels.  (Take the online product tour.)  First, it is versatile.  It will print via USB connection to your Mac or PC and directly from the camera’s memory card without your computer.  There are memory card slots to accommodate CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, Secure Digital, and Multi-Media memory cards.  Just insert the card and go.

The quality of the 4×6 prints is excellent, with a resolution of 4800 x 1200 dpi, optimized, according to HP, for their HP Premium Photo papers, which I used in my evaluation.  The printer also supports other grades of HP photo paper, index cards, as well as paper from other makers.

The Photosmart 230 also features a color LCD screen that facilitates the process.  I loaded the memory card with my photos into the printer, and in a moment, up popped the first image on the built-in screen.  From there, I could use the buttons to navigate through choices as to which photo to see and print, photo size (4×6, wallet size or thumbnail), number of copies, choose to print a photo index page with up to 28 thumbnail size images of your photos, crop, zoom, rotate – it’s all there right at the panel.

Up to 20 sheets of photo paper can be loaded at a time.  The printer draws the paper in from the front, taking from the top of the loaded cartridge.  Then, the paper rolls out the slot in the back.  Finally, the paper is drawn back inside and through the printing path, above the intake path, where it is printed and ultimately sent back out the front to rest atop the input cartridge.  It’s a very interesting design and fun to watch in action.

The 230 uses a single, small, three-color cartridge.  One of the concerns with any inkjet printer is the cost of operation.  Face the facts – inkjet printers are costly to operate as compared to black & white laser printers.  After printing more than 100 photo pages I was still on the first cartridge.  Replacement cost for the HP 57 (C6657A) cartridge was found online for as low as about $27.  Now, add in the cost of the paper, for example, a 60-pack of the premium HP paper, at an online cost of at least $27 and the cost per photo runs about 50 cents or more.  Obviously, the cost of instant gratification is rather high, as compared to traditional photo prints as described above.  So, with this and any other inkjet printer, the user is paying for the privilege of instant gratification on a media that is not as long lasting as with traditional photo prints.  (Just a note – sure, there are inkjet printers that use longer-lasting, archival quality inks, but supplies cost is even more.)

I can tell you this printer was a big hit around Gadget Central and beyond.  Everyone enjoyed this printer and the ease with which it operated.  No one was interested in connecting it to a computer.  We were concentrating on printing from the memory cards.  We did not even bother to try it connected to our companion test camera, the excellent HP Photosmart 850 because it was so easy to print the photos by just using the memory card from the camera.  I even took it with me on a little trip to visit my daughter in college.  I took photos and printed them on the spot, all without the computer.

In conclusion, all things considered, this is an easy product to learn to love.  It can prove indispensable and useful to digital camera users.  So long as the user does not mind the cost of operation with this or any competitive product, I think it’s a fine way to go.  The HP Photosmart 230 is tiny but mighty and it might be just what you are looking for!

More information is at www.hp.com or call 1-800-752-0900.

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