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Most photographers use inkjet printers for their photographs, mainly because this was a natural progression from the dot matrix printer back in the early 90s, it's ideal for a wide variety of uses from letter printing to photo printing, but also because most computer stockists have shelves full of them as an only option. There is, however, another option that's worth considering for us photographers that's dedicated to printing photos - the dye-sub printer. These are becoming less expensive and are now a very good alternative to the inkjet.
The model we're looking at here is the Photo Printer 641PS from HiTi, or to give them their full name, Hi-Touch Imaging Technologies. The company was established in Taiwan in 2001 with the sole intention of producing high quality image printing for consumer and commercial customers. Although this is our first encounter with them, they seem to have gone a fair way towards achieving their aim!
Hi-Touch makes a range of consumer oriented printers, but the one we tried, the 641PS, has the advantage that it will work as a stand-alone unit that doesn't need to be connected to a PC.
- Model Name HiTi Photo Printer 641PS
- Printing Method 4-pass Dye Diffusion Thermal Transfer continuous tone printing
- Gradations 256 levels per Yellow, Magenta, Cyan colour. Total 16.7 million true colours
- Resolution 403dpi x 403dpi
- Print size 4inx6in (100mmx152mm)
- Paper size 4inx7in (100mmx176mm) with Micro-perforations
- Paper capacity 25 sheets
- Cartridge type YMCO
- Print speed Approx 75sec excluding data transfer
- PC Interface USB1.1 / USB 2.0 full speed
- System Require Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, 128mb RAM, 100MB HDD, USB port and Pentium PC.
- Mac OS X v10.2 (Driver downloadable)
- Dimensions 224x210x14mm (WxHxL)
- Accessories inc. Paper cassette, USB Cable, Software CD, AC cord, Manual, quick guide.
How it works
|Front view with open door. Ribbon cartridge is easily fitted.|
Forgetting the technology inside for the moment, let’s look at how the printer actually works.
As supplied, the printer is a little smaller than we had imagined and comes with what looks, at first glance, like a telephone hand-set. A separate paper tray is also in the box. The supplied cables are fairly self-explanatory, consisting of a power cable, a USB cable and the coiled cable attached to the handset. Three sockets on the back of the unit corresponded to these and you can’t really get mixed up. There's also an on/off rocker switch on the back of the unit.
The supplied media pack carries simple to follow graphics to indicate how the unit should be loaded, with the paper fitting neatly in the tray and slotting into the front. A release button on the top allows the front of the unit to pop open and the ribbon unit to be fitted. It can only go in one way, and only took a matter of seconds to work out which way that was. Click the front closed, turn on the power and you are ready to go. And so far, we haven’t looked at the instruction book!
On the front right side of the printer are three slots. The top two take memory cards and the bottom is a USB socket. With a steady green light, in goes a CF card from the nearest camera. The handset, which sports five buttons and a rocker wheel as well as a small screen, lights up with an eight icon screen. The default is ‘Photo’ so you press the button marked ‘OK’ and up come thumbnails from the card. The rocker wheel lets you scroll through them until you find one that you want to print. Press OK again brings the picture up to full screen and you have a choice of edit or print. If you choose ‘PRINT’ the screen goes to the word ‘processing’. It thinks about it for a short while, then the printer bursts into life and draws paper from the cassette, pokes it out of the back of the machine, then out of the front. As you watch, you may think ‘It’s all yellow’, the paper disappears again through to the back. This time it looks more reddish, before a third trip through the jaws to look like the picture you're expecting. But the paper disappears again to get an over coating (you know this by now because the little screen tells you so) before dropping down onto the top of the paper tray.
When picking up our first print to take over to the window and have a close look and we found it was already dry to the touch. On examination, the print was excellent and we still hadn’t looked at the instruction book!
OK, so there’s a white band at the top and bottom (or each side if it’s a landscape print) but you can see the perforations on the paper, so a quick bend and tear gives you a borderless print.
On the PC
Installation to the PC is simplicity too, with the plug & play capabilities of modern systems and the instructions in the hand book (Yes we did look eventually) are easy to follow. The book looks a little daunting until you realise that it contains instructions in ten languages and the total guide in English covers only eight pages! This is all in picture steps and, despite the illustrations being of an earlier version of the software, can be followed quite well.
|The printer produced consistent results.|
The editing capabilities of both the PC software and the printer in stand-alone mode are fairly basic, although useful enough. We found that sharpening was quite hit and miss, especially on the tiny screen on the handset, and better results could be had from a proprietary editing suite, but that is hardly surprising. The ‘processing’ screen stays for a while, especially with larger files, and the whole printing process is noisier than an inkjet.
Having said that, the print quality is excellent. The 641PS prints at 403dpi, which is claimed to be the equivalent of 6400dpi inkjet printers and produces good saturation and excellent definition. The technology used produces prints that will resist fading long after an inkjet has paled into insignificance and the over coating supplies a finish that won’t smudge or run as soon as a drop of water touches it.
With the advent of inkjet manufacturers litigating against third party ink suppliers and the price of dye-sublimation printers coming down rapidly, the costs of owning and running one of these printers is looking more attractive all the time. This, along with superior life span of prints created in this way, is turning them into a serious contender.
With the HiTi 641PS, you are restricted to a maximum size of 150mmx100mm (6x4in) and a media pack of paper and ribbon to produce 50 prints is £16.95 at the time of writing. This equates to a fraction under 34p per print, but the price can be reduced by buying bulk packs, bringing the cost below 30p per print. Packs of stickers are also available and are something a little different, but we did not get the opportunity to try them out.
For someone needing a stand-alone printer or the ability to print photographs away from the PC, the HiTi 641PS is an excellent piece of kit. The ability to print straight from the camera or scanner, or even a mass storage device with USB interface, as well as printing from memory cards (accepts CF1 & 2, Micro-drive, Smart Media, MMC, SD, Memory stick, MS-pro, xD (with adaptor)) onto photo paper or stickers gives this machine great versatility. The picture quality and tonal ability of the system, along with the longevity of the resultant prints also make it a worthwhile addition to the slightly more versatile inkjet when connected to a PC.
In summary the main positive points of the HiTi Photo Printer 641PS are:
Print quality and longevity
Versatile input options
Consistent print cost
Negative points are:
A little slow, especially processing,
Noisier than inkjets
Cost of media, (although coming down)
Check the latest price of the HiTi Photo Printer 641PS here
Test by Ian Andrews www.wildaboutkent.co.uk