Buy a Dye Sublimation Printer?
June 17, 2005 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for a new printer to replace a dead inkjet, and have considered getting an old HP 5 color laserjet or something similarly robust, but have run across something called the dye sublimation printer made by Alps and others.

My SO is an artist, a printmaker, and she's printed out digital images with the inkjet to good effect. Is a dye sublimation printer better for this type of thing? Anyone have experience with these printers?
posted by swift to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
is that for selling? if your printing art to sell, i think the latest epson inkjet (the one wide enough to take a3, and with a bunch of different colours, inlcuing "grey") is the "amateur standard".

otherwise, we have a sublimation printer at work - because they are cheaper to run, i believe. my experience with poor quality paper (ie standard photocopy paper) is that the results are not as good as inkjet - not as bright/brilliant. but i think it's the paper that's probably responsible for that.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:06 AM on June 17, 2005

A while back, dye-sub was the way to go if you needed to imprint things like coffee mugs. Nowadays, it seems to be an also-ran; the inkjets have surpassed dye-sub technlogy in terms of speed and precision. Personally, I prefer the higher-than-$100 HP line, but, to each his/her own, I suppose.
posted by catkins at 9:46 AM on June 17, 2005

but i think it's the paper that's probably responsible for that.

That's exactly right, too. Dye Sub printers have special glossy paper that allows the ink to properly "bleed" from one pixel dot to another. In fact, because of this bleed, Dye Sub printers don't properly have pixels in their output, and the quality of the output isn't properly measured in dpi (dots per inch).

The only drawback to this is that Dye Sub printers don't do well with small text, seeing as they depend on bleed to fool the eye into thinking it's an analog rather than digital output.

If you're looking for a printer that produces good text and good graphics, you're going to be spending some good money on it. HP makes a reasonable color laserjet for less than 600.00. It's going to have the same issues as an inkjet in that if you look too closely, you can see the separate dots.

Nowadays, it seems to be an also-ran

It may seem that way, but what you're doing there is falling for the marketing of the inkjet marketplace. The inkjets, in general, provide poor quality in comparison to any thermal transfer process, no matter what resolution they pretend to be (effectively, any inkjet printer that advertises more than 600x600 resolution is jerking your chain with interpolative numbers).

It all really depends on your target audience. If it's just for you, or for business output, or the like: An inkjet will be serviceable enough. If you're looking for output that will look more analog (read: photographic or artistic), take a look at the output from a Dye Sub.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:58 AM on June 17, 2005

I'd quickly mention that finding ALPS consumables is nowhere nearly as easy as finding inkjet or color laser consumables.

Consider stocking up if your SO needs to be prepared for heavy contract work.

That said, dye-subs do well on photographic products.

If you're in the budget for color laser and you do photography, have you considered a Fujix Pictrography printer? The results are amazing and the price of a used Pictro has come down dramatically. Using a Pictro is like having a developing room on hand.
posted by Rothko at 10:12 AM on June 17, 2005

I own the Color Laserjet original, which is what the 5 was called before HP changed the name.

It is SLOW AS A DOG. Avoid at all costs. It will take 30 minutes (and MORE) to do a full page colour print, as it takes the printer that long to rasterize using the last windows driver ever made.

It will crash often if you send it postscript. Oh, and if you use a different driver (say, Ghostscript) it will "only" take 5 - 15 minutes to print a page, but the colours will be off.

When you do get your colour output, the quality will look like a newsprint cartoon.

Did I mention that the company that made the engine in the printer (HP only made the nice case) quit making them like a decade ago? There are no spare parts anywhere at all, and almost all of the HP CLJ 5 parts are consumables (not just the drum and toner, but E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G, all the way down to the transfer belt).

Yeah, sorry to bust your bubble, but I am the proud owner of a 100 lb hulking POS. And people that know me know that I don't call an HP printer a POS easily. I'm still just upgrading from my LJ 2 1/2.

An oldie but not a goldie.
posted by shepd at 10:17 AM on June 17, 2005

Shepd's advice is excellent: If you do buy a HP LJ5 and you use a Mac, make sure you're buying one with a firmware chip that has been updated to post-2002 level. Previous firmware versions have numerous PostScript problems.
posted by Rothko at 10:23 AM on June 17, 2005

It might be worth considering a continuous ink system (That is just the first link I found, not an endoresement of any kind).
posted by Chuckles at 5:07 PM on June 17, 2005

forget old printers. Color lasers have just transitioned to the Inkjet model, where the printer itself is nearly free, and the manufacturer makes it up in supplies.

I have an HP 2550n. The total cost of the printer, less the cost of supplies that came with it was somewhere around $100. The printer is very fast (close to 24ppm B&W, very close to 5ppm color), the print quality is good (great for code, charts, etc. Very good for satellite photos, as good as most cheap inkjets for photos) and built in ethernet makes it easy to share among my PCs and Macs.

The most important thing to consider when buying a printer, after print quality, is the cost per page. Inkjets are vastly more expensive on a per-page basis than lasers. But each laser has its own per-page price. Compute this yourself based on the cost of supplies and estimated number of pages per cartridge (and drum, etc.).

The Tektronix Phaser dye-sub printers are popular among some artists, but then so is B&W film. For home use, it is best to get an affordable and decent printer, then go to the print shop for the gallery-quality prints.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:07 PM on June 17, 2005

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