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DNP DS620A photo printer is overkill for consumers, but moneymaker for pros

If you print a few photos a month, or need to print them larger than 6 x 8 inches, you can skip reading this. The DS620A from DNP is not the printer you want.

But for pro photographers who need to make small-format photos on the fly – and quickly – the DS620A could be indispensible. Imagine the scenario: a wedding photographer needs to print an entire photo album for guests quickly and on the spot. No consumer color inkjet printer could deliver the 400 prints-per-hour speed the DS620A is rated at.

Professional, niche printers like the DS620A aren’t something we usually look at, but we recently had a chance to check one out, and compare it to the consumer photo printers that we normally review. We found that it’s not something a home user would have a need for, but professional photographers (or anyone who can make money out of selling prints) could use one as part of a business.

At $1,100, the DNP DS620A is expensive. The media also costs more than standard inkjet photo paper, though the cost per print, about 19 cents for a 4 x 6 and 47 cents for a 5 x 7 or 6 x 8 print, is in-line with premium papers from Finestra Art or Epson. Depending on the size, the printer can make between 400-800 prints.

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Another thing that differentiates the DS620A from consumer photo printers is that it’s not an inkjet, but rather a dye-sublimation printer. Dye-sub printers use a three-color (cyan, magenta, yellow) ribbon, and the special dye goes directly from a solid coating on the ribbon to a gas, without passing through the liquid state. This gas is deposited on the paper to produce an image. Many photographers believe that the output of a dye-sub printer more closely resembles conventional film and silver chemical processing, like old-school prints made from 35mm film.

The DS620A is rather large, at 10.8 x 14.4 x 6.7 inches, considering that the largest print it can produce is 6 x 8 inches. It’s basically a gray and beige cube, with a slot on the front-panel through which the prints are ejected, with a plastic output tray for catching the prints. The only controls are a power switch on the lower right of the front-panel, and a latch that lets you pull the print mechanism out of the case to install the paper and ribbon.

Media is supplied as a roll of paper, either 5 inches wide or 6 inches, and the appropriate dye-sub ribbon. We found the directions for installing the paper somewhat inadequate, although we figured it out after a few minutes of playing around. Documentation is very sparse, although the process consists of just installing the Mac or Windows print driver and plugging in a USB cable. The DS620A doesn’t support Ethernet of Wi-Fi.

For occasions like parties and weddings, DNP sells custom printing software to produce photo booth strips (6×2 inches with three images) and party albums. For our testing, we used Picasa 3.0 and printed about 100 photos. The DS620A is very fast when compared to an inkjet, spitting out a 5 x 7 photo in only a few seconds. We loaded up the Windows Print Spooler and the printer churned out all 100 photos in just a few minutes.

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In comparing the sample prints to those made from any photo-capable inkjet printer, the average user would be hard pressed to tell the difference. Details in the image are actually just a touch sharper in the inkjet output, which is a result of precision placement of ink droplets. But the very slight melding of colors in the dye-sub print is what gives the output the look of silver process film.

For photographers who shoot for a living, on-demand prints could be an added value as part of their services, or something they can charge extra for. So the DS620A could pay for itself in the long run. We could see photographers building a small business around the DS620A, perhaps hooking up with a DJ and setting up a photo booth at the DJ’s gigs.

But as a replacement for a photo inkjet, the DS620A is not practical for the home user: It is too expensive and too limited, even for those who enjoy making photo albums and scrapbooks.