Olympus P-440

printer, at that time it was the only affordable, A4 size dye-sub printer on the market and cost $999 (later reduced to $799.) It was a great printer, it's only fault being that largest print size was 7.64 x 10" which fell just short of the "magic" 8 x 10-inch size needed by professional photographers. It's now February 2004 and Olympus has released the updated P-440 printer which looks almost physically identical to the P-400. It uses the same ribbons and paper but now prints full 8 x 10" size pictures and has a street price of just $499. Other improvements include a 1.8" color LCD replacing the monochrome LCD on the P-400, an xD-Picture Card slot replaces the SmartMedia card slot and more standalone filter options. The lower cost of consumables has brought the per print price down to about $1.86 versus $2.50 back in 2000. I'm sure that many of you have probably driven yourself crazy trying to get inkjet photo printers to make prints that have the same color as your camera pictures. It isn't always an easy task, you're fighting both the computer's color management system and the printer's CMYK printing system. One of the beauties of dye-sublimation printers is their lack of complicated color adjustments and output resolutions. Dye-subs have only one output resolution and very little (if any) need for twiddling with color controls. If your image is properly exposed and white balanced, it will create a truly awesome print from the P-440. Many people confuse the output resolution of dye-sub printers and inkjet printers, it just isn't the same. The inkjet makers throw numbers at you like "4800 dpi" and yet the P-440's resolution is only rated at 314 dpi - what gives?   The difference is that inkjet printers spray a multitude of tiny little dots of ink on the paper to make a picture. And to quote my Digi-Dictionary: Dye Sublimation is a printing process where the color dyes are thermally transferred to the printing media. Dye sub printers use the CMY (cyan, magenta, yellow) process and the colors are contained as dyes on a thin sheet of plastic. The paper is run in and out of the printer four times, once for each color and then a fourth time when a protective overcoat is applied. Dye sub is continuous tone printing, it prints tiny square dots each of which is denser in the center and lighter on the edges. These dots can be varied from almost no dot at all to an almost completely solid dot. The dyes are transparent so different colored dots can be printed on top of each other to form any one of 16-million colors. This is known as the subtractive color process . Dye sub prints rival conventional photographs in both their color gamut and longevity with water and UV resistant qualities. For the sake of accuracy we must state that most printers claiming to be dye sub printers are actually dye diffusion printers. The technical name for this process is Dye Diffusion Thermal Transfer or "D2T2" printing. To achieve true sublimation printing requires a laser to vaporize the dye material. The personal 4x6" dye sub printers and the larger format ones like the Olympus P-440 or Kodak Pro 8500, heat the dye material with a thermal printhead and use pressure rollers to push the ribbon into contact with the paper where the diffusion then occurs.

The P-440 is a fast printer when used with a modern Windows PC it can crank out an 8" x 10" print in approximately two minutes. The advertised print time of 75 seconds does not include the image processing or transmission time. When operating in standalone mode the per print times will vary depending on the image resolution. The same C-5060 5-megapixel image that took exactly two minutes to print an 8x10" from my PC (3GHz Pentium 4) took 2:40 minutes to print from an xD-Picture Card. More complex layouts with multiple images per page will take much longer to print, especially index sheets with thumbnails from 45 hi-res pictures. For the event photographer or anyone that needs to make high-quality prints "on the scene" - the Olympus P-440 will probably pay for itself in no time. If you missed it back on page 1, the approximate per print cost is under $2.00 for 8 x 10's which means that you can sell these prints for a reasonable price and still make a good profit. (I've shopped around the net and so far the best pricing I have found is $89 for the PA4NE Standard Paper (glossy) 100 sheets and about $45 for the glossy ribbons good for 50 prints. So by my math that works out to about $1.80 per A4 sheet printed.) There are downsides to using a printer like the P-440 though. It's like a laser printer in that you need to think in terms of a page printer. With an inkjet printer or the smaller format 4x6" dye-sub printers it's easy and quick to make regular size prints. With the Camedia Master software or in standalone mode you can also make smaller prints with the P-440, the problem is that they are printed on the same sheet of paper. This means that you need to factor in the cost of a good photo trimmer as well as the cost of the printer and consumables if you are making smaller prints. Plus you have to be "handy" with a photo trimmer, it isn't an automatic process. Olympus does have two types of paper available that lets you bypass the trimmer - the PA4LU Snapshot Paper (glossy) has four 3.5x4.7" micro cut cards per sheet. And the PA4PU Postcard Paper (glossy) has two 4x5.8" micro cut cards per sheet. These are available in 25 sheet packs. The Snapshot Paper isn't bad pricewise but it isn't a standard print size. The Postcard Paper is also just shy of the standard 4x6" print size but at only two per sheet, it's quite expensive per print.  The P-440 is an excellent printer for those needing to print 8 x 10" size prints with the same archival properties as conventionally processed film prints. At a cost of around $500, the P-440 is currently in a class of it own, the nearest competitor is the Kodak 8500 at ~ $300-400 more. The P-440 performs flawlessly and produces professional quality prints when connected to a PC or operating in standalone mode. The prints come out dry to the touch and are coated to resist UV fading, fingerprints, moisture and scratching. This is a very economical alternative for the small studio professional user or the enthusiast that isn't satisfied with inkjet prints.