If you intend to print digital images there's not really any choice - it has to be an inkjet. Cheaper, faster and quieter than ever before, inkjets produce excellent results with the minimum of effort. With prices now starting around pound;60 for a basic model from one of the big four - Epson (which currently has the edge), Hewlett Packard, Lexmark and Canon - it's tempting to trash that old dot matrix. And while laser printers may be indispensable for heavy-duty printing, it's the colour inkjet that really brings photography to life.
A decent colour printer can be bought for around pound;100 with the higher resolution sixcolour cartridge machines (for more accurate reproduction of pastel tones) costing between pound;150 and pound;200; Epson's photorealistic printers are especially well-regarded. Recent price reductions and the not too large difference in cost make A3 printers a serious alternative to the ubiquitous A4 models. The larger format would certainly be useful for wall displays and poster making.
Find out also what image editing software is supplied. Although the choice of printer will be largely determined by performance and cost, a good editing program could be a factor. Will the printer be used primarily for digital image processing? If it doesn't need to be connected to a computer then it's worth considering the new range of machines that - via a SmartMedia or CompactFlash slot - print straight from the camera.
Printing consumables - cartridges, ink and photographic paper are still pricey - but you can reduce your costs by shopping around for alternatives to branded products. Don't skimp, however, on the type of paper for special work. Coated photo-paper is the only choice if yu're looking for faithful and vibrant colour reproduction. And, good news for anyone who has seen their pin-sharp digital prints fade into ghostly abstraction in months rather than years: Lyson, one of the largest photographic ink manufacturers now produces long-life inks and papers which, it claims, have an indoor display lifespan of up to 30 years for colour prints and an estimated 100 years for black and white.
Lexmark Z11 and Z31 - high-resolution colour models both available for pound;100 or less.
Z51 - extremely good value at pound;150 Hewlett Packard 895 Cxi - good quality, fast and pound;150-pound;200 Epson Stylus Photo 700 - discontinued, but still available and great value at pound;100 Stylus Photo 750 - excellent quality, high resolution at pound;150 Stylus Photo EX - as the 750, superb quality but costs pound;200 and prints up to A3 size Lyson papers via Marrutt Digital Tel:01825 764057 firstname.lastname@example.org www:welcome.todigicam Home of What Digital Camera magazine. Reviews, tutorials, comprehensive jargon buster and a good selection of links www.shortcourses.com Chapters on digital darkrooms, file formats, printers, photography on the Web, storage and download.
www.photo.net Describes itself as an "online community of people improving their photographic skills". Gear reviews and buying advice.
www.kodak.com Product news, online shopping and photography techniques.
www.digitalfirst.co.uk Online UK stores offering all things digital at keen prices.
www.steves-digicoms.com Excellent site for hardware information.
www.peak-developments.co.uk Wide range of memory cards and card readers.
www.20-20consumer.com Reviews and a "best price comparison" search engine.