Dell Photo Printer 540

24 Feb 2005

Product: photo printer
Price: €148.83
DIY photo-printing is one of the fastest-growing categories in the consumer electronics market so its no wonder that all the big name manufacturers are falling over themselves to bring new machines to market. The Photo Printer 540 is Dell’s latest offering in this packed segment.

First impressions are positive. The 540 scores well in the looks department, its matt grey finish and chrome buttons giving it a nicely understated feel. It is also compact, light and streamlined, making it portable in an 800-page airport blockbuster sort of way.

A paper tray (taking 6×4-inch paper only) comes separately and slots into the front of the machine.

In terms of function and features, the 540 is well up to the job. Two card slots are located on the front, one to house a CompactFlash card format and the other to take the four other memory card standards – (SD) Secure Digital, MS (Memory Stick), MMC (MultiMedia Card) and SM (Smart Media). One side of the machine contains connections for power, USB (for connecting to computer or USB key) and camera; the other contains the photo cartridge door.

On the top side of the printer, there is a reasonably large LCD screen that can either lie flat or can be angled at up to 90 degrees – a handy feature. In front of this display is the control panel that allows you manage the printing process. A menu button allows you to customise photo and printer settings once you insert a photo card or connect a camera. For example, you can select the layout setting you want (from 6×4 to wallet size), adjust the brightness levels, add extra colour, start a slide show of all pictures on the card/camera and erase images.

Separate buttons on the control panel allow you to choose either colour or black and white printing, cancel the current print job, rotate images, and save an image from your memory card, USB storage device or camera directly to your PC.

Setting up the printer is a simple and painless process. Slot in the ink cartridge and the paper tray, connect the power cable and press the power on button. Once you connect a camera or insert your memory card or USB key, you are ready to print. If you are going to print from a computer, you will need to install the print driver software first. The printer also comes with 30-day trial versions of Paint Shop Pro photo editing and photo album software.

Printing is a four-run process. The first three passes apply layers of yellow, magenta and cyan colours. The fourth applies a coating that protects and preserves the image. Each print takes about 40 seconds – not superfast but not bad either. But be warned: printing is not a particularly quiet affair so bear this in mind if you are working in a quiet environment or your newborn is sleeping in the next room.

In the area where it matters most – print quality – the 540 really delivers. Images were pin sharp and colour reproduced well. That said, the quality of the printing is only as good as the original image allows. As with any printer rubbish will mean rubbish out.

The Photo Print 540 comes with power lead and two photo packs, each containing 40 sheets of glossy paper and an ink cartridge and with enough ink for this number of prints. Replacement packs can be ordered through Dell’s website or its call centre.

One minor quibble is that a USB cable, needed to print images from a computer, is not included. Whether this is for cost reasons or because Dell believes that we all have such a cable tucked away in our bottom drawer is unclear but it is an inconvenience nonetheless.

Another inconvenience is being saddled with a single large print format – 6×4 inch. It would be nice to be able to print in that other common format – 7×5 inch – but Dell would no doubt argue, perhaps with some justification, that this would add to the complexity of the machine and therefore the cost.

It is worth mentioning lastly that the device comes with an offer from Dell to recycle the machine at no cost to the purchaser. This might seem commendable but is in fact necessary with new EU laws on recycling electronics and computer waste due to take effect in the coming months.

By Brian Skelly