ALPS MD 1300 Printer

By William LaMartin, Editor, Tampa PC Users Group


Several months back ALPS gave our group a presentation at our regular meeting. For most of us it was our first contact with ALPS Micro Dry printers. And for many of us it was lust at first site. I almost bought one on the spot since the presenter handed out a preferential user group pricing sheet, but I restrained myself. Apparently a few members decided to make the plunge after returning home. And, since the presenter recommended searching the WWW for prices even lower than the ALPS user group prices, they did exactly that and were happy with their "Internet shopping experience."

Thanks to my wife, I received my ALPS MD 1300 for Christmas, bought from the local COMP-USA for approximately $400 + Tax. At the time I think the best Internet price was around $360 + shipping. COMP-USA, I believe, now has the 1300 on sale for $339, and on the Internet it appears for $340 at my favorite shopping site http://www.buycom.com/. So it appears that buying locally right now is a good idea. If you want to buy the photographic quality ink cartridges or the photographic quality paper, you will save a lot of money by purchasing them via a company like Buy.Com on the Internet. More on that later. Now to the printer.

ALPS 1300.gif (16815 bytes)

From the ALPS site, http://www.alpsusa.com/, one sees that ALPS is currently selling three printers: the MD – 1000, the MD – 1300, and the MD – 5000. The 1000 and the 1300 are the same except that—and this is very important to me—the 1300 allows you to print in dye sublimation mode using the special ALPS’ photographic paper and ink cartridges which produce results approaching closer to photo quality than any other printer I have seen. I have given framed 8 x 10 color prints made in dye sublimation mode to relatives, and they cannot tell that it is not a photo. I have shown members of our group 4 x 6 prints made from scanned color slides, and they agree they look like real "photos".

The normal printing process for the 1000, 1300 and the 5000 is Micro Dry—not dye-sublimation. It is a printing technique, invented and developed by ALPS, to produce fade-proof, water-proof and smear-proof images to a wide variety of media (almost any kind of paper) using a thermal process. The 5000 is a new 2400 DPI micro dry printer (the 1000 & 1300 are 600 DPI), costing around $600. For some reason, though, you have to pay an extra $75 to add the dye-sublimation feature to the 5000. I think possibly it also uses different paper for one of its printing modes from that used by the 1300 (so many paper choices can get confusing). But the regular 2400 DPI mode is quite stunning. Check it out at COMP-USA.

Dye-sublimation is a thermal-transfer process. Ink is heated to "sublimation", the chemical term for moving a substance from a solid state to a gaseous state. The image is then transferred onto special paper. Prints made using this process are beautiful, and you will see no individual dots under magnification, but they are not cheap. I paid about $31 + shipping at Buy.Com for the three ink cartridges and one overcoat cartridge necessary to produce these results. A 20 sheet package of the special photographic quality paper runs $13 + shipping. I bought enough of the ALPS consumables so that the shipping allocated to one set of cartridges and the 20 sheets of paper was approximately $6. ALPS claims that with one set of the photographic quality ink cartridges you can do 31 of the 8.5 x 11 pages at 56% coverage, that is 1,623 square inches of coverage. This is equivalent to doing 20 full 8 x 10 prints. How convenient for our calculations. So it appears that with one set of cartridges and one package of paper you get twenty 8 x 10 color photographic quality prints at a cost of $50, or $2.50 per 8 x 10 print. With more expensive consumables, I suppose this figure could go to $3.50 or $4.00.

When I bought my very large supply of ALPS’ consumables from Buy.Com (it almost appears as if I have as much money in consumables as in the printer), their prices were 40% below that of ALPS or COMP-USA and about 20% below most other Internet retailers. Additionally, Comp-USA and many of the online retailers didn’t offer the entire product line of cartridges and paper. Unfortunately a recent check shows that Buy.Com has increased their prices on these items by about 17%; a photo quality ink cartridge that cost me $6.95 in December now runs $8.13. So, check around before you buy.

In addition to the photographic quality paper and cartridges, I purchased additional regular cartridges and something called photo realistic paper—which produces glossy near photo quality prints using the regular ink cartridges. The photo realistic paper is a good bit cheaper than the photo quality paper, just as the regular cartridges are cheaper than the photo quality ones—and the results are still quite stunning. I use this setup for printing color graphics work I create in Corel Draw. It is a big improvement over what I was getting with my HP 855 C DeskJet. I should note, though, that simply using the regular ink cartridges and regular laser paper produced results only slightly better than my HP 855 C DeskJet.

I only use the new ALPS for color work and direct all text documents to my HP 4 Plus LaserJet , so I am not a normal user. I think most people want to own only one printer. Personally, even though I have nothing but praise for the photographic quality output of the 1300, I cannot recommend it as a printer for very much text output. The black and white text output is excellent; however, it is quite slow—too slow for me but perhaps not for others, since most people are content with the speed of their ink jet printers.

Speaking of speed, in the dye-sublimation mode the printer uses four passes to print the photographic quality output. It takes approximately 6 minutes to print a 4 x 6 print and about 18 minutes to print an 8 x 10. I didn’t check on the speed of printing a standard letter, since I doubt I will ever use it for that. For me the ALPS MD – 1300, used in conduction with my HP PhotoSmart negative, slide and photograph scanner, is like having my own photographic darkroom (which I have but never seem to find time to use). The only outside work needed is getting your color film developed. Of course, a digital camera could solve that problem. Except that an affordable digital camera has a long ways to go to equal the quality of my Nikon N70. The ALPS MD – 1300’s dye-sublimation prints are very close in quality to the product produced by the one hour photo places that most of us use for our prints.

I should also note that in dye-sublimation mode the 1300 also prints beautiful black and white photos. All the different shades of gray are produced by the same photographic quality cartridges that produce color. It is really an education of color mixing to watch as the printer puts down the three basic colors in three passes and ends up with a beautiful gray scale print.

One warning: do not use the photographic quality ink cartridges with regular paper or the non-glossy side of the photographic quality paper. If you should do this, the ribbons in them will stick to the paper and tear. You will then have a tedious job or repair ahead of you if you want to salvage your cartridges. And at their price, you will want to do this unless they are very near the end. To accomplish this, you will have to carefully pry open each cartridge that has a broken ribbon and use scotch tape to splice the ribbon, just as some of us old timers used to do with home movies. Then you will have to reassemble the cartridges, being careful not to lose them, and replace to their correct positions the several interior springs and spindles. I speak from experience. Probably I should tape a note to the top of the printer saying "Put glossy side of paper face up". The regular cartridges do not have this problem.

Unfortunately there is no way to demonstrate the quality of the prints in this newsletter. u