You won't waste a lot of time learning to use this compact, 300dpi dye-sublimation photo printer. Devoid of any on-printer controls other than a standby button, the Sony PictureStation DPP-FP30 is strictly a plug-it-in-and-print component. There is no memory card slot, LCD preview screen, or built-in battery to fuss with. Just connect it to your Windows computer or PictBridge-compatible digital camera and you'll get good-quality 4x6-inch or 3.5x5-inch borderless prints in about 90 seconds. Though not as economical as some other photo printers (competing models such as the HP Photosmart 375 and can deliver prints at about 29 cents a piece--half of the DPP-FP30's 56 cents per print), and lacking many of their features, this model is inexpensive at $149 and deserves a look if you're seeking great prints and a no-fuss photo-printing solution. We've owned toasters that were more complicated to set up and use than the Sony PictureStation DPP-FP30. At 6 7/8 by 2 3/8 by 5 3/8 inches and 2.3 pounds without its separate AC adapter and paper tray, the printer can be toted anywhere and readied for action in seconds. While it's compact, you'll need to allot about 7 inches in front for the paper tray and 3 inches behind for clearance (the paper cycles through the device four times during printing). Plug in the power, flip down the front paper tray, snap in the 20-sheet cassette (which doubles as a tray to accept finished prints), link the printer to your PC or PictBridge-compatible digital camera, and you're ready to go. You can print anywhere there's an AC outlet, but the PictureStation doesn't have a battery pack for truly on-the-go printing.
Both the paper tray and the ink cartridge slide into place easily. Connectors on the back accept the AC power cord and the USB cable to your computer, and both are positioned so that they don't interfere with the paper's straight-through paper path. A port on the side accepts a USB hookup from your camera for direct printing. Both jacks cannot be used at the same time; you'll need to unplug your camera or printer when using the other printing source.
The only printer control is a standby button that wakes up the device, then puts it back to sleep when you're done printing. There's no LCD on the printer; you'll have to keep your eye on three status LEDs. One turns green when the printer is ready to print, switches to red when it's on standby, and flashes when printing is in process. A second LCD lights up or flashes, depending if the camera is or isn't PictBridge-compatible. The third LED helps with troubleshooting: It illuminates or flashes cryptic error codes if the paper tray isn't inserted or if the printer is running low on paper. Slow or rapid flashing indicates a depleted ink cartridge, no ink cartridge, a paper jam, or other malfunction.You'll need to install the printer driver and the bundled PictureGear Studio software to modify print settings for the Sony PictureStation DPP-FP30. For PC output (the unit is not Macintosh compatible), you'll find the driver as minimalist as the printer itself. You can choose either of two paper sizes for bordered or borderless printing, print portrait or landscape orientations, rotate the image 180 degrees, enlarge to 200 percent or reduce to 50 percent, and select from 1 to 20 copies. A second tab in the driver window lets you adjust color balance or sharpness, choose picture quality, or activate red-eye reduction.
You can also specify the printing options your digital camera offers when printing directly from a PictBridge-compliant camera, but most of the time, you'll want to make your tweaks in your own image-editing software or with the PictureGear Studio software. The bundled software includes simple organizational features as well as wizards for creating postcards, calendars, and other projects.
The Sony PictureStation DPP-FP30 takes four passes per print: It applies yellow, magenta, and cyan, followed by a SuperCoat 2 laminate layer that protects the print from fingerprints, moisture, and fading. Because dye-sub printers always deliver the exact number of prints specified from each ink ribbon/paper pack combination, no ink gauge is needed--you'll know it's time to replenish your supplies when the paper runs out. Sony's 80-picture packs cost $45, for a per-print cost of about 56 cents a picture. Other photo printers exact a tariff of from 29 cents to 79 cents per shot, so this one falls upward of the middle.