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A digital image is made up of a bunch of colored picture elements, or pixels. Line these colored pixels up in a grid, stand far enough away from them, and you've got what appears to be a continuous-tone image. It's really just like making a picture by using colored pencils to fill in squares on a piece of graph paper. The difference is that your typical digital image has millions of squares and each square can be any one of millions and millions of colors. Each of those millions and millions of colors has a number associated with it. So to store an image, all your camera has to do is decide what color each pixel should be and then sock away the appropriate numbers.
Change the number for a particular pixel and you change its color. Now as we talked about earlier, an inkjet printer works by spraying colored dots at a page. However, your printer might only have, say, eight different ink colors available. So a single dot of ink can only be one of eight different colors. A pixel in your image though, can be on of millions and millions of colors. To get those other colors, your printer lays down different-colored dots next to each other in particular patterns. Because the dots are small enough and because you view them from far enough away, those patterns of dots appear to be one of thousands and thousands of colors.
Now you may think, wait a second, what happened to the millions that I had onscreen? Don't worry about that. Your eye is not actually sensitive enough to perceive the difference between all of those millions of colors that you can get onscreen. No one knows for sure what it is, but the actual number of colors that your eye can discern is much smaller than the total number of that your monitor can display. So your printer gets by just fine with its mere thousands and thousands of colors. The important thing to understand here is that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between pixels and printer dots. It might take a pattern of dozens of different printer dots to replicate the color of a single pixel in your image.
This is why printers support resolution settings that are so high. Your printer might say a resolution of 1440 dots per inch, but remember, that's in dots per inch, printer dots, not pixels per inch. The actual number of equivalent pixels per inch that your printer can print will be much smaller. So your printer might list a couple of resolutions. For example, Epson photo printers typically offer 1440 dots per inch and 2880 dots per inch. In the printer driver, you will have a choice of which you want to use.
Now, I have never been able to tell an image-quality difference when printing with the higher resolution. As near as I can tell, that's just a way for you to use up ink faster. You might want to do some test on your own though, just to see if you can tell a difference, but I would not include printer dot counts on any list of features to look for when printer shopping. It's just simply not a number that you need to think about. We'll have much more to say about pixels, printer dots, their relationship, and color as we continue.
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