|Review: ALPS MD-5000 Micro Dry Printer
Retail under $600. Factory refurbished $499.
The photo to the left shows the MD-5000 with 7 supplied cartridges loaded. Dye sub cartridges on top are blue for easy ID. The ALPS MD-5000 printer uses a dry printing method using cartridges that resemble cassette tapes. Up to 7 cartridges can be loaded in the printer at one time. The printer comes with “standard” printing cartridges (cyan, yellow, magenta, black) as well as photo primer, Finish II, and Econo Black. The Econo Black cartridge can be reversed up to 20 times for draft printing. The Finish II cartridge can be reversed 5 times. The rest of the cartridges are not reversible. There are also gold and silver foil as well as metallic colors available too. The printer will do dye sublimation with an upgrade kit from ALPS. ($99 from ALPS). Replacement cartridges are very reasonably priced at $7 to $12 each. I was able to get a good deal on 4 packs of standard CMYK inks for $16. (about $4.00 each)
Standard Ink Printing
Impressive, high-quality color documents are the result of Alps' new patented "Micro DryTM " printers. This next-generation printer provides crisp resolutions up to 2400 dots-per-inch for both monochrome text and photo-quality color output. The following discussion is a brief explanation of this printer and how it works.
Different technologies form dots in different ways. Micro Dry dots are constructed from resins that result in an extremely fine edge. Laser dots are formed from toners that usually "powder", forming tiny satellites around the dot itself. Inkjet dots are wet droplets that are absorbed into the paper, so that individual dots sizes increase. The Alps MD-5000 can form "variable dots" from 10 to 40 micron.
The micro dry technology produces vivid color prints that won’t fade, won’t smudge, won’t smear. It will print on any paper. The text printing on the ALPS is sharper and cleaner than ink jets and laser printers. Graphics are nice and sharp. It will print glossy photos on regular paper. It will also print transparencies, iron-on transfers, and mug transfers.
The MD-5000 will print up to 2400 DPI on special VPhoto print film. The output is jaw dropping. Color reproduction great. Skin tones look good. On standard copier papers, a special primer can used to even out the surface of the paper before printing photographs. This greatly improves photo quality on copy paper. The best it can do on copy paper is 1200 dpi. I recommend V-Photo print film for photographs and copy paper for all other printing when using the standard inks.
I should also mention that the MD-5000 prints one color at a time. For a picture using VPhoto print film for instance, it prints cyan, backs the paper up, prints magenta, backs up, prints yellow, backs up, prints black and if you are using glossy finish, backs up, finish. It automatically switches cartridges between colors. The registration between colors is perfect. You couldn’t get better registration on a 7 color printing press. Quite a feat for a desktop printer! It takes about 5 minutes to print a 4x6 and about 17 minutes to print an 8x10. This is longer than it takes an ink jet printer to print the same sizes but the quality is much better so I think it is worth the wait. It will print a page of black text in Econo Black mode in about a minute.
Dye Sublimation Printing
Dye sublimation printers are similar to thermal transfer printers in general. Like them, they use color transfer ribbons that provide each of the primary colors (cyan, magenta and yellow -- black is a composite of all three of these colors).
Instead of transferring a dot of colored resin to paper, the Alps print-head heats up a spot on the ribbon and turns the solid color into a gas (that's what sublimation means). The gas is then absorbed by specially manufactured papers. The result is a printed output that looks like a continuous-tone photograph from the photo lab.
Because the inks and papers are made for each other, the use of non-dye sublimation papers is not possible. However, papers are made for a variety of applications, including photo-mug transfers.
Compared to the large and bulky inkjets and laser printers on the market, the MD-5000 is a compact printer that will not take up much room on a desktop. It is about 18.2 inches wide by 11.8 inches deep by 7.5 inches high and weighs about 11 lbs. 8oz. There is a pullout tray, which retracts when not in use, to receive the printed paper. There are no ink cartridges. The printer uses a variety of ribbon cartridges which are easily installed in the four cartridge holders at the front compartment. You can install up to 7 ribbons, depending on the type of printing you are doing, leaving one position open for cycling. There is a high quality black cartridge, as well as a basic reusable black cartridge, which can be used over and over again. There are the standard magenta, cyan, and yellow cartridges, which are not reusable; a primer ribbon cartridge that can be used to prepare many papers for printing, even standard off-the-shelf photocopy paper; and a finish cartridge for a glossy look. For dye sublimation printing, you use a different set of ribbons. There are also ribbons so you can print with metallic colors, use silver and gold foil colors, and print in white.
(Real world printer tests with Mavica FD91 photos)
FD-91 photos 1024X768 ALPS MD-5000 printer.
Factory refurbished from $280.00 (fantastic deal)
Dye sublimation upgrade provided by ALPS for review purposes. (Thanks ALPS!!)
Mac SCSI upgrade from $44.00 (Another great deal!)
I have used several ink jet printers from Hewlett Packard and Epson. While they produce good to great photos, none of them have been absolutely stunning. The Epson printers have produced the best results so far but all the inkjet photos I have printed are starting to fade with age. The ALPS MD-5000 however produces absolutely stunning photographs in dye sublimation mode. They really look like photographs. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I printed a few 4x6 photos using 4X6 size photographic paper from ALPS and took them to work to get some reaction from some other computer people. (We do computer consulting and programming). I thought for sure that even though the prints were really good that computer people would know they came from a printer. They didn’t. They said "Nice pictures!". After explaining where they came from they were amazed! I even looked at them several times at work because I just couldn’t believe that the prints came from a printer. 4X6 prints on VPhoto print film were almost as nice.
Now some not so good news. 8x10 prints from the FD91 are slightly pixelized using VPhoto print film and standard inks at 2400 dpi. The prints still look better than my ink jet tries and the pixelization is not noticeable unless you get closer than a foot away from the picture. The color is good. I thought that dye sublimation mode would do a better job at 8x10 than standard inks but it didn’t. The standard inks won on this but I bet if you had higher resolution that the opposite would be true. I don’t expect to be printing many 8x10s anyway since the FD91 doesn’t have the resolution to make this practical. 5x7 prints look great so I will probably make that my largest print size.
I had some trouble with some faint blue banding in dye sub mode. This problem was resolved by replacing the blue dye sub ribbon. I wonder if consistency might be a problem with the ribbons. Time will tell I guess. I also noticed some occasional very faint vertical line artifacts in lighter areas of the prints in dye sub mode. The artifacts are not visible in darker areas. I called ALPS 24 hour, 7 days a week (nice!) tech support on this. They told me that this was not normal and I should clean the printer. They verified that the prints should have no artifacts at all and should look like photos. Well, I cleaned the printer and the problem is a little better but not fixed so I will probably be sending it in for repair. (Remember that my printer is factory refurbished so who knows what kind of abuse it has had. I haven’t had any problems with the standard inks. Just dye sub.)
There are two manuals that come with the printer. One is printed, the other is on the CD. I was not overly impressed with the manuals. Computer users vary when it comes to liking printed material. I have friends that never open a computer book for software or hardware. On the other hand, I am a reader and like books and user guides. With the mass marketing of printers and the lowering of prices, something had to go, and it was the quality of the manuals. Since you can do so much with the Alps--print with foil and metallic colors; use white ink for printing on dark paper; print on both sides of the paper; and print overlays, I thought the material was not well organized nor complete enough for what the printer can do. For instance, when printing silver and gold foil colors with CMYK colors, the manual states to use the overlay mode if you have problems. But information on overlay is in another chapter; the information is scanty at best; and further information about settings for this type of printing were found on the last page of the 89 page manual. This is not just a complaint I have about this printer or device. I have been purchasing printers, scanners, and general computer equipment for over 10 years and I still have the manuals that came with the items. In those days, the quality of the manuals was to die for; you usually got more than one printed manual; they were extremely thorough, and actually printed out. You didn't have to go to the trouble to print out a 100 page manual. Nowadays, even with the more pricey items, you are lucky to get a printed manual, much less a thorough one. Many are skimpy. And if they are large and you have to print them out from the CD, it can be time-consuming. Most computer users are familiar with inkjet or laser printers, but many know nothing about dye sublimation printing as most other dye sublimation printers are priced out of the range of typical users. I think the quality you get from the Alps is as good as or better than the other inkjet and laser printers out there and it would be an excellent choice for the average business or home user. A thorough manual wouldn't hurt to familiarize the computer user with this type of printing.
Overall I would say that the ALPS MD-5000 printer is the most technologically advanced printer in the consumer market. It will do things that no other printer can do for less than $5000. I am very impressed with the output and assuming that ALPS can fix my artifact problem in dye sub mode. The printer prints better than anything else I have seen. I won’t go back to ink jets after using this printer. This printer is ideal for Mavica users considering buying one of the SONY dye sub printers for Mavica photo printing. You get a dye sub printer as well as a "desktop print shop" as ALPS calls it.
The Alps MD-5000 gives you a wide range of print modes that produce quality prints, provides sharp images of skin tones, black & white photos, and the fine detail of a high quality laser printer but it has a price closer to that of an inkjet. It is great for brochures, newsletters, and flyers where you want crisp text and quality graphics. The reusable black ribbon cartridge makes it economical for printing drafts. Also having the inks in separate containers saves you money. Having prints that are smear-proof, fade proof, and water-proof is important for many users. They can be handled immediately. I did not find the MD-5000 to be overly slow for the quality of output. It is slow when you print a full color page, but all printers are rather slow when printing full color pages. I would highly recommend the Alps MD-5000 for anyone seeking affordable high quality graphic output and sharp, clean text from a single printer.
ALPS has print samples available. Give them a call at (800) 825-2577 and request some samples and brochures. Insist that dye sub samples be included in the pack since I only have their word at this point that my printer may have a problem. Visit their web site at for more information and FAQs about the ALPS printers. They have a special right now on "open box" 5000s and 1000s at very good prices.