The HiTi S400 comes with all the components necessary to get started printing, minus a print pack, not even a starter kit. Included is the printer, paper cassette, LCD controller, dust proof case, power cord, quick start guide, user manual, CD-ROM with drivers and software, and, amazingly enough, a USB cable. No other printer manufacturer includes a USB cable. Thank you, Hi-Touch.
Setup was quick and easy, and this was one of the things that the documentation described well enough. The whole process, including software installation, took 12 minutes.
Manual / Quick Start Guide (4.00)
The literature included with the S400, both printed and electronic, are not very good. Few things are explained adequately, and there are no extended instructions available, even on the company website. Diagrams of the printer show most of the important features, but not all of them are explained, like the four buttons on the controller that turn on and off specific features. The manual names them and describes that they are turned on and off with the buttons, but no specific explanation of what they do or how they work is provided. This is not necessary with the Date Stamp button, but the Auto Color and Signature buttons should be explained.
Drivers and Administration (7.00)
The driver for the HiTi S400 is divided into four tabs, three of which offer controls. The Setting tab allows for setting the page orientation, paper type, number of copies, and a Magic Coating setting. Clicking this checkbox opens a window (shown below) that provides patterns to be applied to the clear overcoat layer. Users can apply a finely embossed grid pattern which is supposed to simulate a matte finish to the paper. Users fond of matte finish shouldn’t expect a very noticeable effect. The other option is a pattern of cartoon-like images of cat, cow, and dragon heads and zodiac signs. Again, the pattern is very subtle so it doesn’t interfere with the image, but at the same time, it’s so subtle that we wonder why someone would want to apply it.
HiTi provides a position calibration tool in the Tools tab that allows users to print out a gauge pattern on the paper they’re using. Users are then instructed to select the numbers along the vertical and horizontal axes that line up with the paper edge. This is supposed to calibrate the printed area to align with the edge of the perforations on the short side and the edge of the paper on the long side. These numbers are entered in the driver window and saved so the paper is calibrated. We wonder why this is necessary. Other dye sub printer manufacturers don’t have these controls and their prints come out aligned with the paper. It’s not a difficult process, but we’re left wondering if it could be eliminated with better automatic driver control of the printer.
The S400 driver’s Color tab provides the user with a reasonable amount of control, giving them the ability to accept standard auto color settings or manually adjust image settings themselves. Users can choose not to use these settings at all, use Windows ICM management, or select the four auto image settings: Portrait, Portrait Enhanced, Landscape, and Landscape Enhanced. The Auto button disables the use of the slider bar controls on the right of the Color tab. The Manual button allows it. These include brightness, contrast, sharpness, saturation, color settings, and gamma. Users can preview these changes on a stock mountain scene when landscape is selected, and a stock baby portrait for the portrait setting (Three different skin colors are represented—black, Asian, and white).
Checking the Color Spread Management button on the Color tab slows down the printing to provide a more even application of color to the paper. Apparently, the heating process can potentially cause irregularities. We printed with this button unchecked and did not notice any unevenness.
An option to print out RGB color charts also occurs on the Color tab. This button opens a window in which users can select up to ten pages of color squares (500 colors total) for use in matching it to onscreen images.
Photo Désirée Deluxe is the software that ships with the S400. It's a very simple program that allows users to browse files, select images and page formatting, apply Magic Coating effects, and queue them for printing. It does the job with no frills. Beyond that, any image editing would have to be conducted in the driver or third party software.
The HiTi S400 scored the lowest of all the compact photo printers we’ve tested when it came to warm-up time. It only took 20 seconds, but many of the dye subs warm up nearly instantly, between 7 and 14 seconds.
Power Usage (6.47)
The S400 was one of the lowest scorers when it came to power usage, but it still hovered around the same range as many of the other dye subs. The chart below shows the power usage in different printing modes for four dye sub printers. The S400's mean printing score (we measure the mean because most dye sub printers jump around in their power usage when printing) was lower than the Sony FP90 and the Canon CP730, but its ready power usage was higher than these other two. It did score better overall than one printer among the batch we've tested—the Panasonic KX-PX20.
Photo Speed / Timing (3.39)
The HiTi Dazzle falls right in the middle of our print speed scores of printers tested so far. It printed 4-by-6-inch prints in about 75 seconds. The quickest dye sub (and the fastest compact printer), the Sony FP90, printed the same sized prints in just under a minute. The slowest dye sub printer, the Panasonic KX-PX20, took about 115 seconds to print a large-sized file. (We test printers using two image file sizes—a 6 megabyte file and a 19-megabyte file. In the case of the dye subs, most printers were able to print both files at the same or nearly the same rates, except for the Panasonic.)
Color Accuracy (2.50)
Color accuracy is a measure of how well a printer can reproduce ideal colors, in our case, the standard X-Rite Colorchecker chart. This chart, represented below, contains 24 squares of color typically found in photographic images, such as blue sky, flower colors, gray tones, and skin colors. We print out a standard digital version of this chart, created by Bror Hultgren of Image Integration, using the test printers. The distance between the ideal color values and printed color values—measured using a spectrophotometer—in a conceptual color space is averaged, and this value is what our score is based upon. The higher the error, the lower the score.
The HiTi S400 scored relatively poorly, with an average error value of 8.42. However, most dye sublimation printers (and many inkjets as well) we tested scored within the 8 to 10 range, so the S400 was at least on the lower end of that scale.
It's worth noting that the printer is capable of much greater color accuracy. We were able to achieve a very low error of 2.17 using the custom profile we created with X-Rite's EyeOne Pro spectrophotometer and EyeOne Match software. Is users are so inclined, they can achieve good color accuracy by creating their own profile or having one created for them.
Color Gamut (3.36)
The S400 reproduced a wider color gamut than any other dye sublimation printer yet tested. The wider the gamut reproduced, the more colors a printer can potentially print. The standard we measure a printer's gamut by is the Adobe RGB color space, a wide color space used by professional photographers and designers. The total number of colors represented in the Adobe space is 1,225,088, and the S400 was able to reproduce about 48 percent of those colors, or 582,371 colors. We determine this by using Gamutvision, a software program for measuring gamuts and evaluating color spaces.
The chart below shows the two spaces compared, with the S400's color blob nestled within the Adobe RGB's wire frame. As is the case with most printer gamuts, representation of greens and yellows is lacking. Blue colors were better represented than some dye subs, notably the Panasonic PX20.
Ink density is important in determining how well a printer can reproduce rich colors and tones. Two values, dmin and dmax, form the edges of these tones, with dmin representing white, usually paper white, while dmax represents the darkest black a printer can reproduce. The highest density value achievable by home printers is 2.50, and very few can come near to that. Pro photo printers, such as Epson and Canon models, can sometimes score as high as 2.35, but most inkjets score between 2.0 and 2.25. Lasers usually score the worst, while dye sub printers seem to range widely. We've seen excellent dark tonal reproduction achieved by the Sony FP90 (2.30) and very poor dmax values with the Panasonic PX20 (1.56)
The S400 scored right in the middle of this range, at 1.99. This showed as noticeably lackluster blacks and shadow areas. More info on tonal range in black-and-white prints is right below.
The HiTi S400 produced a contrasty print, with less mid-tones, but this was welcome for a dye sub, which typically have somewhat muddy and washed out tonal ranges in our black-and-white test prints. Tonal range was generally better than the other dye sub printers tested, including the Canon Selphy CP730 and the Panasonic KX-PX20, but we found that inkjet printers like the Epson PictureMate Snap produced a wider tonal range and better overall quality.
HiTi takes on a vertical orientation with all of its printers. The paper is pulled from the horizontal paper tray up through the vertical ribbon path and momentarily passes out the paper slot at the back of the printer before being pulled back in to receive the next ink layer. The S400’s chassis is constructed uniformly of black plastic.
From the front, the S400 is largely square in shape and angled back from the vertical at about 45 degrees. The face of the printer is dominated by the front ribbon door, which has a series of horizontal slots that serve as heat vents. The HiTi logo sits at the top of the ribbon door, and the model number sits at the base of the door. When slid down, a silver release switch on the door’s left opens the door from the top. The paper cassette door sits below the ribbon door. It opens with a thumb tab at the top and swings down. The paper cassette is simply slid into the slot, and it locks in place. (More on paper trays in the Components section below.)
The media card slots sit stacked vertically on the right side, with the SD, SM, MS slot on top and the CF slot below this. A PictBridge camera cable port sits at the bottom of the stack. Above the slot is the small, green LED power indicator light.
At the top left of the front is the silver mounting post for the handheld remote control. The control itself is also black plastic with simple silver plastic control buttons. (More on the remote control functions can be found in the Controls / Buttons / Dials section of the Design / Interface page.
At the top of the printer can be seen the dust guard attachment that encloses the paper path slot at the top to keep the paper surface dust-free.
The back of the S400 is minimally featured, with the center dominated by a pattern of holes that serve as vents. Above this sits the hatchback, the horizontal slot covered by a narrow, hinged door that serves as a pass for the paper as it is moves through the rollers for each ink layer.
At the bottom left are the controller socket, into which plugs the plug for the LCD controller, and the USB port for connection to a PC. On the bottom right are the power switch and the power cord socket.
The shape of the printer from this angle is very simple and elegant. The S400’s only functional features on its sides are the heat vent holes that appear in a row of five that lines the top, back, and bottom edges of the printer. The front and bottom edges are lined in sliver plastic in contrast to the base black plastic of the unit. At the top is the mounting post for the LCD controller.
A virtual mirror image of the left side, the right side has no mounting post and is therefore simpler than the left.
Because of the printer’s angled front, the top of the S400 is the narrowest side, all black plastic with no features of note.
The S400's ribbon door is opened via the silver switch at the door’s left. When opened, the ribbon cartridge can be seen standing vertically at the back. The inside of the door contains the heating element that fixes the dye to the paper.The rollers that carry the paper through the ribbon path can be seen along the bottom and the back of the interior, behind the ribbon. The dust filter slides in just behind the louvered door.
The display on the LCD controller is tiny compared to other printers in this price range, but we suppose it has to be limited in size to fit on the handheld control. Given its small size, it displays images well and has adjustments for brightness, contrast, and color.
Paper Trays (8.00)
HiTi did a very good job constructing the paper tray for the S400. Most other dye sublimation printer manufacturers pay only lip service to the function of this all-important component. The trays are actually called cassettes because they usually have two interlocking parts that contain the paper within it, thereby shielding the paper from dust and debris. If you’re lucky, the paper cassettes of other printers actually stay together and don’t beak when you’re trying to load paper.
The S400’s cassette does not come apart in two pieces, and it doesn’t need to. The center hinge allows the front door to open easily and stay open, and the paper can be loaded directly through this open slot. A separate, hinged top serves as an output tray to keep the papers neat and prevent them from falling off the top of the cassette. Most other manufacturers simply let the top of the cassette serve as the output tray.
Once the tray is loaded, it slides easily into the paper cassette slot at the front of the printer and locks in place. The cassette can even be loaded while still in the printer, a feature that the other manufacturers haven’t figured out yet. We hope they’re reading this, because this new kid on the block is really showing them up on details like this.
A 6-foot power cable connects the S400 to the power source.
Internal Memory (7.00)
The S400 packs 32 megabytes of RAM.
Users can queue print jobs for the S400.
Hard Drive (0)
Image storage is not possible on the S400 as there is no included hard drive. Most printers do not have one.
Although portable and compact, the S400 does not have a battery for use at locations without power. Other manufacturers, such as Epson and Canon, provide a battery as an optional accessory for some of their printers.
CD Burner (0)
No archiving onto CDs is possible with the S400, unlike other printers such as the Epson PictureMate Flash.
Hi-Touch provides basic accessories for the S400 Dazzle on its website, including extra dust filters, cleaning, kits, and paper. Two sizes of print packs are offered. (Print packs include ribbon and paper.)
The 50-sheet packs costs $19.99, resulting in a price per print of 40 cents, while the 200-sheet pack, at $69.99, costs 35 cents per print. Since the printer can do ID pictures, they also offer an ID cutter.
Controls / Buttons / Dials (4.50)
The buttons on the HiTi S400 Dazzle's LCD Controller are responsive, and their design seems well thought out. The main buttons consist of the Escape and OK buttons seated above the large directional control that lets users navigate menus and control adjustment levels. Below this lie the Edit, Home, and larger Print buttons.
Arrayed along the top, just beneath the LCD screen, are four small buttons for specialty functions. The first engages or disengages the Auto Color function, which provides users with automatic color settings. The next button, the Matte button, gives the print a matte finish. The Date Print button adds the date to the print, and the Signature button adds a template message to the print.
Since the LCD controller is an independent unit to the S400, we have to remark on its utility. With that in mind, we don’t understand why the socket for the Controller on the printer base is on the opposite side from the Controller cradle. It limits the reach of the already limited and stiff cord. The user has to lift the controller over the top of the printer to utilize the cord’s full length. Simply bad design.
Switching from PC mode to memory card mode was also problematic. The menu does not display anything when the USB cable is hooked up. Only PC mode is possible. We had to physically unplug the USB cable from the printer in order to get the printer's menu to show up for use in memory card mode. No mention of this was made in the printer’s documentation. Most users will be doing one or the other, so perhaps this is not much of an issue in use outside of a testing lab.
The S400's menus allow for basic adjustments and customizations, such as resizing and image enhancement.
Size / Footprint (6.08)
While the S400 is not a big printer, it still scored the lowest of all the compact photo printers we've tested. The printer weighs 5.5 pounds and measures 12 inches by 14.5 inches by 8 inches. We score a printer's size based on its functional contours, meaning with all the paper trays and attachments installed. In the case of the S400, this includes the paper cassette and the dust guard, which sits at the top of the printer over the exit slot.
Like other dye sublimation printers, the HiTi S400 features a single ribbon cartridge that can be used for a set number of prints. The ribbon is a roll of plastic covered with paper-sized films of color ink (cyan, magenta, yellow) and a clear, protective overcoat layer. As the paper is carried through the printer, the ribbon rolls along with it, and the heating element in the printer transfers the ink to the paper based on the image data.
The cost of printing on the HiTi S400 is, on average, more expensive than other dye sub photo printers. The standard print pack, which includes the ribbon and paper, provides 50 sheets for $19.99, at a cost per print of 40 cents. This is cheaper than the Sony DPP-FP90's 50-sheet pack, which costs 50 cents per print. But Sony's price drops quickly for the larger print packs, up to 120 sheets for 29 cents each. Print packs for the Canon Selphy ES1 dye sub printer are even cheaper, costing 30 cents per print for the 50-sheet pack and 28 cents for the 108-sheet pack.
We used the 200-sheet print box, which came with four cartridges, which amounts to 50 sheets per cartridge at a cost of 35 cents each, more expensive than any other printer for larger bulk packs.
Ink Management (4.00)
HiTi provides no ink management system other than the innate one that exists with using dye sub printers. The cartridges are meant to print a set number of prints. That's why they're sold in print packs. In that way, this is a passive management system. However, since stickers don't come with their own print packs, the numerical system can get thrown out of whack.
Print Quality Settings (5.00)
Dye sublimation printers print at only one resolution or quality level. In most cases, this is 300 x 300 dpi, but in the case of the HiTi S400, it can print at a 403 x 403 dpi, which the company says is equivalent to a 6400 dpi resolution on an inkjet. However, the two are not really comparable, as dye subs print continuous tone images, while inkjet prints are composed of millions of ink dots.
Other settings that can be construed as either quality or editing options are the Color Wizard settings, with which users can set a Portrait, Landscape, Enhanced Portrait, or Enhanced Landscape mode.
Internal Editing (5.00)
The S400 has a few basic image editing tools within its menu. These are accessed via the printer Setting menu item and the Color Setting sub-menu. Brightness, Sharpness, Contrast, and Color are all adjustable using the arrow keys and onscreen slider bar to adjust levels. These tools worked well and were easy to use.
While not technically an editing option, the Matte button does provide an effect to the finished print. The same paper is used, but when this option is selected via the controller, a fine grid pattern is embossed onto the print. This doesn't exactly give a matte effect; it only really dulls the paper gloss a little.
Dedicated B&W Settings / Effects (1.00)
No black-and-white settings are possible with the S400, but the on-unit menu provides an option for Sepia, so it does do monochrome.
Media Types (4.00)
Most dye sub printers can only accept one or a limited number of paper types. The HiTi S400 can accept just 4-by-6-inch paper, in 50- or 200-sheet packs, with snap-off edges and blank backs. Other manufacturers provide postcard-printed backs on their paper. Also available for the S400 are 50-sheet packs of stickers in three different configurations—1X1, 4x4, and 4/2/4.
A PictBridge port for connection to a compatible camera is provided at the front of the printer beneath the memory card slots.
Media Slots (5.50)
The S400 features card slots for a wide but not the full variety of memory cards. Included is a single slot for Compact Flash I and II and another slot for MS, MS Pro, SD, MMC, SM, and Micro Drive. The slots themselves are easily accessed at the front of the printer, but they are uncovered and subject to dirt and debris.
Wireless Interface (0)
No wireless compatibilities are available for the S400.
Network (0)*The S400 is meant to be a stand-alone printer, despite its ability to connect to a PC. As a result, there are no networking options.
*Ease of Use** (7.50)
Dye sub printers are very easy to set up and operate. The cartridges just pop into their slots, and in the case of the HiTi S400, paper can be loaded effortlessly in the well designed paper cassette. An important distinction between the S400's paper cassette and other dye sub printers such as those in the Canon Selphy CP-series, the Sony DPP-FP series, and the Panasonic KX-PX series is that the S400's paper cassette can be loaded without removing it from the printer.
Dust is an issue when using dye sub printers. Any hair or dirt that falls on the paper will become a white spot on the print as it prevents ink from reaching the paper. HiTi is the only manufacturer to carefully consider this. They've provided both a dust filter on the ribbon access door behind the louvered heat vents and a dust proof case can be attached at the top of the printer where the paper exits briefly on its path past the ribbon.
The LCD Controller has a small LCD screen, so users need to have decent eyesight to use it. The poor design decision to place the cord’s socket on the opposite side of the printer from the mount for the controller impacts an otherwise high score for this category. The drivers provide several editing options but the default settings offer the user trouble-free printing.
The HiTi S400 provides very good quality dye sub prints at a competitive price with some other printers, such as the Canon Selphy ES1. It will cost the consumer more than other 4-by-6-inch dye sub printers on the market, such as the Sony FP90 and the Panasonic PX20, but the better quality is worth it. However, cost per print is less economical than any other dye sub printer. (See the Value section of the Ink page for more info)
The Canon Selphy ES1 has a similar upright, or vertical, design as the HiTi S400, the same-sized LCD screen, and they both sell for the same price, $249. However, we liked the print quality from the S400 better. The ES1 does win out in the portability category, as it comes with a carrying handle, optional battery carrying case, and no external paper cassette. The paper and ribbon are incorporated into one cassette, which slides into the printer. This reduces both the dust issue and the extra component issue.
Similar in design to the majority of dye sub printers on the market, the Sony PictureStation DPP-FP90 is a small, rectangular box which processes the paper in one horizontal plane. Like the HiTi S400, paper is loaded into an external cassette that is inserted into the front of the printer, but the cassette itself is poorly constructed in comparison. The FP90's relatively huge, 3.6-inch LCD screen is a pleasure to use. Print quality scored better than most of the other dye sub printers we’ve tested (but all scored less than the S400). The FP90 costs $50 less than the S400 and the ES1.
The HiTi 731PS give users the same print quality as the S400 but in larger sizes. The 731PS can print 5-by-7-inch and 6-by-8-inch prints in addition to 4-by-6-inch ones. In terms of design, it’s the S400 on steroids with a nice blue finish. The menu is more extensive, and the included software is more powerful. Unfortunately, it has the same-sized LCD screen on its remote-control-like LCD controller. It prints at a lower, 301-by-301-dpi resolution than the S400, which prints at 403 x 403 dpi, greater than any other dye sub printer. The 731PS costs $399.
While the Epson PictureMate Flash (PM280) is not a dye sub printer, for those not wedded to any particular print system, it should be on your list of possible purchases. Like the HiTi S400, the PM280 can print 4-by-6-inch prints, but the PM240, the same printer without the extras, achieved the best print quality scores of any compact printer our labs have tested. It has no external paper cassette to attach (paper is loaded in a slot at the top), and its durable construction, top cover, and carrying handle make it an extremely portable printer. It also has a CD burner for archiving and sharing images. Unlike the HiTi S400, it has an optional battery that can be purchased for use in outdoor locations. All this for $50 less than the HiTi S400.
Hi-Touch imaging Technologies has produced a compact dye sublimation printer with a unique design that is capable of 403 x 403-dpi resolution. Users can print via PC, media card slots using the LCD Controller, or a PictBridge-enabled camera.
The S400 printer is easy to set up and operate. The ink ribbon cartridge simply plugs in behind the ribbon door, which is vented to release heat but shielded from dust by a filter. HiTi does a better job of dealing with dust than other manufacturers. The printer also has a dust cover that can be attached to the top of the printer to protect the output path there.
HiTi also excels at paper cassette design. Other manufacturers, such as Canon and Sony, have designed a less-than-perfect two-part tray that is awkward to assemble and load. The S400 features a sturdy cassette that hinges open and needs no assembly. Users can load paper with the cassette out of or in the printer, a huge plus. A separate output paper guide and holder atop the input tray keeps prints that exit the printer in place, whereas other printers rely only on the top of the output tray with no guides. Multiple prints fall all over the place.
The corded LCD Controller is kind of an oddity, a throwback to pre-remote control days. This design works fine if, like on HiTi’s souped-up model—the 731PS—the cord socket is on the same side of the printer that the Controller is mounted on. Alas, this isn’t the case with the S400, and the user ends up nearly pulling the printer off the tabletop when taking the Controller off of its mount.
The Controller menus provide printing from memory cards, and the basic options get the job done. Users can tweak color and brightness as well. We found switching from PC mode to memory card mode awkward, as we had no choice but to pull the USB plug to get the LCD Controller’s menu to display.
The driver controls were handy and full of helpful options, both for those who like simple automatic control and those who like to fiddle. Users can quickly tweak the color, contrast, brightness, etc., if they're not using photo-editing software. Documentation, including the paper guides and electronic manuals, were meager and not very helpful. The translation was poor and only the most basic information was provided. The company's website wasn't much help either.
We were impressed with the S400's print quality. It scored higher than in all other printers except one (Sony FP90) in all categories except for one (dmax). Images were richer, deeper, and more lifelike than other printers were capable of producing. Print speeds were average, at about 75 seconds.
The HiTi S400's downside is that the ink and paper cost more than competing models. Price per print for small print packs runs 40 cents each. Users can drop that to 35 cents with the 200-sheet print pack, but this still places it above models such as the Canon Selphy ES1 and the Sony FP90.
The HiTi is on the high end of price as far as 4-by-6-inch dye sub printers go, but the better design and quality justify the cost. We hope the quirks with the LCD Controller will be worked out in future models. If price per print were more in line with the competition, we would have no problems giving a high recommendation to this printer. As it stands, we have to hold back on the accolades. All in all, the HiTi S400 Dazzle dye sublimation photo printer provides very good quality at a competitive base price. Just be prepared to spend a little more on "consumables."
Meet the tester
Tom Warhol is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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