The title of best photo printer is essentially a dogfight between two names: Canon and Epson. While there are other manufacturers in the portable printer space, these two are really the only game in town when it comes to desktop printers for photos of top quality. If you're looking to frame, mount or display your photos, this is where you want to be.
The good news is, that even with just two major manufacturers, there's still loads of choice. Both Canon and Epson have done a great job of offering a range of printers at various price points, both letter-size and large-format.
So it's best to think about exactly what you need. The key factors to consider are the size of photos you want to print, and the type of ink you want to use. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you can scroll to the bottom of this page for our top tips on how to choose a photo printer.
We've divided this guide up into two sections. First we run through regular letter-size (A4) printers, and then we look at larger wide-format (13-inch) printers. As you might expect, the smaller printers tend to be more affordable, while large-format printers will produce prints of higher quality
Of course, the thing about printers is that it isn't just the initial cost. Ink refills are infamous for being eye-wateringly expensive. However, if you are planning on doing a lot of printing, it is still more cost-efficient than using even the best photo printing services. All of the printers on our list use individually replaceable inks, so you only need to replace cartridges that have run dry. Also, both Canon and Epson have introduced printers that run on bottles rather than cartridges, which is both more efficient and less wasteful.
The best photo printer in 2021
Best letter size photo printer
Typical of Canon 5-ink printers over the years, this one runs on a pigment-based black cartridge for rich, solid text in document printing, along with dye-based cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks for photo output. Better still, you can keep plain paper for document printing in the internal cassette, and load sheets of variously sized photo paper into the upright rear feeder, as and when you want to create photo prints. The four dye-based inks for photo printing naturally have a smaller gamut (or color space) than in Epson’s competing photo printers that use six dye-based inks but, even so, the Canon’s color rendition looks very lifelike and natural for everything from portrait skin tones to vibrant landscapes. The motorized output tray adds a touch of automation and the on-board controls are simple and intuitive, based around an OLED screen. As usual with document/photo printers, there’s a built-in scanner, ideal for creating photocopies, but this model lacks a memory card slot for direct photo printing, although it does have built-in Bluetooth.
Read more: Canon PIXMA TS6320 review
A step up from Canon’s 5-ink printers, this model goes one better with six separate ink cartridges. Along with the usual mix of pigment-based black and dye-based CMYK, it features an additional ‘photo blue’ ink for more vivid photo output with even smoother graduations. For our money, it’s the best letter sized photo printer on the market, but it’s equally adept at document printing. Key features incude Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a memory card slot and facility for printing on white-faced CDs and DVDs. Mono and color print speeds are fast and there’s an auto duplex facility. A motorized tilting front panel and output tray add refinement, along with auto paper width detection, which can save setup time when using different types of paper. Dual input paths include an internal cassette and rear feeder. You can control the printer from a smartphone or tablet, complete with print, copy and scan functions and linking to the cloud via the Canon PRINT app, or print with AirPrint and Mopria. Overall print performance is outstanding.
Read more: Canon PIXMA TS8320 review
If you're sick of the time, inconvenience and considerable expense of having to replace your printer's ink cartridges, then Canon might just have a solution with its latest Pixma Megatank printer. It's a cartridge-free printer, which uses refillable bottles for its ink, and unlike other models, actually comes with a full set of 60ml ink supplies. Refills are also cheaper than XXL cartridges, meaning the printer represents a long-term saving.
Of course, all this wouldn't mean much if the prints didn't look any good. Fortunately, the Canon PIXMA G620 MegaTank (G650 in Europee) puts out images of great quality, with good color rendition and tonal range. It makes the most of its six-ink setup, and can put out high volumes of prints: a full tank-load can produce up to 3,800 6x4-inch photos, or 3,700 mono documents, or 8,000 color documents. It's not the fastest printer, but it is extremely efficient.
Read more: Canon PIXMA G620 MegaTank review
If you want a. regular 8.5x11-inch printer that puts the emphasis on photo quality rather than document output, the Epson XP-8600 is an excellent choice. It has a tailor-made color range that does justice to images produced by high-end cameras. It’s compact, has clever motorized photo paper input and photo/document output trays, smart connectivity options and is good value for both purchase price and running costs. And despite being so photo-friendly, mono and color documents look pretty good too. This does appear to be a very minor update to the older XP-8500, however. If you’d prefer a step up in size, take a look at the similarly new Epson Expression Photo XP-970 13-inch printer instead.
Read more: Epson Expression Photo XP-8600 review
Epson’s new solution for ink cartridge costs comes in the shape of its ‘EcoTank’ printers, available in letter size and larger 13-inch formats. This standard Letter model is supplied with two high-capacity ink bottles, including a 140ml bottle of pigment black ink and 70ml bottles of cyan, magenta, yellow and black dye inks. That’s nearly a pint of ink, sufficient for up to 14,000 mono documents and 3,400 6x4-inch photos. Scanning, photocopying and printing from memory cards is based on a pushbutton interface with a 2.7-inch screen. Wi-Fi and Ethernet are built in, along with a USB 2.0 interface. Quality is good overall but, while color rendition is quite accurate, the tonal range appears a bit lacking.
13-inch wide format photo printers
If you want to print both photos and documents regularly, it can be a pain to find a solution. Printing documents on a photo printer is expensive and inefficient, while photos will look bad coming out of a document printer. And buying two is quite an outlay of cash. So what's the answer? Well, Epson reckons it's their EcoTank ET-8550, a do-it-all printer with a five-ink setup designed to cover the spread and do everything well.
Its ink is tank-based rather than cartridges, making the ET-8550 less costly and wasteful to refill than other printers. Photo quality is very good, with bold and punchy colours, which can be fine-tuned using the custom colour-management settings. You can also load different paper in the separate paper cassettes, and switch seamlessly from photos to documents and back.
Read more: Epson EcoTank ET-8550 review
The Canon PRO-300 is the successor to the highly-regarded PRO-10 and again its distinguishing feature is that it uses ten pigment inks rather than dye-based ink. One of the cartridges is a ‘Chroma Optimizer’, which provides a smooth finish on glossy paper. Of the other nine newly-formulated Lucia Pro inks, you get the standard six colors for photo printing, plus red and grey inks, and both ‘photo’ black and matte black, for printing on glossy and matte media respectively. There are individual channels in the print head for both photo and matte black inks saving time and ink when swapping between media types. Excellent output quality combines superb accuracy for color prints and fabulous definition for black & white photo prints, without any unwanted color casts.
Read more: Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 review
The replacement to Canon’s popular PRO-100 and 100S dye-based A3+/13x19-inch printers, the revamped PRO-200 has a revised range of Chroma Life 100+ inks that deliver richer deep colors and blacks. There’s also better gamut matching between what you see on-screen and what you get in print. The uprated paper transport mechanism features auto skew correction and automatically retracting side paper guides, enabling greater precision. An upside of this is that borderless printing is now available for matte and fine art media, instead of just for glossy paper (as with the imagePROGRAF PRO-300 and PRO-1000 models). The built-in color screen makes for more intuitive operation and again, as with the pigment-based PRO-300, you can create panoramic prints of up to 990cm in length. Color output on glossy paper is simply spectacular, easing ahead of Epson’s larger-format 6-ink photo printers, and the Canon also delivers very convincing output for both color and mono photo prints on matte and fine art media. Even so, the PRO-300 has the edge for printing on matte and fine art media, with its more robust pigment-based inks and additional matte black ink cartridge.
Read more: Canon PIXMA PRO-200 review
There’s a lot to love about this new Epson printer, although it’s incredibly similar to the previous XP-960 model. It works very well as a standalone printer and photocopier, with intuitive touchscreen controls. Going large to wide format printing makes your photos look much more imposing, and print quality itself is very good, though this printer doesn't print quite as large as its 13-inch rivals. For glossy color and black & white photo output, the XP-970 also loses out to the more specialist Canon PIXMA Pro-100S printer. The Epson is smaller, lighter and less expensive to buy, but has dearer ink costs.
Read more: Epson Expression Photo XP-970 review
A plus point of the new P700 is that it comes complete with a roll feeder, something that’s not even available as an optional extra with the Canon 13-inch printers. It enables you to buy photo paper in rolls and create prints with aspect ratios that exactly match your requirements, even stretching to panoramic prints. The printer incorporates a 4.3-inch touchscreen, again absent in the Canon 13-inch large-format printers. High-capacity cartridges are a good match for large-format printing, containing nearly three times as much ink as for the XP-960, and about twice as much as for the Canon 13-inch printers. Color accuracy is excellent and black & white prints on matte media look magnificent.
Read more: Epson SureColor SC-P700 review
The ET-7750 is Epson’s top-of-the-range multi-format printer. But it’s main selling point has to be the ink bottles included. In the box you will get two of each of the five-color system inks. This includes your dye CMYK inks, and a photo-specific pigment black for exceptional image depth. Epson promises excellent savings in return for the investment involved in getting the EcoTank ET-7750. With enough ink included to print you up to 3,400 photos and ink-efficient duplex printing, the gamble is that this will pay off over time. The 6.8-inch display is not a touchscreen, and so navigation is done through the buttons next to the screen. This is no real problem, as the readability is fine, and the panel tilts forward for easier reading. The Epson feels solid in itself, but the various paper trays feel somewhat flimsy and breakable.
Pigment vs dye inks for photo printers
For letter size printing up to 8.5x11 inches, most recent models follow Canon’s lead of combining a pigment-based black ink for crisp document printing, with four or more dye-based inks for premium photo output on glossy paper. Moving up to wider format 13x19 inch printing, there’s a choice of printers based exclusively on dye or pigment inks.
Very broadly, pigment inks last longer without fading, but dye inks tend to give richer, denser colors and sink deeper into the paper surface. They're both 'inks', but they have different pros and cons and printer makers will choose one or the other (or combine them) according to what the printer's designed for. The best photo printer doesn't necessarily use one or the other – it's up to you how you want to balance immediate print quality against long-term stability.
Ink cartridges are renowned as being expensive, but the costs actually compare favorably with prints created by an online lab. The best photo printers (including all those in our list) use individually replaceable inks, so you only need to replace cartridges that have actually run dry.
Combined prices for manufacturers’ own-brand inks and high-quality papers generally average out to around $1.60 per Letter-size print, and up to $5.30 for a larger format 13-inch wide print.
Epson has introduced its 'EcoTank' system where you get a much larger ink supply when you buy the printer, but we're not convinced this makes better economic sense since you have to pay much more up front.