The best photo printers on the market are now made by just two companies. There are other printer types and manufacturers in the portable printer, instant printer and large format marketplace, but for photographers who want to print top-quality enlargements, Canon and Epson have this market pretty much to themselves.
But that doesn't mean your choice is limited. Between them Canon and Epson make printers with a range of ink technologies, price points and print sizes.
So what type of printer should you go for and how much do you need to spend? When you start getting into paper sizes, ink systems and pigment versus dye, it can all start to sound rather complicated. So our guide aims to straighten this out and help you decide on exactly the best printer for your needs and your budget.
First, you have to think about what size photos you need. We cover the two main sizes here: the best regular Letter-size printers (A4 in Europe) and the best wide format 13-inch printers (A3). Letter size printers are inexpensive and useful for all sorts of chores, not just photos, but for the best photo printer we'd always recommend a larger wide format model.
For 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.
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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 costs 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.
The best photo printer in 2020
Best letter size/A4 photo printer
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.
Well connected, the printer has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and is fully compatible with Canon’s PIXMA Cloud-based printing and scanning facilities, along with a remote printing app that you can install on your smartphone or tablet. For standalone control, there’s a neat and intuitive 3in touchscreen. A welcome addition is the rear paper input tray that holds plain paper in the front-loading cassette, and up to 20 sheets of photo paper at the rear, at any size up to and including letter/A4 sizes. Print quality is excellent for color photos and pretty good for black-and-white images.
If you want an A4/8.5x11-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 cartridges comes in the shape of its ‘EcoTank’ printers, available in A4/Letter and A3/13-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.
Best 13-inch (A3+) photo printers
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.
The Pro-100S uses dye rather than pigment inks, aiming for exceptionally smooth output on glossy paper. The Pro-100S is well suited to creating black & white photo prints as well as color output, with the inclusion of grey and light grey cartridges. These are in addition to the usual six inks of conventional photo printers, bringing the total count to eight inks. Build quality feels ‘professional’, with a very sturdy chassis and high-grade components. Connectivity is good, with built-in USB 2.0, Ethernet and Wi-Fi. Color accuracy is similarly impressive and print speeds are super-quick. Overall, the Pro-100S is a great performer.
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 A3/wide format printing makes your photos look much more imposing, and print quality itself is very good. Even so, for glossy color and black & white photo output, the XP-970 loses out to the more specialist Canon PIXMA Pro-100S A3+ 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 (A3+) 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.
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.