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 and A3+). A4/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 A3+/wide format model.
For printing up to A4 in size (8.5x11 inches in the USA), 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 A3+ printing (13x19 inches), 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 favourably 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 £1.20/$1.60 per letter-size (A4) print, and up to £4/$5.30 for a larger format 13-inch wide (A3+) print.
The best photo printer in 2020
Best letter size/A4 photo printer
1. Canon PIXMA TS9120/9150
This range-topping PIXMA takes a different twist on six-ink printing
Max Print Size: A4 | Print resolution: 4800 x 1200 dpi | Print speed (6x4; std quality): 17 seconds | Interfaces: USB 2.0, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth | Scanner: Yes | Dimensions: 372 x 324 x 140 mm | Weight: 6.7kg
This printer leapfrogs the intermediate TS8150 in the new PIXMA range (TS8120 in the USA). Both printers have the same six-ink line-up, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, memory card slot and facility for printing on white-faced CDs and DVDs. However, this printer has a 5-inch touchscreen and adds Ethernet into the connectivity mix. Build quality is excellent throughout, with refinements that include an automatically-tilting front panel and extending output tray. Portraits have the same beautiful warm skin tones as from the TS6150, but inky blue skies sometimes look fractionally smoother. Overall print performance is outstanding.
2. Canon PIXMA TS6120/6150
The latest in a long line of effective 5-ink Canon PIXMA printers
Max Print Size: A4 | Print resolution: 4800 x 1200 dpi | Print speed (6x4; std quality): 35 seconds | Interfaces: USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth | Scanner: Yes | Dimensions: 372 x 315 x 139 mm | Weight: 6.2kg
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.
3. Epson Expression Photo XP-8600
It’s the most conventional A4 ‘photo printer’ in the group
Max Print Size: A4/letter | Print resolution: 5700 x 1400 dpi | Print speed (6x4; std quality): 10 seconds | Interfaces: USB 2.0, Wi-Fi | Scanner: Yes | Dimensions: 394 x 340 x 142 mm | Weight: 6.7kg
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 A3 printer instead.
Read more: Epson Expression Photo XP-8600 review
4. Epson EcoTank ET-7700
Great for long-term value, this comes supplied with nearly a pint of ink!
Max Print Size: A4 | Print resolution: 4800 x 1200 dpi | Print speed (6x4; std quality): 42 seconds | Interfaces: USB 2.0, Ethernet, Wi-Fi | Scanner: Yes | Dimensions: 390 x 341 x 138 mm | Weight: 8kg
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 A4 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 printer
5. Canon PIXMA Pro-100/100S
Specialising in big glossy prints, it goes large in ink range as well as size
Max Print Size: A3+ | Print resolution: 4800 x 2400 dpi | Print speed (6x4; std quality): 33 seconds | Interfaces: USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, BT | Scanner: No | Dimensions: 689 x 385 x 215 mm | Weight: 19.7kg
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.
6. Canon PIXMA Pro-10/10S
The same but different, the Pro-10S printer use pigment inks
Max Print Size: A3+ | Print resolution: 4800 x 2400 dpi | Print speed (6x4; std quality): 1 minute 13 seconds | Interfaces: USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, BT | Scanner: No | Dimensions: 689 x 385 x 215 mm | Weight: 20kg
The PIXMA Pro-10S 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, 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.
7. Epson Expression Photo XP-970
It’s not quite the full nine yards, but it comes pretty close
Print resolution: 5760 x 1440 dpi | Print speed (6x4; std quality): 26 seconds | Interfaces: USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, BT | Scanner: Yes | Dimensions: 479 x 356 x 148 mm | Weight: 8.7kg
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
8. Epson SureColor P600
Roll your own photo prints with Epson’s range-topping 13-inch printer
Max Print Size: A3+ (plus panoramic) | Print resolution: 5760 x 1440 dpi | Print speed (6x4; std quality): 1minute 04 seconds | Interfaces: USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, BT | Scanner: No | Dimensions: 616 x 369 x 228 mm | Weight: 15kg
A plus point of the P600 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 2.7-inch touchscreen, again absent in the Canon A3+ 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 A3+ printers. Color accuracy is excellent and black & white prints on matte media look magnificent.
9. Epson EcoTank ET-7750
Continuous ink solution is moneysaver for those who print a lot
Max Print Size: A3 | Print resolution: 5,760 x 1,440 dpi | Print speed (6x4; std quality): 20 seconds | Interfaces: USB 2.0, Ethernet, Wi-Fi | Scanner: Yes | Dimensions: 526 x 415 x 168 mm | Weight: 10.5kg
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.