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The best photo printer in 2021: top A4 and A3 desktop printers for photography

Included in this guide:

Best photo printers

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 A4 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 A4 printers, and then we look at larger A3+ (13-inch) printers. As you might expect, the smaller printers tend to be more affordable, while A3+ printers usually 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 printers 2021

Best A4 photo printer

Recommended

(Image credit: Canon)

This Canon workhorse is an excellent dual-purpose choice for photo and document printing

Specifications
Max Print Size: A4/8.5 x 11in
Print resolution: 4800 x 1200 dpi
Print speed (6x4; std quality): 19 seconds
Interfaces: USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Scanner: Yes
Dimensions: 376 x 359 x 141mm
Weight: 6.3kg
Reasons to buy
+Fast print speeds+Standard, XL and XXL cartridge options
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively limited ‘photo’ ink range-No memory card slot

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 colour space) than in Epson’s competing photo printers that use six dye-based inks but, even so, the Canon’s colour 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. This printer is also available in white (rather than the standard black) as the Canon Pixma TS6351.

Read more: Canon PIXMA TS6350 review

(Image credit: Canon)

Running on bottled ink, this model is great for high-volume photo printing

Specifications
Max Print Size: 8.5 x 11in
Print resolution: 4800 x 1200 dpi
Print speed (6x4; std quality): 46 seconds
Interfaces: Hi-speed USB, Wi-Fi
Scanner: Yes
Dimensions: 445 x 340 x 167 mm
Weight: 6.6kg
Reasons to buy
+Huge ink cost saving+Photo prints look great
Reasons to avoid
-Higher initial cost-Slow print speeds

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 G650 MegaTank (G620 in the US) puts out images of great quality, with good colour 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 colour documents. It's not the fastest printer, but it is extremely efficient.

Read more: Canon PIXMA G650 MegaTank review

(Image credit: Future)

3. Epson Expression Photo XP-8600

It’s the most conventional A4 ‘photo printer’ in the group

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Fast, high-quality photo output+Full line-up of six individual inks+Compact and clever
Reasons to avoid
-‘Photo paper’ tray has limited size-Auto corrections can be too vivid

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 colour 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 colour 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

(Image credit: Epson)

4. Epson EcoTank ET-7700

Great for long-term value, this comes supplied with nearly a pint of ink!

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Accurate colour rendition+Good range of connectivity
Reasons to avoid
-Pedestrian photo print speeds-Highlights/lowlights could be better

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 colour rendition is quite accurate, the tonal range appears a bit lacking.

Best A3+ photo printer

(Image credit: Canon)

5. Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300

The best A3 photo printer overall

Specifications
Max Print Size: 13x19 inch / A3+
Print resolution: 4800 x 2400 dpi
Print speed (13x19 inch; std quality): 6m 30s
Interfaces: USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, BT
Scanner: No
Dimensions: 25.2 x 15.0 x 7.9in / 639x379x200mm
Weight: 14.4kg
Reasons to buy
+Superb output quality+Printer uses 10 pigment inks+Front or rear feed
Reasons to avoid
-Not the fastest printer

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 colours 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 colour prints and fabulous definition for black & white photo prints, without any unwanted colour casts.

Read more: Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 review

(Image credit: Canon)

6. Canon PIXMA PRO-200

Canon’s new and much improved dye-based A3+ printer

Specifications
Max Print Size: 13x19 inch / A3+
Print resolution: 4800 x 2400 dpi
Print speed (6x4; std quality): 33 seconds
Interfaces: USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, Ethernet
Scanner: No
Dimensions: 25.2 x 15.0 x 7.9in / 639x379x200mm
Weight: 14.4kg
Reasons to buy
+Superb output quality+Printer uses 10 pigment inks+Front or rear feed
Reasons to avoid
-Not the fastest printer

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 colours 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 colour 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. Colour 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 colour 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

(Image credit: Epson)

Roll your own photo prints with Epson’s range-topping 13-inch printer

Specifications
Max Print Size: 13x19 inch (plus panoramic)
Print resolution: 5760 x 1440 dpi
Print speed (8.5 x 11"; std quality): 1 min 29 sec
Interfaces: USB 3.0, Wi-Fi, BT
Scanner: No
Dimensions: 20.3 x 7.3 x 14.5in / 616 x 369 x 228 mm
Weight: 35.3lb / 15kg
Reasons to buy
+Excellent colour accuracy+High capacity cartridges+Paper roll feeder

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. Colour accuracy is excellent and black & white prints on matte media look magnificent.

Read more: Epson SureColor SC-P700 review

8. Epson Expression Photo XP-970

It’s not quite the full nine yards, but it comes pretty close

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+Vibrant A3 glossy photo output+Individually replaceable ink cartridges+Built-in scanner
Reasons to avoid
-Even ‘XL’ ink cartridges lack capacity-Lacks colour range of most rivals-Maximum output size smaller than A3+

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 colour 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

(Image credit: Epson)

Continuous ink solution is moneysaver for those who print a lot

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+High-quality print results+Extremely high ink capacity+Cost saving for bulk printing
Reasons to avoid
-High initial outlay-Paper trays are flimsy

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-colour 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 A4 size printing, 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 larger A3+ 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 colours 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 costs

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 (see our guide to best printer inks to find the best prices)

Combined prices for manufacturers’ own-brand inks and high-quality papers generally average out to around £1.40 per Letter-size print, and up to £4.80 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.

Read more:

The best portable printers
The best large-format printers
The best all-in-one printers
The best wireless printer
Budget inks for printers - the pros and cons
The best online photo printing services
Best 3D printers

Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist who has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners! 


His expertise with equipment doesn’t end there, though. He is also an encyclopedia  when it comes to all manner of cameras, camera holsters and bags, flashguns, tripods and heads, printers, papers and inks, and just about anything imaging-related. 


In an earlier life he was a broadcast engineer at the BBC, as well as a former editor of PC Guide.