The 10 Best Photo Printers
This wiki has been updated 33 times since it was first published in March of 2015. The old wisecrack "Take a picture; it'll last longer" seems less and less meaningful in today's ephemeral photography landscape, in which an excellent photo is posted to the internet, liked, commented on, and quickly forgotten. With a high-quality photo printer at your service, however, you can create tangible evidence that those moments existed, and hang that evidence elegantly on your walls. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 31, 2020:
When applicable, we updated some of our old recommendations to their newest iteration, such as the Kodak Mini 3, which takes the place of the Kodak Mini 2 HD. We also added the Canon Selphy QX10 in place of the Canon Ivy Mobile Mini because we thought our readers would appreciate an option that can produce square 2.7-inch prints, and we still have the HP Sprocket 2nd Edition, which is for those who want the 2 x 3-inch rectangular pictures that you would get from the Ivy. The Epson Expression XP-15000 maintained its rank, as we still believe it is one of the best wide-format models suitable for home use, however we did add the Epson Expression Premium EcoTank, which is also available in wide-format option but has refillable ink reservoirs rather than disposable cartridges. Another new recommendation is the HP Tango Smart, and we like it because of how seamlessly it integrates with connected homes.
June 05, 2019:
The majority of the models previously included in our ranking have aged out, being replaced by newer, better models in their respective companies' lineups. One unit that's come on since our last deep look into this category is the Epson Expression Photo at number one. It doesn't boast the Eco Tank technology of some of their other offerings, but I'd argue that its prints are cleaner and clearer for the sacrifice. Also, compared to our previous list, 1/3 of which was occupied by small portable printers designed to interface with smartphones, this ranking has seen an uptick in the number and quality of portable options, with the addition of models by Polaroid and Canon. Both utilize thermal printing technologies, but Polaroid edges out the Canon by printing slightly larger photos.
Why Pay To Print?
Dye-sublimation printing works a little differently, as the printer head in one of these puppies gets incredibly hot.
Even at inexpensive photo processors, paying to have a professional print your images is a costly proposition. If you want significant quality, you're liable to pay out the nose for it, and if you decide to take the discount path, you can't be sure that the processors will effectively recreate the colors and dynamic range of the image you captured.
For these reasons, owning your own high-quality photo printer makes all the difference in the presentation of your work. Never again will you waste a bunch of money on prints from a shop only to find that they've been underexposed or cast with a strange red tint.
The method is simple, but it's important to understand the differences between a good photo printer and the normal inkjet number you use to print your lost cat flyers. In fact, inkjet is one of two ways to get quality photos printed at home. The other method is something called dye-sublimation printing.
Inkjet printing hits your photo paper with a certain number of ink dots in a given square inch. 300 Dots Per Inch is a standard baseline for quality, and the best among these printers reaches close to 10,000 DPI.
Dye-sublimation printing works a little differently, as the printer head in one of these puppies gets incredibly hot. Instead of shooting ink onto a page in dots, the hot printer head interacts with thin, filmic sheets of dye in magenta, cyan, yellow, and black. The head literally melts the film and dyes the photo paper itself, one color at a time.
The result of a sublimation process is a dot-free image that is clearer and crisper at any viewing distance. The big downside to dye-sub printing, however, is cost. The printers themselves are much more expensive, and the film dye cartridges carry that costliness on through the years of use.
Modern portable printers may sometimes employ a system called Zink, even though there's no zinc involved. Zink is a portmanteau for the words zero and ink, and it refers to a thermal process by which dye crystals are heated to release specific colors that correspond to the data of your image. It's definitely the lowest quality option out there, but it's cheap, fast, and fun.
Printing To The Finish Line
It isn't easy to make a name for yourself in the world of fine arts. Painters, sculptors, photographers, poets, and their ilk usually wind up working as teachers or advertisers before they ever find success as artists. A lot of very talented photographers resort to wedding work because it's such a lucrative business.
For the list we've drawn up, the only dye-sublimation printers we've included are on the smaller side.
For painters and sculptors, I imagine it's especially difficult, as it's more of a challenge to share your work and allow it to have the necessary impact. Photographers, in that sense, have it easy. As long as you have a good quality print you can hand or hang in front of someone, you can get their attention.
How you go about creating those prints is up to you, but choosing the right photo printer can make the difference between impressing the people you need to impress and booking another Saturday with Bridezilla.
For the list we've drawn up, the only dye-sublimation printers we've included are on the smaller side. The technology is still so expensive that we wouldn't recommend it to anyone but an established (read: well-paid) professional. If you want to get your hands on the technology for prints that are 4x6 or smaller, the dye-sub options on our list are fantastic. Should resolution and color fidelity not matter as much, Zink is a good way to go.
For the rest of us, inkjet is the necessity, and the main thing you want to establish is maximum DPI. The more dots per inch you can cram onto the page, the more crystalline that image will appear. Of course, DPI is irrelevant if you're trying to make an 8x10 print from a picture you took on your flip phone, but most modern smartphone cameras can produce incredibly well-resolved images through any of these printers.
Jet-Powered Printer Races
While the history of the photo printer is closely tied to the history of digital photography, developments in the printing process seem to predate a lot of the advances in the actual image capture. For example, Nikon's first digital camera, the D1, came out in 1999. That's eleven years after the first large-format inkjet photo printer showed its face.
Hewlett-Packard brought their models to market in 1997, and Canon followed them up with their own desktop inkjet printer in 2004.
That inkjet printer was the Iris Graphics 3047. A few years later, Epson put forth the first inkjet printer for the average consumer, a model that could render images at 720 DPI. Hewlett-Packard brought their models to market in 1997, and Canon followed them up with their own desktop inkjet printer in 2004. The race has been on ever since.
From those points forward, even to today, inkjet is king. While dye-sublimation printing poses a challenge to it in terms of quality, inkjet has found ways to increase the density of its dots without increasing the cost to consumers to anywhere near the price of a good dye-sub printer.
The irony is that one of the great drivers of inkjet's paper printing technology is a threat to its own existence. I'm speaking, of course, about 3-D printing, which allows companies like Canon and Epson to experiment with endless variations of designs for new printing heads that can deliver tighter, more densely packed inches of ink delivery.