For quick prints at home that rival the quality you’ll get from a print shop, Epson SureColor P400 is the best photo printer you can buy. No, it can’t do large-format fine art prints for your gallery show, but it packs in excellent color reproduction without a crazy high price tag.
If you print photos often, a home printer offers instant gratification, convenience, and can even save on print costs in the long run compared to going through a lab. But, thanks to technology like Zink and print-to-film, you don’t even have to be at home to print your photos. From high-end inkjet models (which can handle those gallery prints) to portable wireless units, here are the best photo printers for 2021.
At a glance:
Best photo printer overall: Epson SureColor P400
Best instant photo printer: Fujifilm Instax Share SP-3
Beat all-in-one photo printer: Canon Pixma TS9521C
Best inkjet photo printer: Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000
Best portable photo printer: Canon SELPHY QX10
The best photo printer: Epson SureColor P400
Why should you buy this? Print quality to appease the most demanding audience, but without the huge price tag.
Who’s it for? Photographers who want high-quality prints without the high price.
Why we picked the Epson SureColor P400:
Photo printers can easily cost more than the camera itself — but the Epson SureColor P400 offers the ideal balance between price and image quality. Sure, the printer retails for more than a basic photo printer, but the prints are much nicer than those budget options, all without breaching into the price of a wide format printer.
So why is the print quality so great? The SureColor P400 uses eight cartridges, with seven for color and one called the “gloss optimizer.” That combination creates rich colors that pop off the page, without getting oversaturated. Because there are more cartridges, the printer can create a good variety of color tones, leaving colors more accurate than a cheap photo printer.
While great on quality and price, to keep the price down and quality high, the printer doesn’t exactly spit out photos in seconds. A typical photo takes several minutes. The SureColor P400 can create images up to 13 by 19 inches, including support for roll paper, so it also won’t get quite the size flexibility of a wide format printer.
Read our Epson SureColor P400 review
The best instant photo printer: Fujifilm Instax SP-3
Why should you buy this? Turn phone photos into instant film prints.
Who’s it for? Anyone who wants the nostalgia of instant film with the convenience of digital photography.
Why we picked the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-3:
With its Instax brand, Fujifilm played a large role in jumpstarting the instant camera industry after it was all but lost during the rise of digital cameras. Instax cameras use real instant film to create a print that’s fully developed in a couple of minutes, and the Instax Share series printers can create these same film prints straight from digital pictures stored on your phone or tablet. The Share SP-3 is Fujifilm’s newest model and our favorite yet, thanks to its use of the Instax Square format which creates 2.4-inch square prints.
It takes about 13 seconds to make a print (plus a couple of minutes for it to fully develop) and the battery is rated for 160 prints in total. Compared to an Instax camera, which prints every photo you take, an Instax printer lets you be more selective about what you print, and this could save you money. However, while we haven’t tested the Fujifilm Instax SP-3, our experience with other Instax printers has taught us that they can quickly become addicting. Printing images from your phone is surprisingly fun, and this can lead you to go through film rather quickly.
The best multifunction photo inkjet printer: Canon Pixma TS 9521C
Why should you buy this? It’s a versatile printer that’s equal parts work and play.
Who’s it for? Home users looking for a versatile, all-in-one photo printer.
Why we picked the Pixma TS9521C:
The Canon Pixma TS9521C isn’t a photo printer; not really. It’s billed as a “craft” printer, hence the trailing C in its name. It can print on everything from envelopes and greeting cards to CDs and DVDs (because those are still things, apparently). But within the realm of all things crafty, printing photos is certainly something it can handle — and with built-in scan and copy functions, it can also handle much more.
One of the cool things about the TS9521C for photography is that in addition to printing up to 11 by 17 inches, it can make 12 by 12-inch borderless prints. Speed is rated at 15 images per minute. You can also make double-sided prints thanks to the duplexing functionality, and the paper tray holds up to 100 sheets for printing documents, so it can keep up with the needs of a home office.
The all-in-one offers several ways to connect to it, including wirelessly with Apple AirPrint. There’s a built-in SD memory card slot if you want to take photos right from your camera and turn them into prints without going through a computer first. Finally, the Pixma TS9521C can be controlled with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and even If This Then That. For the price, it’s hard to find a printer that will do more.
The best inkjet photo printer: Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000
Why should you buy this? A six-ink, wide-format photo printer that you can actually afford.
Who’s it for? Photo enthusiasts who want to make gallery-quality prints.
Why we picked the Epson Expression:
There’s no shortage of great wide-format photo printers on the market. The problem is, they can get very expensive. Enter Epson’s Expression Photo HD XP-15000, a wireless wide-format color printer that can handle borderless prints up to 13 × 19 inches at a price you might actually be able to afford.
As tends to be standard for photo printers, the Expression Photo HD XP-15000 uses more ink than the standard CMYK setup. In addition to cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, Epson added red and gray inks. An additional color ink means even more accurate color prints, while the gray ink improves the tonality of black-and-white photos. While professional printers often use even more inks, the quality difference can be hard to spot — and the Expression XP-15000 remains much more affordable.
It also supports duplex (two-sided) printing and features a 200-sheet front paper tray, making it useful for documents in addition to photographs. The printer connects over USB or Wi-Fi, and it also supports mobile printing standards like Apple AirPrint and Android Printing, as well as Wi-Fi Direct.
If you want even better photo quality, look at Canon’s Pixma Pro (like the Pro-1, and Pro-10) and Epson’s SureColor series (like the P600). But for the price, it’s hard to argue against the Expression Photo HD XP-15000.
The best portable photo printer: Canon SELPHY QX10
Why should you buy this? Instant, mobile photos with the technology for higher quality
Who’s it for? Mobile photographers
Why we picked the Canon Selphy QX10:
Portable photo printers are easy to come by, but they usually use Zink paper, a specialized photo paper with the dye crystals embedded inside, or instant film. Since all printers of the same type use the same media, they all offer pretty similar image quality. The Canon Selphy QX10 is different. It uses a technology called dye sublimation.
Unlike Zink or film-based printers, dye sublimation requires an ink pack, but because of that, the colors tend to be more accurate than Zink printers. You’ll need to install both paper and an ink ribbon, but Canon sells them bundled together and the extra few seconds to pop in the ink cartridge is worth the added quality. The paper has a sticky back and is tough to destroy once the printer has finished and applied the protectant coating. Canon says photos are made to last 100 years.
This printing process previously wasn’t small enough to compete with the likes of printers like Lifeprint and the HP Sprocket, but Canon has finally managed to slim down the technology enough for a mobile printer. It’s not quite pocketable or lightweight as some of the competition, but is still small enough to tuck in a bag.
Like other mobile photo printers, the print size is small — about 2.7 inches on each side. If you want larger prints, the Canon Selphy CP1300 uses similar technology for 4 x 6-inch prints, but is a much larger printer.
Are laser printers good for photo printing?
Generally speaking, laser printers are not as good as inkjet printers for photo printing, especially compared to high-end photo-specific models. Inkjets use more colors of ink for better print quality and can support a much greater variety of paper types. Laser printer paper has to be able to withstand high temperatures, which photo paper is not designed to do (it may also be too thick for a laser printer’s paper feeder).
The best color laser printers have greatly upped their photo game, however. While we wouldn’t recommend buying a laser printer for photography, if you want a laser printer for other tasks and just occasionally need to print a picture, you’ll probably be fine with one.
Can photo printers print documents?
While mobile photo printers like the Instax Share can’t print documents (well, you could save a screenshot of a document and print that, if for some reason you wanted to), desktop inkjet photo printers like the Epson Expression above certainly can — but they may not the best tool for the job. Photo printers have a much higher cost per page than laser printers. If you print a lot of text-only documents, laser is the way to go. For more limited document printing, you can find a cheap inkjet printer for around $30. But for documents that combine photos, graphics, and text — or if you want to take advantage of thicker paper stocks — a photo printer will do a great job.
Is it worth buying a photo printer?
Mobile printers are easy to bring along with you, so you can use them to set up fun photo booths at events. Printing photos from your smartphone can evoke yesteryear nostalgic feelings, waiting for those old instant film camera photos to develop before our eyes. For that same reason, kids today seem to love these mobile printers. They’re just fun.
Desktop photo printers are pretty bulky, so they take up a lot of space and cost a lot in upkeep. It’s worth it if you’re going to be frequently printing your photos; otherwise, you might find yourself spending too much money on quality inks and paper. Outsourcing print jobs to the best online photo labs is the best way to get affordable yet exceptional results, as they provide high-quality prints at a lower cost than owning a desktop photo printer.
Printing at home can be a viable option, though, if you want complete control over your photos. If you have an artistic streak and want to experiment with different papers, you can have excellent results. Done correctly, printing at home will get you just the right look. Using a home printer will give you the chance to experiment with unique styles in a way a lab won’t.
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