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Every photographer needs to ask themselves when acquiring expensive high-resolution lenses and cameras, ”How will I be viewing the images I capture?”. Will a 50-megapixel image be confined to only ever being viewed on the 6” screen of a smartphone? So many of us relegate our precious photographs to dusty hard drives - ephemeral code at constant risk of vanishing into digital mist should our computer hardware fail us. The best images deserve to be displayed in all their glory, preserved in physical form to be enjoyed and passed down through the generations.
With all the thought and expense that goes into capturing images, it behooves us to invest similarly in photo printers, but figuring out which is right for you can be a seemingly insurmountable task. We’ve done the leg work for you, and our experts have put hundreds of hours into researching and testing printers to help you make the decision as to which will best translate your images from code to vibrant, living ink.
Large maximum print size
Eight-color ink system
Stunning print quality
No SD card slot
When it comes to photo printers, the last thing you want to sacrifice is quality. Canon’s Pixma Pro-100 may be a pretty significant investment, but you get exactly what you pay for with this printer. All photo printer brands like to claim fast printer speeds and great color prints, but Canon backs it up with room to spare. One notable difference between photo printers at lower price points is the use of dye inks over pigment inkjet, which won’t stand up as well to the test of time.
Just three buttons decorate the front of the well-designed silver and gray casing: power, cancel/resume, and Wi-Fi. The Pro-100 offers an 8-color ink system that can handle prints up to 13”x19” inches and the main paper tray can handle up to 120 sheets of plain paper or 20 sheets of thicker stock photo paper. A single-sheet heavy stock input sits at the bottom of the rear of the printer. Weighing just over 43 pounds, the Pro-100 will need a dedicated space but if you’re looking to get serious about photo printing, that seems like a fair trade-off. Setup takes around 15 minutes or so if you’re installing all the utilities and drivers. Our reviewer Gannon praised it for its excellent print quality, sturdy design, and tremendous value.
"If you’re serious about getting great prints at home on a sub-$500 budget, you won’t find a better printer out there." — Gannon Burgett, Product Tester
Snappy printing times
No document feeder for copying
Gone are the days of having to tuck your printer out of sight to keep it from disrupting your décor. But the Canon PIXMATS9120 offers more than just a sleek design: the all-in-one printer extends exceptional quality to whatever print jobs you may have with a print resolution up to 4800 x 1200 dpi. The six individual ink systems, including a Photo Blue ink tank, results in vibrant photos that can be customized with filters using the 5.0” LCD Touchscreen.
To accommodate your on-the-go lifestyle, you can print from your smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi allows you to print from any room in the house. Featuring front and rear paper feeding capabilities, the printer has an auto-expandable output tray and can even print directly onto inkjet printable discs to create gifts or commemorate special moments. The compact, two-tone printer is available in three colors, including gray, gold, and red. Our reviewer Danny loved its versatility and performance, particularly given its (comparatively) extremely low price.
"Getting a printer this good for $200 (or even less) is an outstanding value." Jeffrey Daniel Chadwick, Product Tester
Easy setup and operation
Wi-Fi makes for easy wireless operation
Single paper tray
No SD card or USB slots
No display for navigating menu
Print photos up to 13 x 19 inches in vivid detail with the Canon iP8720. It boasts a 9600 x 2400 maximum color dpi and a six-color ink system including gray ink, which produces remarkable detail for black and white photos in particular. Its patented print-head mechanism fires ink droplets as small as one pixel for extreme detail. The printing itself is fast, with an average speed of 14.5 images per minute (ipm) for black and white photos and 10.4 ipm for color. Canon also boasts the longevity of its ChromaLife100+ system, claiming that photos printed using Canon-brand photo paper and ink will last up to 300 years when stored in an archival-quality photo album.
Objectively, the Canon iP8720 is not the absolute best on the market, but the highest quality photo printers can cost you at least a grand. For a high-end consumer-friendly product, this printer is the perfect compromise to deliver quality photos at a reasonable price. At a modest 18 pounds, it fits just about anywhere in your home office. Printing is quick and efficient; simply transfer documents over Wi-Fi, or connect using Google Cloud for mobile devices. Gannon, our tester, praised the iP8720 for its fantastic prints, easy setup, and silky smooth operation.
"If you’re in the market for a photo printer that won’t break the bank, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Canon PIXMA iP8720." — Gannon Burgett, Product Tester
Promises long-lasting prints
High capacity 80 ml ink cartridges
Ability to print large projects
Trouble with set-up
Doesn’t work with all types of paper
Heavy and bulky
When you’re focused on ensuring you have the best possible prints, the Epson SureColor SC-P800 is here to deliver. Using Epson UltraChrome HD Inks it boasts vivid color, superior black density, and significantly improved print longevity; giving you stunning prints that will stand the test of time. Plus, it delivers this superior quality in both color and black and white ink, thanks to its 3-level black printing and high capacity ink wells to keep you printing longer. And almost no project is too big with its ability to print up to 17” wide, borderless photos. It can even support roll paper with the optional roll adapter.
There’s also the perk of robust connectivity with Apple AirPrint and Google cloud print support. You’ll be able to store your images anywhere and print with ease. There’s also an easy to navigate color, touch screen to help you scroll through settings. All in all, it’s the ideal choice when you can’t afford to risk your photo quality.
Easy to use and set up
Smudge-proof and water-resistant prints
Hard to find cartridges
Not ideal for travel or portability
When it comes to printing phone-shot photos, the solution is the HP Envy 5055. It delivers high-quality prints up to a resolution of 4800x1200 that are smudge-proof and water-resistant. You can also print from a variety of sources—including straight from your social media. And you can do all of it from your phone with the HP Sprocket app. Plus, you can use the app to edit and adjust your photos before you print them. Easy to set up and comes with a 20-page input tray so you can print multiple photos at a time, you can have your phone photography in your hands without any hassle.
Though it’s a small printer, it’s not ideal for constant travel, but you can definitely pack it up with you for vacation. Keep in mind, however, that it does need to be plugged in and does not have a rechargeable battery.
Prints with a clear overcoat to protect photos
Perfect size and weight for portability
Can print up to 54 prints on a single charge
Slow transfer process
Given that most dedicated photo printers are often too large to be carried around, the Canon Selphy CP1300 is a welcome choice. If you’re looking for mostly Facebook and Instagram-ready prints, the aptly named Selphy is an amazing choice. We love Canon’s functionality, especially the ability to print images simply by tapping a button on your smartphone through Canon’s Selphy app.
In fact, Canon’s entire buying proposition may be based on the idea that you have a smartphone that you regularly use for photographic purposes. They’re banking on you finding happiness with prints that closely resemble exactly what you see on your smartphone display. For a printer that’s compact enough at 1.9 pounds to carry around, that’s exactly what we could hope for. As a bonus feature for compact prints, Canon features a clear overcoat on each print that helps protect against dirt or liquids.
Capable of printing up to 54 prints on a single charge, options for postcard, passport and square label are also available to complement the 4”x6” selling point. Printing wirelessly is a snap via Wi-Fi, and for you Apple users, Airprint. The printer also offers an optional battery for traveling.
Small and light for portability
Supplies up to 160 prints on a single charge
Compared to its predecessor, the SP-2, the SP-3 wireless printer handles the larger, Instax Square film format without adding much size to the printer itself. You’ll have to pony up a little more money, as the film itself is more expensive but other than that it’s a wonderful choice.
Measuring 5.1 x 4.6 x 1.8 inches and weighing a light 11.1 ounces, you can slip the printer into your bag without a problem. It’s battery powered (chargeable via a microUSB port), which makes it even more portable, and will supply about 160 prints per charge. It prints square images up to 2.4 inches that are reminiscent of old Polaroids but with better quality. You can use the Instax Share app to send pictures to the printer, as well as add filters and make small edits. However, if you’re looking to make larger edits, we recommend downloading a dedicated editing app.
Incredible image quality
Enormous maximum print size
Gigantic and heavy
Less resolution than some less expensive printers
The Canon imagePROGRAF Pro-2100 is an absolute behemoth. This massive large format printer can produce stunning 24” wide prints with a maximum resolution of 2400 x 1200 dpi. What makes this giant really stand out is that it prints from a roll, which means that you have no limit to how long your prints may be. The Pro-2100 also includes Canon’s LUCIA PRO 11-Color plus Chroma Optimizer ink system that increases color accuracy and detail in dark areas of the print. Furthermore, there is a sensor built in to ensure that color remains consistent from one print to the next.
Of course, a large machine like this comes at a cost to match its size, quality and features. It also takes up a serious amount of space, and practically needs a room to itself. Unless you are a professional photographer with both the space and means to sell large prints, the Pro-2100 is not a good option for most people. However, if you have deep pockets, lots of space, and the desire to see that epic panoramic image you captured in all its glory, then this is the printer for you.
Can go years without a refill
Does not require wasteful cartridges
Saves money in the long run
Very high upfront cost.
The Epson Expression Premium ET7750 EcoTank printer breaks the frustrating mold set by the average printer. Instead of irritating, wasteful, single-use cartridges, the ET7750 utilizes huge, refillable ink tanks. In fact, this printer ships with enough ink to last approximately 2 years - roughly 9,000 pages of color prints, or 14,000 pages if printing in black and white. Replacement ink is sold in simple, economical bottles to be poured into the 5 tanks. The caveat is that the EcoTank costs several times what you’d pay for a comparable cartridge printer. However, in the long term, the ET7750 operates at a fraction of the cost of running a printer with ink cartridges.
The ET7750 is not only a smart, money-saving printer, it is also a capable printer that can produce high-quality photos up to 11 x 17 inches. Its built-in 2.7” LCD screen, SD card reader, and wireless capabilities make printing possible without having to hook it up to a computer.
Print from from any location via the internet
Compact and attractive
HP Instant Ink plan can reduce costs
Prints larger than 5 x 7 inches can't be borderless
Can only scan documents via your smartphone camera
Too often printers can seem like terribly antiquated machines, with interfaces and software that seem many years out of date. The HP Tango X bucks this trend by integrating with your smartphone to deliver a more modern and streamlined experience. By connecting it to a smartphone you are able to send an image to print from anywhere in the world. You can even operate the Tango X with voice commands via your virtual assistant in your phone or smart home setup. HP has also made an effort to reduce the ugly, utilitarian appearance that is so typical of printers. The Tango X comes with an attractive cloth cover, though you can save $50 by buying it without the cover. Additionally, the Tango X works with HP’s Instant Ink subscription program which makes prints up to 5 x 7 inches free and keeps you supplied with ink.
The only major downsides to the Tango X are that only prints 5 X 7 inches and smaller can be borderless, and the scanning function just takes a photo with your smartphone camera. Overall, the HP Tango X is a slickly designed modern printer that is ideal for smart homes and for those who want to print high-quality photos via the web.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Canon dominates our list, with the Pixma Pro-100 snagging the top slot based on its perfect balance of quality, features, and value. If wide format is a priority, however, you'd be better served by Canon's iP8720 which specializes in larger prints but is also an excellent all-around choice.
Our expert reviewers and editors evaluate photo printers based on design, print quality, tray capacity, print speed, and features. We test their real-life performance in actual use cases, from high-end glossy photo prints to more mundane text printing scenarios. Our testers also consider each unit as a value proposition—whether or not a product justifies its price tag, and how it compares to competitive products. All of the models we reviewed were purchased by Lifewire; none of the review units were furnished by the manufacturer or retailer.
Andy Zahn is an experienced and award-winning photographer, and his printed photos have been displayed in local art galleries. When he’s not out capturing the world in his photos or printing out his best work at home, he’s researching and testing the latest camera gear from tripods to lenses to printers. Andy has both a passion for the art of photography and the technology that makes that art possible.
David Beren is a tech journalist who's been covering the industry for more than a decade. Back in 2008 he launched his own tech site, and has also produced and managed content for mobile tech companies like Sprint and T-Mobile.
Jeffrey Daniel Chadwick has been writing about tech since 2008 and has produced hundreds of insightful articles, reviews, and videos focused on technology and media. Amongst his specialties are photography equipment and accessories, making him a perfect candidate to review some of the photo printers on our list.
Gannon Burgett is passionate about photography and brings a decade of experience covering photography gear and a broad gamut of other tech to his reviews of a pair of the photo printers that appear on our list.
Photo quality - When buying a photo printer there are a lot of factors that affect photo quality, including the type of ink, printing method, type and quality of paper. In general, stay away from printers that prioritize speed. Though photo printers can be fast, a good rule of thumb is that fast printing decreases print quality. Resolution is also important, the higher DPI (Dots Per Inch) the better.
Maximum Print Size - Planning to print out your favorite Instagram photos? You’ll be fine with a square format photo printer. But if you want to print photos larger than the 4-by-6-inch standard, you should look for a wide format printer, most of which can print out pictures up to 13 by 19 inches. A big part of choosing the perfect printer is knowing how big you want to print. Typically, the bigger the maximum print size the more expensive and bulky the printer will be. For example, the Canon imagePROGRAF Pro-2100 can produce gigantic 24” wide prints of any length you may desire, but it costs over two grand and practically needs an office all to itself. Even for many professional photographers, a printer of this size is unnecessary.
Keep in mind that the bigger you print the bigger and more expensive the frames you’ll need. If you’re only printing photos for your own enjoyment, take a look at the photos currently hanging on your wall to help you decide what size you expect to print. If you’re looking to start selling your photos you will probably want a printer that can print larger than 8 x 10”.
Ease of Use - If you’re just learning to print your own photos, a built-in LCD and easy to navigate controls can be immensely helpful. Even for experienced professionals a screen and good controls can streamline troubleshooting.
Cost of Operation - Even a relatively expensive, high-end printer may seem strangely underpriced at face value. These are devices that are at least as complex and difficult to produce as a DSLR or a computer, so why are they available for so much less? The answer is that Canon, Epson, and the rest make their money after the initial sale when you purchase the ink and paper your printer consumes at a terrifying rate. So, when purchasing a printer be sure and factor how much it will cost per picture, and be aware that printing errors will inevitably gobble up extra ink and paper.
If you are planning to sell your prints, or are already doing so, this is an important consideration to factor into the cost of operating your printer. If you are able to sell higher quality prints for a significantly higher sum, then a printer that costs more to operate may well be worth it. Alternatively, if you’re not charging a high price for your work, you need to know how much of your profits are being gobbled up by an ink-hungry printer. Of course, if you’re not printing for profit, the balance between cost and quality is entirely up to you.
Be sure and check out our guide to estimating a printers cost per page and if you’re wondering why printer ink is so expensive, we looked into that as well