You could upload your digital photos to an online service and wait days for the prints to arrive, or just do it at home and get the same results with a photo printer. If you print photos often, a printer offers the instant gratification that outside services can’t. Whether it’s an inkjet model that can print fine art-quality prints, or a portable unit that is the digital equivalent of a Polaroid, here are our favorite ways to turn our JPEGs into printed matter.
Epson PictureMate PM-400
Why should you buy this: For quick photos that rival those printed at drugstores
Who’s it for: Casual photographers who want convenience and high-quality prints
How much will it cost: $200
Why we picked the PictureMate PM-400:
If you want to easily print 4 x 6-inch photos for your memory albums or scrapbooks, you can’t beat Epson’s PictueMate PM-400. Compact and lightweight, you can easily stash it away inside a drawer when it’s not needed. It takes approximately 36 seconds to print one 4 x 6, and the high-resolution image quality (5,760 x 1,440 dpi) is superb. The dye-sublimation ink creates vivid, scratch resistant, and smudge proof prints (provided you use Epson’s paper, but it will print on non-Epson paper too) – rivaling those from your local drugstore. The PM-400 also supports 3.5 x 5 and 5 x 7-inch prints.
The PM-400 can print photos from your smartphone or tablet too, using the Epson iPrint mobile app, either on the same Wi-Fi network or directly via AirPrint or Android Printing; it also supports peer-to-peer printing with computers via Wi-Fi Direct. A built-in memory card reader and 2.7-inch color LCD allows you to browse and print off an SD card – removing the need to use a computer.
Depending on your usage, the PM-400 may be a bit pricey to maintain, and print sizes are limited when you compare it to a larger inkjet printer. A replacement cartridge costs $33, which has enough yield for 100 4 x 6 prints ($40 a pack). However, the PM-400 is easy to use and portable, and makes some of the best prints we’ve seen.
The best instant photo printer
Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2
Why should you buy this: It brings back the fun of old Polaroid cameras.
Who’s it for: Instant camera lovers, nostalgists, impatient shutterbugs
How much will it cost: $170
Why we picked the Instax Share SP-2:
Feeling nostalgic for Polaroid prints? Then you’ll enjoy Fujifilm’s Instax Share SP-2, a portable photo printer that prints on the same Instax film as the company’s wildly popular Instax instant cameras. The Instax SP-2 bridges analog with digital: Using the Instax Share app for iOS or Android, you can make a print in about 10 seconds. Like a Polaroid picture, the image appears on the print after a few seconds (no shaking required).
We find the Instax prints to be very colorful, and with the app, you can text and other graphics to a photo, or just use a Sharpie to write on the blank space of the print.
The app supports printing from Instagram or Facebook, as well as select Fujifilm digital cameras. Refills are on the pricier side, but unlike the analog Instax cameras, you at least get to see what your photo will look like before it prints.
The best multifunction photo inkjet printer
Canon Pixma TS8020
Why should you buy this: It’s versatile and prints quality photos and documents.
Who’s it for: Home users looking for an all-in-one photo printer.
How much will it cost: $150
Why we picked the Pixma TS8020:
Many home printers used for outputting homework or tax documents are also capable of printing photos – and some are really good at it, like Canon’s new Pixma TS8020. The sleek design makes it more compact than a comparable model in the MG-series (the TS is replacing the MG over time, although the print technology is the same), but it’s adept at making quality photo and text prints.
The TS8020 has a large 4.3-inch color touchscreen that functions as smoothly as a smartphone; you can also use it to browse and print from a memory card or supported digital camera, in lieu of a computer. Speaking of smartphones, the TS8020 is compatible with Canon’s Print app for iOS and Android, a vastly improved mobile app than previous Canon attempts. You can print over USB, Wi-Fi, cloud-based services, and NFC. Besides fine art paper, it’ll do business cards and optical discs too. Use the scanner to input old photos, restore them on a computer, and print a refreshed copy.
If you’re printing photos, the TS8020 is relatively speedy. And because it uses six separate color ink tanks, the TS8020’s photo quality is far better than printers that only use one multi-color tank.
The best wide-format photo inkjet printer
Canon Pixma IP8720
Why should you buy this: Affordable, six-ink wide-format printer.
Who’s it for: Photo enthusiasts who want to make gallery-quality prints.
How much will it cost: $250
Why we picked the Pixma IP8720:
There are plenty of excellent wide-format photo printers at the high-end, but those tend to be for professionals and aren’t exactly easy to use. The Pixma IP8720 aims at a happy medium: It’s a six-ink photo printer that handles prints up to 13 x 19 inches (which should satisfy photo enthusiasts), but it carries a very affordable price tag.
Like its Pixma Pro siblings, the IP8720 is large and heavy, but it delivers excellent photo quality – we’re talking about gallery-level quality. Connectivity includes either USB or Wi-Fi, but it also supports mobile printing like AirPrint and Android Printing, as well as Wi-Fi Direct.
If you like Epson inks and papers, the Artisan 1430 is a good alternative to the IP8720. 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 you can expect to spend $500 and upward for those models. Which is why we think the IP8720 is a good deal.
The best Zink photo printer
Why should you buy this: Puts a unique twist on instant photography
Who’s it for: Mobile photographers who want to embed some fun in their prints
How much will it cost: $130
Why we picked the Lifeprint:
Zink is a portable printing technology that doesn’t use ink. Instead, it uses thermal paper that contains dye. When heat is applied, the color image appears. In our experience, we find the colors to be a bit off, making them look unrealistic and garish.
Lifeprint is one of the newest Zink printers. Like other Zink printers, Lifeprint works with an app (currently iOS only) that lets you select and print photos from your phone. But it has a few tricks up its sleeve. First, it uses proprietary software to ensure colors are printed properly.
Second, it can print “Hyperphotos,” which embed elements in the photos that trigger a video when viewed in the app. Utilizing augmented reality, simply hold the photo in front of your phone’s camera (while running the app), and a short video clip will start playing – what Lifeprint means by “print your videos.” These could be snaps, Instagram or Facebook videos, GoPro footage, animated GIFs, or iOS Live Photos. Lifeprint gives you an extra way to enjoy your photos besides instant gratification.
Refills cost $20 for a 30-pack, but opt for the 110-pack at $50 – it’s cheaper and you get more paper.
How we test
To find the best photo printers, in addition to image quality, we factor in criteria such as speed, price, maintenance costs, and any unique features that help them one-up the competition. With their moving parts, we also look at durability.
Our selections are based on our long- and short-term testing; experience with earlier models; familiarity with the companies’ technologies; consultation with industry experts, fellow journalists, and users; online forums; lab results; and other third-party reviews. We look across the board – not just our own experiences – to find consensus on what we think are the best-performing cameras you can currently buy. We also look at list pricing to determine if a product is worth the cost, product availability, and future proofing qualities. We will even recommend printers that aren’t new, provided the features are still best-in-class.
The printer market evolves constantly, with manufacturers either introducing better models with new features, or basic upgrades. So, you can expect our picks to change, as well. But don’t worry: The models you see here will be with you for some time, and if we anticipate there could be better models in the horizon, we will state that upfront to help you decide whether you should buy now or wait.
Which kind of printer is right for you?
What should you look for in a photo printer? That depends on what your needs are. If you want to frame a large print to put on a wall, you may want to consider a single-function, wide-format inkjet printer. If you need a device that can print both photos and documents, a multifunction inkjet printer could be a better fit. If you want to print while on the go, a portable unit might be handier. And, if you shoot a lot on your phone’s camera, you may want to look for a unit that supports wireless printing from a phone.
Regardless, your options will most likely revolve around an inkjet, dye-sublimation, or any print technology that’s designed to handle photos; laser printers, for example, are not right for the job. (If you rarely print, using an online photo service or the photo kiosks at your local drugstore may be more economical.)
When it comes to photo printers, your options will very likely come from three companies: Canon, Epson, or Hewlett-Packard (HP). However, there are specialty devices like Fujifilm’s Instax Share or those that use Zink thermal printing – the latter are more about the fun of sharing, rather than preservation.
Not all color inkjet printers are adept as printing photos. In most cases, budget models that use a single color ink tank will not produce the quality that a machine that uses multiple ink tanks can. Some printers include photo-specific features like special coating that’s applied to preserve a photo. And most home printers will support only papers up to 8.5 x 11 (letter) – not an issue if you only want to make small prints. You’ll also need to consider the price of ink refills, and how much yield a cartridge would provide before you need to replace it. Of course, prices vary, from less than $100 to more than $500.
For more on what to look for in a printer, check out our Home Printer Buying Guide.