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 2019.
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: Lifeprint
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 printer 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
Why should you buy this? Print from your phone in seconds, or automatically from Instagram hashtags
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.
In addition to manually selecting photos from your phone to print, the Share SP-3 introduced the Hashtag Print feature which can automatically make prints from an Instagram hashtag. This could be great for birthday parties, weddings, and other events where guests are all sharing images using the same tag.
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 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.
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 x 17 inches, it can make 12 x 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 printer 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.
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.
Why should you buy this? Lifeprint puts a unique twist on instant photography
Who’s it for? Mobile photographers who want to embed some fun in their prints.
Why we picked the Lifeprint:
The Lifeprint doesn’t just print your photos, but your videos, too, thanks to augmented reality. A Hyperphoto has invisible embedded elements that act like a hidden QR code. View the photo under the lens of your phone’s camera inside the Lifeprint mobile app, and the photo comes to life as a video. Utilizing augmented reality, you can watch the video play out, overlaid on the photo as you hold it in your hand. This is what Lifeprint means when it says you can “print your videos.” You can make Hyperphotos from Instagram or Facebook videos, GoPro footage, animated GIFs, or iOS Live Photos.
Moving photos isn’t the only reason to consider 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. Maybe that’s a fair price to pay for the immediacy of the format, but it’s not ideal.
But, Lifeprint also uses proprietary software to ensure colors are printed properly, combating some of the typical problems with Zink photos. The Ultra Slim, introduced in 2019, is a more portable, modern version of the original with similar features in a smaller footprint. But the real reason to go with the newer option is the larger 3×4.5 inch prints. (If you prefer, the 2×3 size printer is also available in the latest model).
Lifeprint has also released a Harry Potter special edition printer, which is fitting. Its augmented reality technology is the closest we’ve yet come to replicating the animated photographs of the make-believe magical universe.
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?
When it comes to mobile printers, we think they’re a lot of fun. Being able to make prints from smartphone images at parties or events is a great way to leave guests with a personalized souvenir, and kids love them.
When it comes to desktop photo printers, for most people — even most photographers — the answer is probably no. It’s quite easy to get very high-quality prints from the best online photo labs, and unless you’re printing a large volume, it’s also cheaper. Cost aside, not all of us have room in our homes for desktop printers, nor do we want the hassle of maintaining them. Outsourcing our print jobs is a great way to avoid that headache.
But printing at home, when done correctly, can give you the best results, and lets you experiment will all manner of different paper types. It may not be for the faint of heart, but if you’re the type of person who likes having ultimate control over your creative work, owning your own photo printer is a must.
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