Best Photo Printer of 2021
|Price||$100 List||$100 List|
$99.99 at Amazon
$79.99 at Amazon
$74.99 at Amazon
|Pros||Convenient, simple, inexpensive, bluetooth connectivity||Vintage film look, portable, simple||Passable resolution, multi-photo queue, adhesive photo paper||Relatively good image quality, easy to set up, useful app||Great app, easy set-up, okay resolution|
|Cons||Relatively low resolution, single print dimension||Poor image quality, high price per print||Magenta color cast, overall poor quality grayscale, microbanding||Wasteful paper refills, limited dynamic range, single size format||Orange cast, streaking, poor fidelity|
|Bottom Line||This portable printer captures the fun of the old Polaroid cameras but with a fresh twist||A simple and easy to use design that produces cool-looking throwback prints of low quality||This mini printer rendered some of the poorest quality photos in the review||This easy to use, portable printer has relatively few drawbacks and is a lot of fun||This printer has very few checks in the pro column|
|Rating Categories||Canon IVY||Fujifilm Instax Min...||HP Sprocket||Kodak Mini 2 HD||Polaroid ZIP|
|Black And White (35%)|
|Print Capabilities (15%)|
|Operating Cost (10%)|
|Set Up (5%)|
|Specs||Canon IVY||Fujifilm Instax Min...||HP Sprocket||Kodak Mini 2 HD||Polaroid ZIP|
|Resolutioin (dots per inch)||314 x 400||318||313 x 400||Unspecified||314 x 400|
|Max photo deminsions (inches)||2" x 3"||2.4" x 1.8"||2" x 3"||2.1" x 3.4"||2" x 3"|
|Cost per print (4" x 6" or mini print)||$0.50||$0.64||$0.50||$0.68||$0.50|
|Machine deminsions (HxWxD inches)||0.7" x 3.2" x 4.7"||1.3" x 3.5" x 4.9"||0.98" x 3.15" x 4.63"||1" x 3" x 5.2"||0.9" x 2.9" x 4.7"|
|Printing technology||In paper, thermal-activated dye||In paper 3-color exposure with OLED||In paper, thermal-activated dye||Dye sublimation thermal transfer||In paper, thermal-activated dye|
|Print time per 4" x 6" (or mini print)||40 seconds||9 seconds (plus developing time)||39 seconds||61 seconds||31 seconds|
|Color palette (ink cartridges)||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Memory cards supported||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Connectivity||Blutooth||Bluetooth, USB (charging only)||Bluetooth||NFC, USB Port, Wi-Fi Direct||NFC, USB Micro-B, Bluetooth|
|Operating system requirements||Android, iOS||Android and iOS||Android, iOS||Android, iOS||Android, iOS|
Best Overall Photo Printer
Epson SureColor P700
The Epson SureColor P700 is a professional quality printer whose color prints are in a class of their own. In complement to the color output — and demonstrating its remarkable range — the P700's grayscale renderings are superb as well. On the technical side of the equation, the set-up of this unit is relatively straightforward though it does require downloading software and following a multi-stepped process. Finally, at just $0.37 per 4" x 6" color photo, this model has a cost per print that is competitive with commercial printing labs. That's quite a selling point if you ask us.
Given all the praises we've showered this marvel of modern home printing with, you may be wondering, what's the catch? It's the cost. The P700 is expensive and is made more so because the inks that come with the machine are "starter" cartridges that will quickly be exhausted. The unit is also physically large and will eat up a lot of desk or countertop space. Those are our only critiques for this machine — it is truly a pleasure to use.
Read Full Review: Epson SureColor P700
Best Mini Printer
Rekindling the excitement of the Polaroid cameras of yesteryear, the Canon IVY makes on-the-fly photo printing fun and easy. It has a streamlined, compact shape and seamless Bluetooth interaction with your smartphone. The prints are of reasonable quality and have decent resolution when compared to other mini-printers. The ZINK paper that the machine uses has an adhesive back that turns them into stickers, which is a fun perk for all ages.
While the IVY makes printing as easy as pushing a button on your phone, its functionality is somewhat limited, and the cost per print is a bit pricey. This model can only print on one kind of paper, in one set of dimensions (2" x 3"), and the photo quality doesn't compare to that of a desktop photo printer. However, for those just wanting to play around with a printer without the fuss of maintaining an inkjet machine, the Canon IVY is the ticket.
Read Full Review: Canon IVY
Great Value for a Full-Sized Printer
Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000
If you want a full-size printer but don't want a full-size dint in your wallet, the Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000 is the machine to thread that needle. This relatively compact model punches well above its weight. It will print in large format, and with the aid of its expansive color palette, it produces vibrant colors that come out nicely across all print formats.
Although we had plenty of praise for Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000, it has a few shortcomings, mostly relating to overall resolution and its grayscale output, where dark tonal transitions can be challenging to discern. Additionally, the dark areas showed some subtle but noticeable micro banding. And, although the issue seemed to resolve itself over time, we had some issues with the printer staying connected. Despite these critiques, we'd say this is one heck of a printer that most photographers will find more than satisfactory.
Read Full Review: Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000
Best on a Tight Budget
Canon PIXMA TR4520
The Canon PIXMA TR4520 is a great mid-sized machine to get you started with at-home photo printing. Some higher-end printers can be overwhelming for newbies, but this model is affordable and refreshingly straightforward to operate. It supports the use of standard paper types, allowing you to experiment and see why specific papers work well in some situations and not in others. The print dimensions are limited to smaller sizes, so you won't be tempted to break the bank learning the craft. And, because this machine is relatively compact, you won't have to sacrifice half your counter space to house it.
Though the Canon PIXMA TR4520 is great for novices, it's not without its downfalls. The prints coming out of this model often lack fidelity to the original image. This disparity is most apparent in orangish skin tones and oversaturated blues. Its best color results are seen on higher quality paper, which can get a bit more expensive. That said, this machine can render better results than the average photo lab.
Read Full Review: Canon PIXMA TR4520
Best for Easy 4" x 6" Prints
Canon SELPHY CP1300
The Canon SELPHY CP1300 is a significant step-up in quality from the mini-printers, but it maintains the same appeal. This machine is compact, transportable, and can even run off a battery (sold separately). This is the printer we recommend for anyone who wants to get all those great photos from their phone onto their friends' fridges. The photo quality is better than the average retail photo lab, and the cost isn't much higher either. It's also fun to watch the machine at work — seriously. The paper passes back and forth through the machine layering on the different inks, allowing you to see the CMYK color model in action.
The only real criticism against the SELPHY is that it's limited to just a few print sizes and Canon's glossy proprietary paper. It also wasn't surprising that a printer of this size had some streaking and color fidelity issues, though they weren't too bad. Conversely, we were pleasantly surprised that the skin tones and transitions in grayscale were pretty much spot-on.
Read Full Review: Canon SELPHY CP1300
Why You Should Trust Us
Our review team brings product-specific expertise to the testing and rating of photo printers. In-House Photographer Jason Peters was born with a sharp eye that was further honed at Brooks Institute of Photography. His education saw him to studio work in Los Angeles and eventually landed him here at the GearLab. Our seasoned Review Analyst Austin Palmer brings to the mix over five years of consumer electronics testing and photography experience. His attention to such details as long-term printer costs is invaluable. Finally, Senior Review Editor Nick Miley is a photography hobbyist and occasional freelancer who doesn't think a photo is complete until the print is in a frame and on the wall.Together, this trio selected a series of color and grayscale images to cover all aspects of rendering a high-quality photo and then printed them on various paper types in several different sizes. In the end, over 400 pictures were printed for the initial analysis. The team set up a viewing room devoid of shadow and glare to comparatively analyze the printers' outputs. They also had the office staff print their pictures to test the ease of connecting to and operating the machines. Finally, each printer's features and specifications were collected, measured in-house (if possible), and organized for comparison.
Related: How We Tested Photo Printers
Analysis and Test Results
Our testing regimen is divided into five weighted metrics — Color, Black and White, Print Capabilities, Set-up, and Operating Costs. These metrics include a deep dive into the visual quality of the prints, the dimensions and mediums used, the machine's ease of use, and the cost of printing. Each metric is weighted to account for a percentage of the final 1 - 100 point score. Below is a detailed account of the tests that make up each metric and how they reveal the market's best machines.
Related: Buying Advice for Photo Printers
Our method for assessing value takes two different approaches to reach the same endpoint. We are looking for a product that either performs at a similar level to other products but costs less, or a product that performs at a higher level than similarly priced competitors. Examples of these two types of value are the Canon PIXMA TR4520 and the Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000. The XP-15000 is a full-sized photo printer that's priced significantly below the cost of other machines that render larger format prints. On the other hand, the TR4520 has a sticker price similar to the mini-printers yet delivers quality 8" x 10" prints. Both of these machines supply serious savings to consumers.
Most people want to print in color. With that in mind, we weighted this metric to account for 35% of a printer's overall score. As the basis for our analysis of color prints, we purchased seven stock images that spanned subjects from portraits to landscapes and collectively covered a wide dynamic range. We printed in several dimensions from the mini printers' 2" x 3" up to 13" x 19" with the full-size models. We also tested a variety of paper types when possible to see which rendered the best results.
Our assessment of the prints relied on the eyes of both professional photographers and laypeople. The assessment had two parts. First, we rated each print on the overall impression it gave the viewer. The focus was on clearly defined borders, smooth tonal transitions, and skin tone (for the images that featured people). The overall impression also focused on the print's fidelity as compared to the original image displayed on a high-resolution monitor. The second part of the color metric honed in on the print's resolution and sharpness.
The full-size printers excelled in this evaluation, with the Epson SureColor P700 living up to its name and the Canon PIXMA Pro-200 delivering similar results. The standard that these printers set in image fidelity, resolution, and consistency across multiple paper dimensions left a big gap between them and the rest of the class. However, making a big splash was the Canon SELPHY and the Canon PIXMA TR4520, proving that mid-size printers don't have to kick out middling quality prints. The chief complaint with the SELPHY was streaking, while the PIXMA TR4520 was prone to micro banding, though one has to look close to notice these shortfalls. The quality is still substantially better than prints produced by many big chain photo labs. Finally, when we compared the Canon IVY to its mini printer peers, it provided the best color images of the lot, though they were far from what the desktop printers can produce.
Black and White
Black and white prints can reveal more about the boundary definition and tonal transitions of an image than you may see in the busy brightness of a color print. Despite the less frequent use of grayscale, the heavy demands that this format places on a printer caused us to weigh this metric the same as the color at 35% of the total score.
The black and white evaluation protocols reflected those used for the color prints, the exception being that the images chosen for inspection are in grayscale. Again, the Epson SureColor P700 and the Canon PIXMA Pro-200 shot the moon in this evaluation. These printers have an advantage in this metric because they boast multiple ink cartridges in shades of black and gray. The Epson has fantastic tonal range, tonal contrasts, and brilliant definition. Moreover, the P700 improved on its predecessor by reducing the magenta in the prints, thus capturing a more neutral tone. The Canon delivered similarly high-quality results, but the prints showed some green tones, lending the printed images a warmer feel.
As with the color metric, there was a significant step-down in quality from the full to the mid-sized machines. However, the Epson Expression and the Epson PictureMate were standouts in their size class. The large format, 13" x 19" prints produced by the Expression were nearly on par with the full-sized machines. Interestingly, the quality fell off incrementally as the print dimensions decreased, with banding and streaking becoming more apparent. The PictureMate was much more consistent across the various print dimensions. Despite displaying tone qualities similar to the full-sized machines, this model suffered from a reduction in resolution.
The print capabilities metric includes a mixture of cataloged specs and test result data. Specifically, we cataloged the number of ink cartridges the printers use, the range of print dimensions they can accommodate, and the applicable print substrates. These are materials like matte and glossy paper, as well as less common mediums like artboard and canvas. We also tested the print speed and paper tray capacity. This metric accounts for just 15% of a printer's overall score.
Yet again, the Epson SureColor was the top dog. There truly isn't much this machine can't do. It can print from 3.5" x 5" up to 13" x 129", making room-spanning panoramic prints possible. Additionally, the SureColor can print on every medium from glossy paper to canvas, and its 10 separate ink cartridges give it a real leg up over the competition. Right on the heels of the SureColor are the Epson Expression and the Canon Pro-200. The prior covers all the standard print sizes from 2" x 6" up to 13" x 44", the latter up to 13" x 39". Although these machines don't include the more exotic print mediums, they are compatible with many photo papers and have seven individual color cartridges.
Finally, we clocked the time it takes each machine to produce a 4" x 6" color print (or, in the case of the mini printers, a mini print). While it might not seem that important, if you are printing lots of photos (or very large ones), the risk of something going wrong may keep you close to the machine. Thus, all other aspects of the print being equal, faster is better. The average for this exercise was 56 seconds. On the swift end was the FujiFilm Instax Mini Link at just 9 seconds, though the photo paper develops after the print is kicked out of the machine. The Canon PIXMA TR4520 is on the very slow end of the class, at 128 seconds.
Operating cost measures the long-term expense of the machines we tested, and we weighted it with 10% of a printer's overall score. Here we address the question of how much it costs to produce a single 4" x 6" print. To get this figure, we used the industry's conservative estimate of ink consumption per square inch of color printing and multiplied that by 24 (square inches). The product of this equation was then added to the cost of a 4" x 6" sheet of moderate quality glossy photo paper. Although the higher-end printers produce much less expensive prints, the upfront cost of the printer is significant. The opposite is true of lower-end printers.
The Epson SureColor P700 and the Canon PIXMA Pro-200 are in a league of their own, producing 4" x 6" images for $0.37 and $0.38 each, respectively — about what you'd pay for a print at a chain photo lab. However, the quality produced by these printers is much better than the store-bought prints. Epson's Expression and PictureMate, as well as Canon's SELPHY, fall into the 40 - 45 cent range. The mini printers are arguably the most expensive because one needs to print two mini prints to get an equivalent size image that the rest of the machines are rendering.
Though set-up is generally only done once, it can be frustrating if the process is overly complicated. Given the duration of this task, we weighted this metric to account for just 5% of a printer's overall score. Our evaluation went as follows: read the set-up instructions carefully, follow them exactly, and see if we can print from our phone or laptop. If the process goes off without a hitch, the printer scores high. If we have to do some troubleshooting, the score goes down. Additionally, we had members of our staff who were not directly involved with this review go through the same process and voice their complaints.
The easiest printers to get running were the mini printers, by far. For these machines, you simply download an app on your phone and give the app permission to access your photos and camera. If you know how to download an app, take a picture, edit and share it, you shouldn't have any problems with these machines. On the opposite end of the spectrum are printers like the Canon PIXMA Pro-200, which require you to download a driver onto your computer and make a WiFi connection. Other annoying aspects of set-up are machines like the H.P. Tango Smart that get locked into a particular computer at the exclusion of others. For example, if you want to print from a co-worker's computer, you will have to plug it in directly to the printer with a USB — a detail we discovered through trial and error.
Our photo printer review is a deep dive into all the features and specifications that make for quality prints and an enjoyable experience. We detailed color and grayscale rendering as well as the technical demands of each format. We assessed the different printing substrates and dimensions that the machines can accommodate, as well as the rendering time required. In the form of price per print, we calculated the long-term operating expenses of each machine. Finally, we made a thorough assessment of the setup of the printers. Given the information provided, we hope that you now have a well-resolved picture of which machines perform the best and which are best suited to meet your needs and budget.
— Nick Miley, Jason Peters and Austin Palmer
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