Help Me Buy a… Photo printer
Want to make your own high-quality photo prints? Here’s our guide to photo printers and what you need to know
Look here for high-quality home printing
If you want to print off dozens of photo-sized prints from your last holiday, you’re probably going to take your memory card down to a high-street photo lab or get them done online: it’s both cheap and simple.
But what if you want your prints straight away? What if you want a print to fit a favourite photo frame, or hang your best work on your wall? What if you’ve got your sights set on winning your camera club’s next photo competition?
This is where you need your own desktop printer. Not only is it more immediate than ordering enlargements online, it also gives you complete control over the print size, print settings and picture quality.
But modern printer technologies can be confusing, with different printer sizes, ink technologies and even different numbers of inks – so here’s our guide to choosing the perfect photo printer for your needs.
1 It’s a two-horse race
The boom in online printing services has slimmed down the photo printer market somewhat: these days it’s pretty much a two-way battle between Epson and Canon. Both produce photo printers across a range of prices and needs, including high-end printers for the most demanding needs.
2 Printer or multi-function?
When you’re choosing a printer for your home, it’s tempting to pick one that can do several different jobs. A multi-function device (MFD) will be very good at printing crisp, clean documents and will have a scanner for making copies. They may also be pretty good at printing photos – but they won’t have quite the same depth or fidelity as those from a dedicated photo printer.
3 Size matters
Get a printer capable of producing the biggest print sizes you’re likely to need. An A4 printer can only produce A4 prints (obviously), but these don’t look very big when framed and hung on a wall. You’re better off with an A3 printer or, better still, an A3+ printer.
4 Dye vs pigment
Dye-based inks are absorbed into the paper and give richer, deeper colours and a smoother finish, but may fade more quickly than pigment inks, though this can still take many years. Pigment ink molecules tend to sit on the paper rather than being absorbed into it, so prints can sometimes look a little flatter, but should resist fading for longer.
5 How many inks?
Cyan, magenta, yellow and black are the four basic colours used by printers. This can restrict the range of colours produced, so nowadays photo printers have six inks, including extra ‘light cyan’ and ‘light magenta’ inks. The top printers may have even more.
6 Black-and-white printing
You can’t get truly neutral black-and-white prints with regular colour inks – there’s always a colour cast. If you want to produce rich, dense, neutral mono prints, you need a photo printer with dedicated ‘grey’ inks.
7 Own-brand products
Own-brand inks and papers cost more than third-party alternatives, but deliver more quality and consistency. Third-party inks may also require more head-cleaning.
Third-party papers are a different story if you are investing in premium or art papers, however. These can produce a finish and feel you don’t get from the printer maker’s own papers, although you may need to use a dedicated printer profile to get accurate colours.