Photo printers have their place, even when you can post images online in a pinch, or send them to a third-party printing service. A good photo printer (along with a good photo-editing software package) gives you customization and quality control that you’ll never get through other means. It also spares you the hassle of waiting for shipping or dealing with in-store pickup. During the holidays and at other special times, photo printers come in handy for slipping a few choice memories into a greeting card, a gift, or Grandma's purse.
Mainstream printers with impressive photo quality
Just about any mainstream inkjet printer or multifunction model can produce a nice photo, but the following models boast especially good image quality. Pay attention to media: Plain paper intended for inkjet printing, or special photo papers, will create better results than a general-purpose paper stock.
The HP Photosmart 7520 is a home-oriented multifunction printer with a big touchscreen control panel and input trays for both plain and photo paper. This MFP also sports a few office-friendly extras, including an automatic document feeder for the scanner.
The Epson Expression Premium XP-800 Small-in-One Printer does the HP unit a few better, offering faster print times and adding CD/DVD printing (to specially coated media) to its long list of features. Its midnight-blue case coloring is a refreshing departure from the basic-black color scheme that’s currently trendy.
More ink colors, better images
Although the inkjet printers above have just the usual four inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), a model with six or more inks is capable of producing photos with even better color. The extra two inks might be a lighter cyan and magenta to broaden the color palette, or additional black or gray inks to enhance depth.
The Canon Pixma MG6320 Wireless Inkjet Photo All-In-One adds photo gray and photo black for a total of six inks. Its ink prices are just average—and sometimes a little expensive—but the results are vivid and smooth. The innovative front-loading ink design and a sort of shimmery black shell are nice extras.
The six inks in the Epson Expression Photo XP-850 Small-in-One Printer include light cyan and light magenta. This high-end home multifunction printer boasts USB, ethernet, and Wi-FI connectivity, and it can print on specially coated CD and DVD media.
Specialized photo printers do what they do best
A dedicated photo printer is a good choice if you want simplicity—or the ultimate in complexity and control. On the simple side, the Epson PictureMate Show offers 4-by-6-inch photo printing in a machine that also functions as a digital photo frame. Insert a memory card or a key drive, or upload photos to the printer's 270MB of internal memory, and the PictureMate Show can display the images on its 7-inch, WVGA (480-by-800-pixel), 15:9-aspect-ratio color LCD. A dozen slideshow formats let you incorporate a clock, a calendar, simple animation, and other effects. The infrared remote control allows you to print photos or adjust the digital frame from a maximum distance of 16 feet.
True photo enthusiasts should step up to a higher-end model such as the Epson Stylus Photo R2000. It can print on wide-format media up to 13 by 22 inches. Its seven UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 pigment inks include red, orange, and a gloss optimizer—and they come in high-yield capacities. Connectivity abounds: The unit has USB 2.0, 100Base-T ethernet, 802.11 Wi-Fi, and a PictBridge port.
Printing photos might seem a little quaint to anyone who posts to online albums or social networking sites. For most users, it makes sense to choose a printer that does more than just print photos—such as most of the inkjet printers featured here. A dedicated photo printer is the best bet for people who are intently focused on image quality.