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.
Melissa Riofrio spent her formative journalistic years reviewing some of the biggest iron at PCWorld--desktops, laptops, storage, printers--and she continued to focus on hardware testing during stints at Computer Currents and CNET. Currently, in addition to leading PCWorld’s content direction, she covers productivity laptops and Chromebooks.