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Best photo printer 2021: Quality images and affordable options, compared

The end of the processing cycle is just as important as taking the images in the first place, and so here are ZDNet's recommendations to help you decide on the right photo printer for you.

When you have spent your time and energy editing and perfecting your photos, you can't let yourself be let down by a printer that doesn't show them off in their full glory. 

Typical printers will contain three to four ink reservoirs, whereas top-end photo printers may contain 10 or more to bring out as much color in your prints as possible. Inkjet models, combined with paper specifically designed for photography, are often considered the best option -- but if you want to mass-produce images for purposes such as marketing or flyers quickly (and with lower quality), a laser model could still be a possibility. 

You also need to consider the size of prints that you want, whether or not you need double-sided print capabilities, and if wireless or direct-from-card printing is important to you. 

There are also some printers, too, that are inexpensive to buy but require a second mortgage for the ink or toner. When you're considering which printer suits you best, you should also consider whether you need one purely for photography purposes -- or if you plan to combine document printing and photos, for example, it might even be worth preserving one solely for image work to cut the costs of ink replacement. 

Below, ZDNet has compiled our top picks for photo printers on the market. 

Buyer's guide

HP Envy 6055 Wireless All-In-One printer

Budget-friendly

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HP

HP's Envy 6055 is a wireless inkjet printer and scanner combination capable of printing at a resolution of up to 10 ISO prints per minute (ppm) in black and up to 7ppm in color. You won't get in-depth, extremely detailed photos with the limit of a black and tri-color cartridge, but this is still a solid, affordable option for those on a budget.


Pros:

  • Mobile connectivity with the HP app
  • Ink savings on offer with subscription

Cons:

  • Slow ppm
  • Limited with four ink wells

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer

Top-quality prints

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Canon

The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer is for those looking to maximize the quality of their images in hard copy. The 17-inch wide-format printer comes with an 11-color setup and the Chroma Optimizer ink system, air feed, and nozzle monitor to improve the speed and performance of the hardware.


Pros:

  • Wide color gamut, separate matte black and photo black inkwells
  • 1.28-inch print nozzle head for an increased printing surface
  • A plugin, print studio, for last-minute enhancements

Cons:

  • Expensive initial investment
  • Care plans are an additional cost (two years, $99.99, four years, $179.99)

HP Color LaserJet Pro M454dn

A solid business workhorse

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B&H

HP's Color LaserJet Pro is a wireless laser printer capable of printing at a resolution of up to 600dpi. This option should be considered if you also want a fast means to print documents, and also comes with options for letter and legal-size prints -- making this printer an all-rounder for business and marketing printing purposes.


Pros:

  • Two-sided printing available
  • A solid option for small businesses on a budget

Cons:

  • 4000 pages maximum a month recommended
  • It only comes with starter toner cartridges

Epson Expression Premium XP-7100 Wireless All-In-One printer

Small, quality prints

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Epson

The Epson Expression P-7100 is a budget-conscious inkjet model designed for small, high-quality prints. This printer is able to handle up to 4x6" prints at a speed of roughly 12 seconds per print, and you can also connect this printer to an accompanying Android or iOS app for rapid printing. 


Pros:

  • 15.8 ISO ppm (black), up to 11 ISO ppm (color)
  • Up to 5760 x 1440 dpi 
  • Five ink tanks (including matte black, photo black)

Cons:

  • Small printing size

Kodak Dock Plus 4x6 Instant Photo Printer

Prints on the go

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Amazon

If you're looking for a mobile printing solution to produce hard image copies on the go, the Kodak Dock Plus instant photo printer is an option. This portable printer connects to your Android or iOS mobile device via Bluetooth and is able to print color images at a 4x6 ratio. 


Pros:

  • Portable and travel-friendly
  • Protective case available (sold separately)

Cons:

  • Paper and ink replacements can add up
  • Size constraints

How did we choose these products?

We wanted to make sure we covered products suitable for various budgets, as creative and photographic activities can quickly become expensive while also considering the printers that offered the best image quality. 

Which is the right photo printer for you?

The first point to consider is whether or not you want prints to enjoy in your own home or whether you need a printer to act as a work or marketing tool. When your images appear in a portfolio, you want them to look their best as an asset -- but you might not need extremely high quality if printing is going to be on an occasional basis for friends or family. 

A printer, in the same way as a camera kit, can be an investment into a business -- but it doesn't have to be, and so you should consider what you are willing to spend. 

Best Photo Printer FAQ

What is the big deal about the number of ink tanks?

While many entry and mid-range printers will come with three, four, or five tanks, for professional purposes, printers can go beyond 10 tanks -- vastly increasing the color depth possible. However, the more the tanks, the more the cost to keep a printer running. 

What is the difference between matte black and photo black ink?

Photo, or 'standard' black, will be set on normal and glossy paper types. However, matte black is suitable for matte and art paper.

Inkjet or laser?

Inkjet models are generally considered superior when it comes to printing images as laser printers can often only produce mid-range quality prints due to toner limitations. 

However, if you want quick prints for business and marketing materials in quantity, laser models might be the better bet.  

Are there alternatives worth considering? 

If you're looking for instant prints, a more compact size, or an all-in-one workhorse, the options below are also worthy of consideration: