For the average person looking to print off some pictures, there are plenty of affordable options on the market, whether it’s a dedicated snapshot printer or an all-in-one inkjet that also prints photos. But there is an additional category of prosumer and professional printers that stand apart from these basic options. While they may not be the best home printers for photos, they fill a distinct need for professionals and advanced amateurs who not only need the best printer for printing photos, but also one that supports specialty print media, large print formats and higher print volumes than any snapshot printer could handle.
These prosumer and professional-grade printers are not made with casual photographers in mind but are aimed at amateur and professional photographers, print shops, and businesses that need photo-quality prints. This additional category straddles the professional and consumer categories – thus the prosumer name – offering very high print quality without being built for the sort of industrial-level print volume that might be expected at a Wal-Mart photo print kiosk.
What Makes a Prosumer Printer
Prosumer printing is largely distinguished from consumer-level printing both in terms of expense and intended users. Prosumer photo printers start at $1,000 – far more than the casual user printing off snapshots has any reason to pay. However, if you’re an advanced amateur photographer or a professional photographer, you’re probably willing – and have more financial incentive – to invest more in a good, high-volume photo printer.
Prosumer printers generally support higher-quality printing, a wide array of photo and fine-art papers, and more inks. The most ambitious consumer printer we looked at had an eight-cartridge system, while professional-level high-quality photo printers often have up to 16. More inks allow for better color blends and shading, more exact color reproduction, and better color quality overall, meeting a demand that consumer printers simply don’t require.
There’s also the issue of print size. Most consumer printers print snapshot-size 4 x 6 photos, with a few that do 8.5 x 11 or slightly larger. Prosumer models are also classified as large-format photo printers and can make much larger sizes (up to 44 inches wide on some printers), with varying weights of paper and surfaces – glossy, semigloss, matte, semimatte, textured and more. While the average person has no need for these capabilities, it’s completely reasonable for a professional photographer to routinely produce gallery-quality prints that are suitable for framing.
Finally, professional-grade tools are built for heavy-duty use and come with professional-level support from manufacturers. These printers are built to not only produce great prints, but also to do so at fairly high volumes. The companies that make them offer broad compatibility with pro-level editing and file formats and more settings options that let you fine-tune your printing. Technical support from the company is also better, with more repair options and user-replaceable parts.
Professional-level printing may not match the budget or needs of the average consumer, but for anyone who needs gallery-level print quality and professional-grade features, prosumer and professional photo printers can be a great choice. Whether you’re a weekend wedding photographer or run your own portrait studio, it’s always worthwhile to invest in the right tools for the job.