Like most people, you may want to occasionally print photos but don’t want to buy a dedicated photo printer. If you want to print a few snapshots on your existing printer, you’re in luck; the best inkjet printer for photos is often the one already sitting on your desk. Most inkjet printers are actually quite adept at producing decent photos. With the right printer and a few helpful tips, you can get great looking prints at home without buying another machine.
Photo Printing & Inkjet Technology
Today, most photo printing is done by depositing mixtures of various colored inks onto the surface of photo paper. This is a departure from the true photographic printing of the past, where photosensitive chemicals are exposed to light through a negative print, a process that has fallen by the wayside since the advent of digital photography.
Because standard inkjet printers also print by depositing ink directly onto paper, they are a workable way to print documents and print digital photos. This is in contrast to technologies such as laser printers, which bond a uniform layer of toner onto a page surface.
Traditionally, mainstream printers have been used for document printing, producing text and sometimes images on plain printer paper. However, modern inkjet printers are capable of much more. They support a variety of media types, including glossy photo paper, transparency film and brochure paper. They are also compatible with several paper sizes – in addition to traditional 8.5 x 11 pages, you can load 4 x 6 photo paper into a secondary paper tray.
While top photo printers are dedicated devices that produce better overall photo quality, being built and optimized specifically for this task, you can still print some pretty decent photos with a mainstream inkjet printer.
The Best Inkjet Printers for Photo Printing
In our inkjet printer review, we evaluated a variety of printers, each with its own unique blend of features and capabilities. During testing, we paid close attention to photo printing. As with our testing of dedicated photo printers, we evaluated photo print quality using a collection of 4 x 6 and 8 x 10 photo prints, examining the finished products for color quality, skin-tone reproduction, detail clarity and absence of print errors. The best home printers for photos rank high in these areas. While not every printer is suited to produce great-looking photos, there were five that stood out, with quality that approaches the level you would get from a dedicated device.
The best inkjet photo printer in our testing was the Epson Expression Premium XP-830 Small-in-One, which produced very high-quality prints. Much of this quality is thanks to a fifth ink cartridge that uses pigment-based black ink. Compared to other printers we reviewed, it produced better, more consistent quality across our standard test photos.
The Canon Pixma MG6821 also prints excellent-quality photos, with rich colors and sharp details. Like the Epson XP-830, this is due in large part to the addition of a fifth ink cartridge with pigment-based black ink.
One of our top-rated inkjet printers overall, the Canon Pixma MG7720 prints great documents and photos alike. Like the printers above, it has a pigment black ink cartridge, but it also boasts an impressive print resolution of 9600 x 2400 dots per inch (dpi). As an all-around printer with great photo quality, it’s hard to beat.
The Epson Expression ET-2550 EcoTank may have ranked toward the bottom of our inkjet printer lineup but not for its photos. The photo print quality was quite good, if slow, and Epson’s EcoTank design makes for extremely affordable inks.
The HP Envy 5540 All-in-One was held back by slow printing and an expensive tri-color ink cartridge, but its photo printing was very good, with good color quality and detail and a reasonably quick speed of 1.3 photos per minute.
These five printers produce photos with above-average quality, with good color accuracy, sharp detail and no minor issues to speak of. These graded scores are based on both a blind ranking of several print samples and close inspection of each print under high magnification.
Getting the Best Prints From Your Printer
Even with a printer that can produce decent-quality photos, you still want to take steps to ensure you getting the best prints you can. There are five main things to focus on for great photo prints:
Use the Right Paper
This may sound obvious, but if you want to print at photo quality, you need to use photo paper instead of regular printer paper. Standard printer paper has a plain surface that absorbs dye-based inks and is meant to provide a simple white canvas for text and graphics. On the other hand, photo paper has a glossy coating that doesn’t absorb ink, which allows more precise inking of an image. The glossy surface serves a purpose as well, reflecting light for a lustrous brightness that brings out more vibrant color.
Pick the Right Ink
You also want to check to see if the printer supports additional inks beyond the usual black, cyan, magenta and yellow. Many also use a pigment black cartridge specifically for photo printing. This version of black ink actually reflects light differently than the usual dye-based ink, and it creates sharper detail and better dark shades in photos. It’s also less susceptible to fading over time.
Also, use the manufacturer’s ink. While generic refilled cartridges may do the trick for text on plain paper, most third-party ink refills don’t use ink well-suited to photo printing.
Resolution Is Everything
The file you’re printing from needs to be sufficient resolution to produce a high-quality photo at the desired size. Without a high-resolution file, there’s no way to get a good print. Many printers have a maximum resolution listed in the product specifications, generally measured in dpi. The higher the dpi, the sharper and more detailed an image it can print. For the best print quality, you want the image file to have a resolution similar to the printer.
Double Check Your Settings
You also need to pay close attention to your printer settings. Set the print quality as high as possible, with the necessary settings for photo paper and photo size. Even a high-quality image will print poorly if set to standard document quality. Familiarize yourself with the available quality settings, and don’t be afraid to look up further details in your printer’s user manual.
Start With a Test Print
Even with all this preparation, you may not get it right on the first try. Sometimes paper gets loaded incorrectly, and sometimes ink nozzles need to be cleaned. Doing a test print first gives you an opportunity to make adjustments and corrections. Plan on having at least one lousy print before your photo looks right, and you’ll be far less likely to find yourself frustrated with flawed photos.
Most inkjet printers on the market today can handle some level of photo printing, and if you pick one of our top performers, you’ll print photos at a quality level that rivals even some dedicated photo printers. Combine this with our tips for photo printing, and you’ll print some great-looking photos with nothing more than the printer you already own.