Is your digital camera memory full again because you still haven’t printed your photos? Printing pictures from home can solve your procrastination problem, but for photo-lab quality, don’t hit “Print” on a standard printer. For high-quality prints, you need the right photo printer.
A couple of weeks ago, we shared ways to find the right digital camera. And now, to get those digital photos off your camera and out into the real world, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has tips for buying the right printer.
Now that you’ve learned a bit about what to look for, here are more details for buying a photo printer.
1. Dedicated vs. all-in-one models
If you’re serious about printing high-quality, professional-looking photos, find a printer that’s designed specifically for this purpose. All-in-one printers will print photos, but the quality might not be as good. Dedicated photo printers have added features that make printing better photos easier, like extra ink cartridges to enhance color or an LCD display where you can crop images and remove redeye.
If you insist on printing other documents from the same printer, many inkjet models can handle this. Just be aware you may be wasting money on expensive ink and may be forced to swap out paper.
2. Size and portability
For printing photos outside the home or office, consider a portable option that’s not a pain to lug around. The Canon SELPHY CP800 ($99.99 retail) weighs just 2 pounds and is about the size of a shoebox. An optional battery makes this model ideal for printing from anywhere.
If you’ll only be printing from home, size may be of less concern than price and the included features. Look at standard-sized inkjet models that offer excellent print quality with the versatility to produce larger prints.
3. Quality is all in the ink
Photo printers are available with two different printing options: inkjet or dye sublimation.
Inkjet photo printers can produce larger and higher-quality photos. While photo quality still varies by printer model, having more ink cartridges often results in better prints. For the best quality, look for a photo printer that has six or more color cartridges as opposed to only four.
Dye sublimation or thermal dye models are more typical of compact photo printers that produce 4 x 6 inch prints. Found in models like the Canon SELPHY, dye sublimation offers the advantage of producing photos with a clear overcoat that’s more resistant to smudging and moisture damage than inkjet prints.
Look at the print resolution too, but don’t get too hung up on the numbers. Search for at least 600 dots per inch (dpi) for inkjets, which is standard for most printers now. Higher resolutions may produce better prints, but you might not see a noticeable difference beyond 1,200 dpi.
Ink also matters for the lifetime of the photo. Many manufacturers will estimate this in the specs, with lifetimes ranging anywhere from 20 to 100-plus years, depending on how and where photos are stored. Printers that use pigment inks produce prints with superior fade times compared to the more common dye ink, but often with a steeper price tag for both the printer and ink cartridges.
To truly test quality, there’s no substitute for seeing actual prints at your local retailer. CNET explains how to look for the four most important factors of print quality when judging photos in the store.
4. Paper options matter too
The size of prints you’re looking for may help you decide which photo printer option best suits you.
Snapshot printers can typically only handle 4 x 6 inch photos or smaller. If you’re looking for larger than that, you’ll most likely be after an inkjet model, which can typically print on sheets as large as 13 x 19 inches.
Don’t forget that the paper you use may be just as important as the quality of your printer. Stick to the manufacturer-recommended paper type, as this often gets the best results.
5. Compare the cost per print
Photo printers start at about $40 for inkjet models and go way up from there, depending on desired features and specs. Dye sublimation options that handle snapshots only begin around $100.
Before you settle, compare the ownership cost of different printers. The cost per print factors in replacement ink cartridges and photo paper.
For printers that offer print kits that include paper and ink for a specific number of photos, calculating cost per print is as simple as dividing the total number of prints by the price per pack.
For inkjet models, cost per print is a little trickier to determine. Many manufacturers will list the cost per page or the print yield per cartridge. While neither of these values is guaranteed, you’ll be able to roughly compare the costs of different models.
6. Rushed? Check the printing speed
Photos often take longer to print than standard text documents. If you’re in a hurry, you’ll want to make sure your printer doesn’t keep you waiting.
Laser printers often print faster than inkjets, but they’re not typically recommended for printing quality photos.
Inkjet printers can range widely in print time, with some taking more than a minute to print a single photo. Look to manufacturer specifications or online reviews to learn more about the speed you can expect, or observe the speed for yourself when testing print quality in the store.
7. Consider the connection options
Nearly all photo printers will connect by USB to a computer. Just don’t forget that you may need to buy the USB cord separately since they’re often not included.
Additional options including being able to insert memory cards and USB thumb drives directly into your printer. Many printers have the “PictBridge” connection option, which is considered the industry standard for printing directly from your camera. Some models now let you connect wirelessly over a network or using Bluetooth technology.
Before you buy, check out expert opinions and comparison shop to find the best prices. You can use the step-by-step advice in this article about shopping for electronics online to find the best deal on your new photo printer.
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