Best Photo Printers Revealed – Jan 2013 (Part 1)

1/17/2013 9:16:12 AM

Regular or super-sized? We check out six of the latest options for high-quality inkjet photo printing at home

The entry list

1.    Canon PIXMA MG6250, $218

Canon PIXMA MG6250, $218

Unlike almost every other A4 colour printer on the market, this one aims for high-fidelity black0nad-white photo output as well

2.    Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II, $278

2. Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II

An extended range of eight dye-based inks, including red and green, makes this A3+ printer a glossy colour specialist

3.    Canon PIXMA Pro-1, $585

Canon PIXMA Pro-1

Built like a tank and almost as heavy, the new Pro-1 aims to steal Epson’s crown fir combined colour and black-and-white A3+ printing

4.    Epson Stylus Photo PX830FWD, $630

Epson Stylus Photo PX830FWD

With a conventional range of six dye-based inks, there’s some old-school thinking behind this A4 printer, but it has plenty of mod-cons too

5.    Epson Stylus Photo R2000, $1042.5

Epson Stylus Photo R2000

Pretty speedy for a pigment-based A3+ printer, the R2000 is well-connected with USB, Ethernet and Wi-Fi built in

6.    Epson Stylus Photo R3000, $795

Epson Stylus Photo R3000

Epson’s top-of-the-range A3+ printer offers famously excellent print quality but support for wide-ranging media comes with hidden costs

There’s a lot to be said for a smartly framed print hanging on the wall. You don’t need to power it up and wait while an electronic gadget goes through all of its start-up procedure. It’s simply there, ready and waiting for any time you want to look at it. What’s more, print resolution is far higher than it would be on an electronic display screen, whether it’s a handle device, a computer monitor or an HD television set. Photo prints enable you to see your photos in all their glory.

There are also advantages to printing your photos at home, rather than uploading images to an online lab. You’ll get the finished article in a matter of minutes, or even seconds in some case, instead of having to wait around for them to be delivered in the post. Better still, you get full control over the whole process, so you can tweak relevant settings and make any necessary adjustments to get exactly the results you want, fast.

The most mass-market printers these days are so-called MFDs (Multi-Function Devices, also known as ‘all-in-one’ printers. These generally have a CIS (Contact Image Sensor), flatbed scanner built into the top, enabling scanning and photocopying. They’re great for documents and reasonably good for bringing old photo prints into the digital world, but don’t quite match the image quality of top-notch, standalone photo scanners like the Canon 9000F and Epson V600. The vast majority of MFDs also lack a film-scanning adaptor, so can’t be used for photographic transparencies or negatives.

Most of the latest all-in-one printers feature memory card readers and colour LCD screens, so you can print photographs direct from a camera’s memory cards without even needing to switch on your computer. However, an increasing number don’t include a CompactFlash card slot, which can be a pain for some SLR users. As an alternative, many printers have a PictBridge port, so you can connect your camera directly to the printer for computer-free orienting. Even so, it’s most likely you’ll want to edit your images on a computer to some degree before printing them, to make degree before printing them, to make them look their best.

Naturally, an A4 photo print can look a bit lost on a big wall. The next step up is an A3+ printer, which can create borderless prints up to 483x329mm (19x13 inches) in size. At more than twice the size of A4 prints, they give you much more of a wow factor, ultimately though, no matter what size your photo prints, the most important factor is image quality.

To produce a large colour range or gamut in inkjet printing, there’s a tradition of using six different inks, adding light cyan and light magenta to the basic CMYK mix. Epson still uses this range of dye-based inks in many of its A4 Stylus Photo printers.

Dye hard

Many years ago, Canon switched to a system that uses dye-based CMYK inks for 4A photo printing, plus a secondary pigment-based black ink for document printing. The MG6250 also adds a grey dye-based ink, which increase the gamut for colour printing and also makes for better black-and-white photo prints without unwanted colour casts.

dye-based CMYK inks

Dye-based CMYK inks

Moving up to A3+ printers, most models feature pigment-based inks. The molecules are rather larger than in dye-based inks, so they tend to give more robust results, especially on matte photo papers, which don’t have a glossy coating. This helps to avoid fading and gives greater resistance to environmental factors like humidity and ultra-violet rays. However, even dye-based prints should last for decades when framed, and over 100 years when mounted in an album, if you use printer manufacturers’ genuine inks and photo papers.

One particular advantage if pigment-based inks is that a matte black cartridge is often available. This gives a better quality finish on matte media. However, as you’ll see in our Epson R3000 review, swapping between glossy and matte printing can come at a cost.

A downside of pigment-based inks is that they can look uneven and have a lack of shine for glossy prints. Some pigment-based printers therefore include a ‘gloss optimiser’ cartridge. This applies an even finish over the ink once it’s laid onto glossy paper, to make the print look smoother and shinier, as well as adding richness and vibrancy.

While many of the latest A4 printers are reducing their number of inks from the conventional six, most A3+ printers go the other way. Some add extra colours like red and green, as in the case of the dye-based Canon Pro9000 Mark II, which extends the gamut for potentially stunning colour quality. Others add extra mono cartridges, in various shades of grey, aiming for the ultimate in black-and-white photo print quality, while still delivering excellent colour output.

Let’s take a look at which printer will suit you, and the way you work…

“Even dye-based prints should last for decades when framed, or over 100 years in an album”

Shop smart: keep it real

Drop for drop ink is notorious for being among the most expensive liquids you can buy over the counter. Internet stores are awash with cheap alternatives to genuine ink cartridges, but what price quality?

Cheap inks may enable decent results for document printing but, when it comes to ensuring accurate colour rendition, high levels of sharpness without colours bleeding into each other, and good longevity without fading, it’s generally best to stick with the printer manufacturer’s genuine ink cartridges.

The same usually holds true for photo papers, as the ink and paper are designed to work together to maximize performance. However, printer makers are increasingly supporting leading independent brands of high-quality glossy and matte media, giving you more choice in the papers you use.


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