If you’re a photo enthusiast ready to make the leap to creating your own gallery-quality prints at home, the most flexible option as a photo printer is an inkjet printer. After spending a total of 76 hours of research and side-by-side testing during various iterations of this guide, the best inkjet printer for making long-lasting, high-quality photographic prints up to 13 inches wide is the $800 Epson SureColor P600.
It delivers professional-quality color prints, black-and-white photographs that are as close to traditional darkroom prints as any comparable digital method you’ll find, and uses pigment inks that produce photographs more fade resistant than anything you’d typically get from an online print service. The P600 lets you print on a wider variety of media than rival models from Canon and its touchscreen control panel makes changing settings and performing maintenance faster and easier than with previous Epson printers.
The best photo printer
Epson SureColor P600
The SureColor P600 13-inch wide inkjet printer (the measurement refers to maximum paper width, not the size of the unit) is one of Epson’s newest pigment ink desktop inkjet printers sold under the SureColor moniker (which is slowly replacing Epson’s highly-regarded Stylus Photo-brand).
At a street price of nearly $800, the P600 is no impulse buy, but it offers a nine-color pigment-ink formulation (UltraChrome HD), high-capacity ink cartridges, roll paper printing, a paper feed designed for thick fine art media, and a dedicated black and white (B&W) printing mode alongside conveniences like a tilting touchscreen control panel and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity to go along with its wired Ethernet and USB ports.
If you’re after the convenience and high degree of control that printing at home offers, you’ll appreciate the outstanding quality, print longevity, and nearly limitless paper choices that the P600 offers.
Personal budget printer
Canon Pixma Pro-100
If you’re not comfortable spending $800 and print longevity isn’t your top priority, the $379 Canon Pixma Pro-100 is a great lower-priced alternative, offering great-looking color prints and faster print speeds than any of the photo printers we tested. Like our top pick, you can print on sheets as wide as 13 inches.
The Pro-100 uses dye inks, which deliver very rich, vibrant colors on glossy paper surfaces, but the resulting prints are more susceptible to fading than those from a pigment ink printer.
When the price drops
Canon Pixma Pro-10
If our main pick goes out of stock (or you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of flexibility for a lower operating cost), we recommend the Canon Pixma Pro-10. Like our top pick, it uses pigment inks for maximum longevity of your prints.
And it’s the per-print cost is about 20 cents less than the Epson’s. But even so, with fewer black ink dilutions (shades like gray and light gray, for example), its black-and-white output is capable of as much fine detail in highlights and shadows as the P600.
Disappointing, though, is that the Pro-10, like all recent Pixma Pro models, requires a wide image border —1.2 inches on all sides—when printing on thick fine art matte papers. On the same media, the P600 can print all the way to the edge of the paper.
One of the easiest ways to tell whether an inkjet printer will make great-looking photorealistic prints is to look at the number of ink colors it holds. Models that come with only four colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) are fine for graphics and illustrations but will struggle to produce smooth, accurate transitions between colors and won’t show fine details in highlight and shadow areas.
We, therefore, dismissed the entire lot of 4-ink all-in-one printers selling for less than $100 like the HP Officejet Pro 6830.
There’s no point in buying a printer if you can get better results from inexpensive online services or in-store drop-offs at Walgreens or Costco.
Six-ink multifunction models like the $250 Epson Expression Photo XP-860 add light cyan and light magenta inks which go a long way towards creating smooth transitions in areas like skin tones and blues skies and do a much better job producing the highlight and shadow detail you see in your image on-screen.
With models like these, however, you’re limited to a maximum 8.5-inch-wide print and can only print on a limited selection of relatively thin photo papers. But the biggest drawback of these multifunction models is the pricy ink cartridges that hold only about 5-7 mL of ink. The Canon Pixma MG7520 has an ink cost of $1.86 per mL.
The Epson Expression Photo XP-950 (which does print up to 11-by-17) is even worse at $2.40 per mL. For comparison, our top pick has 26 mL ink cartridges that cost less than $1.30 per mL. With these multifunction printers, you’re going to making a lot of last-minute runs to the office supply store to finish up your print jobs. We can’t recommend them if you’ll be printing on even a semi-regular basis.
The $300 Epson Artisan 1430 is a 13-inch wide dye-ink printer with light cyan and light magenta inks. Its black-and-white output is pretty poor, though, and with inks that run $1.95 per mL, it has a high operating cost. The Canon Pixma IP8720 is another 13-inch printer with six dye inks, but one of them is used only for document printing on plain paper, making it a less stellar performer for color prints than our top picks. It also has a high ink cost of $1.71 per mL.
The Epson Stylus Photo R2000 is a pigment-ink printer that produces great-looking color prints. Its black-and-white output is a couple of generations behind current Epson models, however, and has since been discontinued by Epson.
The Epson Stylus Photo R3000 delivers image quality nearly identical to the P600, although the latter produces noticeably richer blacks on fine art matte papers. The only feature the R3000 lacks is a tilting touchscreen. It was our previous pick but has been discontinued. You can still find it at retailers (for how much longer we can’t say) but its dwindling supplies have actually pushed its price on Amazon above our new top pick’s.
Epson’s 13-inch SureColor P400 has the same styling and many of the same features as our top pick and is $200 cheaper. But because the P400 uses the same 8-color ink set as the now-discontinued Stylus Photo R2000, it lacks the additional gray inks that our main picks use to produce such smooth, neutral BW prints. Another drawback is that the P400 ink cartridges only hold 14ml of ink each (compared to 26ml for our top pick), which means a more frequent replacement, a drawback if you print a lot.
The $900 Canon Pixma Pro-1 is very nearly the P600’s equal in both color and B&W output, and at $1/ml it has the lowest ink costs of any 13-inch pigment printer. But at $100 more than our top pick, we can’t overlook the fact that selecting a fine art media type in the Canon driver substantially increases the print margins to 1.2 inches. You can’t print an 8-by-10-inch print on a letter-size sheet of fine art paper. That’s an inexcusable limitation on a printer in this price range.
The best photo printer
Epson SureColor P600
Its newly formulated pigment-based UltraChrome HD inkset gives noticeably richer blacks than previous Epson models when printing on fine art matte papers and comes in nine individual large capacity cartridges. Epson reports that in lab tests it commissioned from the Wilhelm Research Institute, prints using these inks on both glossy and matte papers have up to twice the print permanence of previous Epson inks.
Accelerated print longevity tests can only provide an approximation of what you can expect in real-world conditions. So claims like “Your print will last 200 years before fading” should be taken with a grain of salt. You can take comfort, however, in the fact that the longevity performance of the P600 places it among the best consumer options for making prints that will resist fading and discoloration better than traditional analog photographic prints.
The P600’s nine-color inkset can print dots as small as two picoliters (two trillionths of a liter). In addition to the standard CMY (Cyan, Magenta and Yellow) inks, the printer uses Light Cyan, Vivid Magenta, Vivid Light Magenta, Photo Black (for glossy media), Matte Black (for matte papers), Light Black, and Light Light Black.
You’ll find similar “light” ink dilutions among competing models in this price range, all surpassing the four and six-color inksets of sub $200 photo printers. These additional inks expand the range of colors the printer can produce and allow for smooth transitions in both light and dark areas of the print that show very fine details. If your only digital printing experience is with an inexpensive multifunction printer, you’ll immediately notice the difference in prints with the P600; accurate colors in landscapes with subtle details, portraits that show smooth skin tones in shadow areas and black-and-white prints that are pleasingly neutral in appearance, without garish green or magenta color casts.
The P600 uses large 25.9-mL cartridges. With a street price of $32 per cartridge, this works out to an ink cost of $1.28 per mL, not quite as cheap as our alternate pick, the Canon Pro-10. The P600 has a much lower operating cost than multifunction printers, which have smaller cartridges that can cost more than $2/mL for ink.
The P600 comes with detailed setup instructions. After unpacking the 35-pound printer you’ll spend a fair bit of time installing the ink cartridges (shake each one vigorously before inserting it) and waiting for the printer to prime its ink lines once you’ve done so. With the P600 Epson introduces a tilting color touchscreen display which speeds along the process with step-by-step guidance and illustrations that make setup easy; the complete setup and installation process took us about 30 minutes from unboxing to handling the first print.
In daily use the color display makes it easy to verify remaining ink levels, giving you plenty of advance notice before any of the cartridges need replacing. The touchscreen is a convenience that allows swapping inks for matte and glossy papers and routine maintenance like nozzle checks and head cleanings to be done directly from the printer. A step-by-step onscreen guide makes this easier and more foolproof than on previous Epson models. Not having to call up the printer utility on your computer to do this actually makes initiating the whole process much faster.
The P600 can accommodate a wide range of media. Its manual paper feed can handle media up to 1.3 mm thick, allowing you to use significantly thicker media than a model like our runner-up, the Canon Pixma Pro-10, which only accepts sheets up to 0.6 mm thick. While many users will be happy to print on more traditional, thin paper stock, the P600 will let you experiment with alternative media like inkjet-compatible metal sheets.
A few reviewers have complained of having to make multiple attempts when manually loading thick sheets through the front-feeding slot because the printer’s paper skew sensor was a bit too sensitive and kept forcing them to reload. We haven’t experienced that problem here, though we did request a replacement unit from Epson after the first P600 we were sent wouldn’t let us load through the front-feeder at all. Epson says our unit was likely damaged during shipping, resulting in an obstruction of the paper path, and the replacement unit has worked flawlessly.
You can connect the P600 to your computer via USB or wired Ethernet. The printer also has built-in Wi-Fi (helpful if you need to share the printer among multiple computers in separate rooms), and comes with a mobile app for direct printing from iOS and Android devices. These wireless options are much slower than wired printing, however, nearly doubling your print times. And if your print workflow includes using third-party papers with custom profiles, you’ll find color management options in the mobile apps much more limited than those in the desktop print driver.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
A long-standing complaint about Epson printers is the costly ink purge involved when switching between Matte Black and Photo Black. They share the same ink line to the print head. According to Epson, this causes about three mL of ink to be flushed from the ink line. The P600 does offer an econo mode option for making the switch that wastes less ink, but you’re still throwing out perfectly good ink every time you switch. Canon’s printers, by virtue of having separate ink lines for each of their black inks, offer a much more seamless and less costly switch between matte and glossy papers.
The P600 will certainly feel slow if you’ve only used document printers. In our tests at the 1440-dpi setting, an 8-by-10 glossy print took 3 minutes and 18 seconds from paper feed to finished print. While this falls right in line with what dpreview found for the rival Canon Pixma Pro-10, it is slower than our runner-up pick, the dye-ink Canon Pixma Pro-100, which we timed at a brisk 1 minute and 37 seconds even at its highest quality setting.
While Wi-Fi connectivity is convenient, be aware that its use leads to the slowest possible print speeds. The 3 minute 18 second print time I just mentioned was with a USB connection. Using a Wi-Fi connection on my home network, the same print took 5 minutes and 44 seconds from paper feed to print eject.
While the P600 can print on any number of papers, Epson has always stubbornly refused to provide media settings or ICC profiles for any papers other than their own, requiring you to seek out these profiles yourself from paper manufacturers’ sites. Canon, by contrast includes third-party paper profiles in both its print drivers and on its website, an approach we’d sorely love to see Epson adopt.
Long-term test notes
We’ve used the Epson SureColor P600 in house for just over six months without any significant issues. It still makes great-looking prints with a minimum of fuss. This result isn’t surprising, as inkjet printers, particularly at this price level, can be expected to deliver years of solid service. The only real maintenance issue with pigment-ink printers arises from extended periods of inactivity: If you regularly go several weeks without making a print, nozzles on the print head can get clogged temporarily with pigment particles.
Occasionally, if our printer has been idle for more than a few weeks, we’ve had to run a head-cleaning cycle (an automated process) to fix the clog, but that’s been the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority of the time, we fire up the printer, and the first print looks great.
Best Budget Printer
Canon Pixma Pro-100
If $800 for the P600 is more than you’re willing to spend, we recommend the $379 dye-ink Canon Pixma Pro-100. This is a great choice if you’ll only be making prints for personal use, as opposed to selling editions of your work. It makes vibrant, professional-looking prints faster than any other 13-inch photo inkjet we found. At less than half the cost of our top pick, users who may occasionally skip a month between making prints can more easily justify the upfront expense. Because it uses dye inks, however, its prints won’t stand up over time as well as those from a pigment inkjet, and the Pro-100 can’t handle the super thick sheets that our top pick can.
Dye ink printers produce more saturated output than pigment ink printers. The downside is print longevity, as dye ink will fade faster. If you only store your images in photo albums, Canon claims the Pro-100 can resist noticeable fading for up to 100 years in proper storage conditions. We suggest taking those numbers with a grain of salt, as they’re extrapolated estimates based on lab tests. In a paper presented at CES in 2012, print permanence expert Henry Wilhelm and his colleagues at the Wilhelm Research Institute note, “meaningful, comparative test methods for…bound photobooks may be difficult or impossible to develop – there are simply too many variables involved.”
But if you’ll be hanging prints on your wall where they’re exposed to sunlight and airborne pollutants along with temperature and humidity changes, you shouldn’t be surprised to see some noticeable fading over the months and years. By their nature, pigment inks are much more resistant to fading; if you’re selling your prints rather than giving them to family and friends as gifts, you’re much better off with a pigment ink printer like our top pick.
Another concession you make by stepping down to the Canon Pro-100 is limiting the variety of media you can print on. Our top pick, the P600, can handle sheets up to 1.3 mm thick, and it comes with a roll holder and printer driver that can produce panoramas up to 44 inches long. The Canon Pro-100 lacks any roll capacity, has a maximum paper thickness of only 0.6 mm and the printer driver limits you to a 26-inch print length.
If you like to print on fine art matte papers, the Pro-100, like all recent Canon Pixma Pro models, imposes a wide 1.2-inch image border on all four sides, limiting the size of image you can print. While I suspect the majority of users buying a dye-ink printer will gravitate to lighter weight glossy paper, this is something to be aware of.
Best Photo Printer (Bit Expensive)
Canon Pixma Pro-10
The Canon Pixma Pro-10 is a great alternative to our top pick for those who’ll be printing primarily on glossy papers. It’s solidly built, has a lower ink cost than our top pick, and delivers great print quality, falling just slightly short of its big brother the Pixma Pro-1 and our top pick in highlight and shadow details when printing in black-and-white mode (since it has fewer black ink dilutions). With a $700 street price, the Pro-10 doesn’t offer any significant benefits over the P600—but we’ve seen occasional price drops of more than $250, and at that much of a discount, it’s a compelling alternative.
The Pro-10 is no speed demon, printing twice as slow as the P600, but this 10-ink printer does have a very low ink cost of $1.07 per mL. It’s worth noting, however, that because of its smaller 14-mL (versus 26) capacity ink cartridges, you will be replacing inks more frequently with the Pro-10 than with the P600.
Like our top pick, the Pro-10 offers built-in Wi-Fi, wired Ethernet and USB ports and compatibility with AirPrint and Google Cloud Print, which allows direct printing from iOS and Android devices. The printer also benefits from Canon’s open embrace of third-party media, with ICC paper profiles for popular papers from leading brands like Hahnemühle, Moab, Canson, and Ilford included in the driver, with even more options available on Canon’s own web site. Epson, by contrast, supplies ICC profiles only for its own brand of papers, forcing users to seek out third-party paper profiles on their own, typically from the paper companies’ own sites.
Mike Pasini, Photo Corners, Interview
Tyler Boley, Custom Digital, Interview
Jim Harmer, 11 Online Print Labs Compared, Improve Photography
William Harrel, Epson SureColor P600 Wide Format Inkjet Printer Review, Computer Shopper, February 20, 2015
Keith Cooper, Epson SureColor P600 review, Northlight Images
Vincent Oliver, Epson SureColor SC-P600 review, Amateur Photographer, April 23, 2015
David Stone, Epson SureColor P600, PC Mag, March 24, 2015
Andrew Darlow, Printer Test: Epson SureColor P600, Popular Photography, March 9, 2015
Michael Reichmann, Epson SureColor P600 Review, Luminous Landscape, April 1, 2015
Henry Wilhelm, Kabenla Armah, Barbara C. Stahl, Testing the Permanence of Photobook Pages, Wilhelm Research, January 8, 2012