Whether you want fun instant snaps or gallery-quality prints, these are the top photo printers to buy
While the days of film cameras and local photo labs are long behind us, many of us still want to see our photos printed out – and the best photo printers are now capable of delivering amazingly good results. They’re a great tool for keen photographers who want to show off and share their best work, and casual smartphone snappers can use them to print their family photos or holiday pics and hang them on the wall.
While online photo printing services do a great job without much fuss, printing them yourself is often more convenient – and it gives you far more control over the end result. In this article, we’ll run you through everything you need to know before buying a photo printer and provide a range of suggestions from affordable A4 printers right through to high-end models that can produce huge A3+ prints.
If you just want to get shopping, you can check out our at-a-glance list below. Otherwise, read on. You’ll find a buying guide, quick mini-reviews and links out to our full, in-depth reviews.
Best photo printer 2022: At a glance
- Best A4 photo printer under £200: HP Envy Photo 7830
- Best affordable A4 photo printer: Canon Pixma TS8350
- Best affordable A3 photo printer: Epson Expression Photo XP-970
- Best portable photo printer: HP Sprocket 200
How to choose the best photo printer for you
Can’t I just buy any old inkjet printer?
Most inkjet printers are good all-rounders and capable of knocking out a decent photo print, but the printers we’re talking about here are designed specifically to do the job. Generally speaking, they have high-resolution print engines that use extra colours for a better print, have better colour accuracy than their non-specialist cousins and support a wider range of photo media.
What are the most important specifications to look at?
In terms of the basic technology, a photo printer doesn’t work that differently to a standard inkjet. Where the two differ is that photo printers are usually able to produce much smaller drops of ink and, while most regular inkjets use just four coloured inks – Black, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow – a photo printer will work with five or six premium, photo-quality inks, adding a light cyan and/or light magenta on top.
These two factors are important because, in order to simulate roughly 16.7 million colours using four-to-six inks, inkjets have to layer the minuscule dots they print in proportionally tiny patterns. These, to the human eye, register as a particular colour or tone. The smaller the dots you can print and the more colours you have to work with, the easier this is – and the light cyan and light magenta have been shown to dramatically increase the range.
In short, look at the resolution, but also check out the droplet size and the inks that the print engine uses. And because the inks themselves play a huge part in the overall photo quality, it’s arguably worth sticking to manufacturer’s inks rather than third-party ones. After all, if you’re just printing a lot of black text and the odd colour graphic, it doesn’t really matter what ink you use. If you’re trying to print accurate colour photos, however, it helps if you use the ink your printer is designed to work with.
What else should I look out for?
Beyond the print engine, the other key issue is media handling. You can take A4 for granted, but most photo printers will also have facilities to work with thick or glossy 6 x 4in and/or 8 x 10in photo media – and have a feed for glossy A4 media or even card. Meanwhile, more expensive photo printers may support A3 or A3+ sizes, giving you prints that have more impact when you hang them on the wall.
Performance is a secondary consideration when you’re photo printing – it’s more important that the output looks good, even if it means an extra 20 seconds wait. If you want a printer that can handle other duties, though, such as printing out e-tickets or the odd Word document, a faster printer with a good-sized paper input tray makes sense.
Connectivity is pretty standard these days. You’ll struggle to find a photo printer without built-in Wi-fi and USB, although Ethernet isn’t quite as common. Many of these printers also connect to mobile devices, the internet and various cloud photo-sharing services, making it easier to print your photos from everywhere they’re stored.
The majority of these printers incorporate a scanner for photo-scanning and general copying duties. The quality is easily good enough for most purposes, but if you’re looking to scan existing prints, slides or negatives – or if you need to scan at A3 or larger sizes – we’d recommend looking at a dedicated photo or A3 flatbed scanner.
What if I want to print gallery-quality photos?
All the advice above applies to more high-end photo printers, but you really want to focus on media handling and the inks. You might want to print gallery or exhibition work on thicker specialist photo papers with either semi-matte or glossy coatings, so make sure your printer will support this type and weight of media. Pro-level photo printers will also often use even more separate inks – as many as eight, ten or twelve – including special light-grey and dark-grey “monochrome” inks.
What’s more, these inks will usually offer better light resistance, so that you can hang the prints in a heavily sunlit room and know that they won’t fade within the first few years. The downside, is of course, that all these high-quality inks and paper options make the printer significantly more expensive to buy – and even more expensive to run.
The best photo printers to buy
1. Epson Expression Photo XP-970: The best affordable A3 photo printer
Price: £195 | Buy now from Amazon
If you want to print big without spending big money, the Expression Photo XP-970 is for you. It prints superb A3 and A4 photos – albeit slowly – with great definition, accurate colours and smoothly graduating tones.
It struggles a bit more with black text and standard home and office printing duties, but that doesn’t matter much if photo printing is your thing. The tray at the front takes 100 sheets of A4 paper, while 6 x 4in photo media fits into a smaller tray on top of that.
Meanwhile, A3 and thicker A4 photo paper slips into the feeder at the rear. These sheets have to be slotted in manually on demand when you’re printing photos, but that’s not much effort to put in considering the image quality.
Unless you’re planning to print gallery-quality photos, this is all the photo printer you’re likely to need.
Key specs – Print engine: 5,760 x 1,440dpi, six-colour; Droplet size: 1.5pl; Scan specifications: 1,200 x 4,800dpi; Connectivity: USB, 802.11n Wi-Fi; Dimensions (HWD): 148 x 479 x 356mm; Weight: 8.7kg; Maximum paper size: A3
£219.99 Buy now
2. HP Sprocket 200: The best portable photo printer
Price: £90 | Buy now from AmazonThis isn’t a serious photo printer, but more of a tiny, portable printer that works with a smartphone to give you the modern equivalent of an old Polaroid instant camera.
It can only print on special 2 x 3in paper – with an adhesive backing for sticking purposes – which comes in packs of ten, 20 or 50 sheets. It’s very small, very light and very easy to use, while the prints are fine for a quick snap.
Most of all, it’s a fun way to make and share memories – but, just like those old Polaroids, the running costs are high.
Key specs – Print engine: 313 x 400dpi, ZINK print system; Scan specifications: N/A; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5; Dimensions (HWD): 25 x 80 x 118mm; Weight: 172g; Maximum paper size: 2 x 3in prints
£89.99 Buy now
3. HP Envy Photo 7830L The best A4 photo printer under £200
Price: £190 | Buy now from Amazon
It’s been around for a couple of years and only uses a four-ink system, yet the Envy Photo 7830 is still one of the best affordable photo printers around.
It’s a speedy, versatile A4 printer, and while its photo prints can’t muster the colour depth or dynamic range of rivals, they still deliver on smooth tones and natural colours. You can cram 100 A4 sheets into the main tray, while a dedicated photo media tray fits in up to 15 6 x 4in photo sheets.
Go for something else if you want the best photo quality or a high-end scanner – the built-in A4 effort has its limitations – but this is an excellent all-round printer that also dishes out decent photos.
Key specs – Print engine: 4,800 x 1,200 dpi, four colour; Droplet size: N/A; Scan specifications: 2,400 x 4,800dpi; Connectivity: USB, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Ethernet; Dimensions (HWD): 161 x 454 x 410mm; Weight: 7.6kg; Maximum paper size: A4/legal
£189.97 Buy now
4. Canon Pixma TS8350: The best affordable A4 photo printer
Price: £200 | Buy now from Amazon
Looking for an A4 printer that can do it all? The Pixma TS8350 is the one for you. It’s a premium all-in-one printer that can print A4 documents and colour copies at impressive speeds, and the quality is every bit as good.
However, it’s also a dab hand when it comes to photos, thanks to Canon’s FINE ink cartridge system, which is optimised for accurate, high-resolution printing. Combined with six ChromaLife 100 ink cartridges, you get great detail and excellent, vibrant colours – with prints that should last for a century if kept in an album.
There’s a 100-sheet A4 input tray at the front, plus a rear tray for specialist photo media, and it’s one of the most compact and stylish A4 all-in-ones around. The Epson models just have the edge on photo quality, but the Canon is just that little bit more versatile.
Key specs – Print engine: 4,800 x 1,200dpi, six-colour; Droplet size: 5μm; Scan specifications: 2,400 x 4,800dpi; Connectivity: USB, 802.11n Wi-Fi; Dimensions (HWD): 141 x 373 x 319mm; Weight: 6.6kg; Maximum paper size: A4/legal
£203.01 Buy now