6 Photo Printers Reviewed

We don’t really print photographs much anymore—most of the time, there’s some display we can show them on, and for the rare times we want physical copies, it’s cheaper to order through an online service like Shutterfly than deal with the total cost of owning a photo printer. But maybe you’re more retro than that or need instant gratification with your pics, in which case you might want to read Slate’s side-by-side showdown of six different photo printers.

All but one of the middle-ranked printers are priced around $100 (the odd one out is $150). The clear winner is the Epson PictureMate Dash PM 260, an inkjet printer that averages a competitive 25 cents per print (similar to online services) and is fast and easy to use.

The worst of the bunch is the Panasonic KX-PX2M, and Slate’s reviewer flat-out states, “Don’t buy this printer.” Lines ran through every print, it doesn’t accept CF cards, the controls are hard to use, and customer support is incomplete.

Oddly, though, if you look at the actual image samples in the article, the bottom-ranking Panasonic seems to have some of the most accurate color reproduction of the bunch, while top-pick Epson’s prints are all clearly too red. Did the scans not correctly capture the visual quality? Is the writer color blind? Am I? This is why we hate printing photographs.

“Photo Finish: What’s the top photo printer?” [Slate]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. The Stork says:

    Epson has been dominantly awesome for the last few years (which is why I worked as a rep for them for about five months; it’s wonderful being in a Best Buy and not having to push all their crap) and it’s great to see that continues. That said, one of their advantages has been their affordable ink (affordable compared to the others, that is) along with Canon, and their current line of desktop printers bucked that trend with low ink usage for the cost. Hopefully the next desktop line will follow the PictureMate’s lead and bring back truly cost competitive ink to the Epson name.

  2. Dancing Milkcarton says:

    “We don’t really print photographs much anymore-most of the time, there’s some display we can show them on”

    How about reviewing some pictureframe LCDs? It’s hard to find objective reviews on these things for some reason.

  3. @bitfactory: Good idea—I’ll ask Ben about that. (I’ve been curious about finding good picture frame LCDs too.)

  4. Imaginary_Friend says:

    I just skimmed through the Slate article, but to answer your question, several factors can affect the quality of the image printed. The most important things are to have the latest stable (printer, monitor, and videocard) drivers installed, use the recommended OEM paper and inks for your particular type of printer, and most important of all calibrate your damn system. If you don’t know how to calibrate or don’t care to learn, save yourself some money and aggravation and use the online services because everything you print from a non-colormanaged workflow will be a crapshoot.

  5. wring says:

    Epson would’ve been nice if only their printers didn’t turn into expensive paperweights once the printheads dry up.

  6. wring says:

    Why do people need to print their own photos when there are so many cheap and brilliant services out there? Home printing is the biggest scam ever.

  7. Floobtronics says:

    Wring’s right on the money here.

    The *only* reason I have anything in my house that uses ink cartridges, is that it’s also a fax machine. Once the ink dries up, I won’t bother replacing the cartridges. Any incoming faxes get picked up by Asterisk, and the outbound faxing capability of the printer doesn’t need ink.

    I always tell people that are in the market for photo printers to skip it entirely. Use a service like the iPhoto store, Shutterfly or even CVS/Walgreens/Walmart/etc.

    By the time you’ve bought the printer, paper, ink and paid for the electricity to run the thing, it’s just as much, or likely even cheaper to outsource that function.

  8. Ickypoopy says:

    @Imaginary_Friend:
    Clearly you did not pay attention. These were used as standalone printers. The reviewer was printing from CF (Aside from the two that did not handle CF). No drivers for a standlone.

  9. chrispiss says:

    I have a Kodak photo printer that prints 4×6′s, and it’s amazing. Perfect quality every time, looks like it’s a 35mm print that was developed.

  10. MercuryPDX says:

    @bitfactory: I totally agree. Every time Christmas rolls around it comes to mind as a decent gift idea, but I have yet to find a really trustworthy review.

  11. MercuryPDX says:

    @Floobtronics: I use the Walgreens up the street. If you send them the pics you want printed via their website it’s 12 cents each; in-store with your memory card is 15 cents. The woman in the store told me to ignore whatever the website says for wait/pick-up times and call her at the store. If there’s nothing large in the queue (ie. 400 vacation photos… double prints please), she can have them all printed and ready by the time I get there.

    And slightly OT, but am I the only one who doesn’t have ANY kind of printer on their home PC?

  12. Optimistic Prime says:

    Doing the math, it costs less to take it to the local Target, Walgreens, etc. Plus you get the benefit of looking at the cute girls working behind the counter (really cute girl at my local Target:P ).

  13. ninevolt says:

    @Mercurypdx: No, I know a lot of people that don’t have printers of any kind at home. ( I’m the “extended family tech support guy”). If you don’t do many things requiring printing, why have a printer?

    I had an inkjet that served me well through the quest to get my associate’s degree— but after moving, and transferring to a different school, I made the decision to get a laser printer. It worked out rather well *in my situation*, considering the number of “writing-intensive” courses I had to take, and the number of drafts I did while working on my senior thesis.

  14. ChicagoAndy says:

    I had a terrible time finding someone to fix my Epson photo printer when it died. In Chicago, every service location they listed was a nameless office in a suburban office park, none of them answered phones or had open hours. While I liked this quality of the Epson, when I gave up on having it fixed I refused to buy another.

    I’ve been very happy with my Canon, and am even happier knowing that I can get it fixed when it breaks.

    _Am

  15. ChicagoAndy says:

    The article is lame. They review 5 Dye-sublimation printers and only one ink jet. Not surprisingly, they recomend the ink jet.

    Had they reviewed Ink jets from some of the other vendors too, it might have been a bit more interesting.

  16. calvinneal says:

    The print heads in Epson printers are in the cartridge. Why would anyone pay to have a $99.95 printer repaired?

  17. snwbrder0721 says:

    Disclaimer: I work for Kodak where they make the dye-sub media.

    @chicagoandy
    I do think it’s fair to compare dye-sub to inkjet because if they’re all in the same market (i.e. price, features, output) then an average consumer would have to choose among them.

    I’d have to say that inkjet can make some pretty great prints, and often this is due to the fact that they have multiple color cartridges (7 or 9 in some cases, although I’m guessing these only have the primary CMY & maybe K). Dye-sub only uses CMY (usually not K unless pro pre-press work) but can make some truly durable prints as CHRISPISS mentioned above. Right out of the printer you can take a dye sub print and dunk it in water with no problem, try that with inkjet. If you’ve got kids or want your photos to stand up to some heavy handling, check out some dye sub prints before you settle on a printer.

  18. wesrubix says:

    Why is Slate the referenced source for such a question? You’d think CNET would be more appropriate. I’m tired of non-industry-invested groups dipping into areas as if they are well founded authorities on specialized topics.

    PS. I’ve had great luck with Canon printers for photos.

  19. wring says:

    @calvinneal: Epson cartridges do not have printheads. You’re talking about HP cartridges.

  20. scoosdad says:

    @snwbrder0721: I did some freelance video work for an injet paper manufacturer’s rep not long ago, and one of the demos I shot was the effect of printing four identical images on four different manufacturer’s injet papers in the same printer, then subjecting them to a water bath and a light sponging to show what happens.

    Surprisingly, it’s the paper, not the ink, that makes for a water-resistant print. Out of four papers sold by the majors and subjected to the test, one of them showed absolutely no ill effects from being drowned by water and the print remained perfect. So a dye sublimation print is not the only kind that will resist water damage. Depends on the paper used if it’s an inkjet.

    And if I can throw in a plug here for getting your digital pictures processed by a local photo-specialty camera store (not the chain stores, but the mom-and-pop dealers)– these guys have to keep their digital print pricing nearly as low as the chain stores in order to survive and compete, but usually keep their machines in better operating condition and the color balance of the prints is usually more accurate and consistent. Most of them offer web upload and ordering just like the chains, and can give you free advice if you’re having problems with your pictures or your camera.

  21. scoosdad says:

    @scoosdad: wow my K key must be broken, that should be “inkjet” not injet.

  22. swalve says:

    You are not blind, the all look like ass except the Kodak. I found the same thing when shopping for a digital camera, Kodak was the only one that reproduced color faithfully.

    (Also, many consumer-grade monitors have a bit of a red push, that might be part of your problem)

  23. pdrucker says:

    Working in the office equipment sales industry it is common knowledge that Epsons produce the best print quality. However the price per photo page on them is nearly $1 which is crazy compared to about $.30 from an HP which prints acceptable quality photos.

    And as for Kodak cameras producing the best colour I have no idea what model you were looking at, but for a general rule not many consumer cameras can beat a Canon. Kodaks are horrible when it comes to low-light situations or motion as well.

  24. spinachdip says:

    @wesrubix: Slate has been doing product reviews for as long as I remember. Plus, I appreciate that the reviews are generally written from a layman’s point of view and emphasize user experience features. I find that tech-y reviews too often are skewed towards the prosumer crowds and overemphasize features and specs.

  25. Benstein says:

    My wife routinely gets denied printing our wedding pictures at Walmart and Target. We specifically selected (and paid extra) for a wedding photographer that let us have all rights to our photos. Being that we had all rights, he just gave us the “raw” digitals with no watermarking.

    Walmart and Target will typically not print them (unless you can find some high schooler working who really doesn’t care). They typically print them all out, then when we pick them up, they will pull them out of the packaging, look at them, and refuse to sell it to us. To get back at them we just leave our unpaid groceries at the photo counter and make them tear up the photos in front of us. After we give them an earful and ask for the manager of course.

  26. arby says:

    @Benstein: You should try to get a letter from the photographer, on letterhead, that you can show to the clerk; if he still won’t let you buy the photos I suppose I’d try to escalate to management or corporate. I don’t understand how these stores think they can impose this type of rule. I’ve even read about people being told they couldn’t print photos they shot themselves because the clerk thought the photos looked too professional. Even checking the EXIF info on the file won’t necessarily tell you the source, so unless there’s a watermark or some obvious indication that a photo has been altered to remove a watermark, IMHO they should have to sell you the photos.