How To Buy An Inkjet Printer

How To Buy An Inkjet Printer


Editor's note: This month only – buy my latest ebook Up Close: A Guide to Macro & Close-Up Photography for just $10. Start making beautiful close-up photos today! Thanks for reading, Andrew.

In the previous article in this series I explored some of the ways that making prints can help you become a better photographer (click the link to catch up if you missed it). If you already own an inkjet printer then I don’t need to convince you of the benefits. But if you don’t, then one of the things stopping you from buying one may simply be not knowing which model to get. 

A complicated decision like this can even stop you buying a printer in the first place, which is counter-productive if you want to make prints and hang them on your wall.

Just like I can’t tell you which camera to buy, I can’t tell you which inkjet printer would suit you best. But I can tell you what questions to ask yourself to make a good decision.

1. What’s your budget?

A bigger budget opens up some interesting possibilities. Don’t forget you have to allow for paper and ink, as well as frames if you’re printing photos to hang on the wall. The peripherals can be more expensive than the printer itself.

If money is tight the good news is that you don’t have to spend much to get a good inkjet printer. Last year I bought a Canon Pixma iP8750 printer for under £230. The same model is called the Canon Pixma iP8720 in the US and you can buy it for less than $300. 

Canon Pixma iP8750 inkjet printer
Above: Canon Pixma iP8750 / 8720

I had intended to buy a more expensive printer, but the ones I had shortlisted weren’t available. The iP8750 was, so I bought it and haven’t looked back. The print quality is great and I’m happy with the results.

If you want an inexpensive A3+ (13 x 19”) inkjet printer and you’re don’t mind using dye based inks then I recommend the iP8750 / iP8720 (if it’s available).

If you have a larger budget, then you can consider a newer model or a printer that uses pigment based inks.

2. Which brand should you buy?

There’s only two choices for good photo quality printers – Epson and Canon. 

Anecdotally, it seems that Epson printers are more prone to paper jams (I can’t confirm that from personal experience). They also use more ink when switching from one type of black ink to another. 

I chose Canon because of this, and also because I’ve used its printers before and know they’re good.

Epson SureColor P700 inkjet printer
Above: Epson SureColor P700

3. Which size should you buy?

Most photographers go for an A3 (11 x 17”) or A3+ (13 x 19”) printer. If you have a bigger budget you might even go for an A2 (17 x 22”) printer. Here are some of the reasons that size matters:

Desk space. Larger printers take up more desk space. How much room do you have?

Weight. Larger printers are heavy. If you need to move your printer around much, then go for a lighter model.

What size prints do you want to make? If you’re printing photos for your wall, then an A3+ printer is ideal until you want to make bigger prints. But considering you’re unlikely to make many big prints, it might not make sense to buy an A2 printer just for that. You can always get the occasional big print made at a lab.

Are you making and selling fine art prints? In that case it’s likely that you need an A3+ or A2 printer with pigment based inks. That lets you take full control of the printing process and experiment with fine art printing papers.

Ink replacement. How much do replacement inks cost? Generally speaking, the larger the printer the larger the ink cartridges and the cheaper the price per milliliter. It’s less expensive (per mm) to buy ink for an A2 printer than an A3+ one. If you intend to do lots of printing, it might make sense to buy an A2 printer if you have the space and budget. There’s a bigger initial outlay, but the running costs are cheaper.

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO 1000 inkjet printer
Above: Canon imagePROGRAF PRO 1000 A2 printer

4. Should you buy a printer that uses dye based or pigment inks?

Pigment inks are more archival, but printers that use pigment inks are more expensive. A good question to ask yourself is how long do you want your prints to last? If you’re selling fine art prints, then the answer is as long as possible. That means pigment based inks are best.

But dye based inks are fine if your main aim is to print photos and frame them to display in your own home. It’s likely you’ll change the photos every so often, so the archival quality isn’t important. Also, some photos will catch the sun, and in that case they’ll eventually fade no matter which type of ink you use.

5. Which printers are currently available?

As I write this there seems to be a shortage of photo quality inkjet printers. In 2020 I ordered a Canon Pixma Pro 10s from a retailer who told me it was out of stock, but expected to arrive soon. Six months later it told me it was discontinued and I couldn’t buy one after all.

Experiences like this are frustrating, but it’s a fact of life that the pandemic has interrupted supply chains and that’s had a knock on effect on the availability of some printers. If your first choice isn’t currently available, you have to decide whether you’re willing to wait or if it’s better to compromise and buy something else.

Canon imagePROGRAF PRO 300 inkjet printer
Above: Canon imagePROGRAF PRO 300

6. Have you read the reviews?

Before you make your final decision, get feedback from other photographers. Use Google to search for real world, hands on reviews of printers. Ask photographers you know for their opinion.

7. Do you really need to buy an inkjet printer?

Part of the process of buying a printer is asking yourself whether you really need one. I’m a big believer in the benefits of printing, but the benefits might not apply to everybody. If any of the factors below apply to you, then now might not be a good time to buy an inkjet printer.

You don’t have a settled lifestyle. Printers are big items. If you move around a lot, having fewer possessions makes it easier to move. It might just be that it’s the wrong time of life to buy a printer. 

You’re on a tight budget. You don’t have to buy an expensive printer, but you do have to allow for the ongoing costs of ink, paper and frames. For you it might be better to get prints, zines or photo books made when you can afford it. Or you might just prefer to spend your money on making zines or books rather than prints. 

You won’t use the printer often. You need to use inkjet printers regularly to avoid clogging the heads. Cleaning heads uses ink (and costs money).  If you’re only going to make prints every few months, you might be better off using a lab instead.

You’d rather pay a good lab to make the print. Some people just like to let an expert do the job instead. This costs more per print but is a better approach for some photographers.

Buying an inkjet printer isn’t as complicated as it first seems. These questions should help you think clearly about which inkjet printer is best for you and make a smart buying decision. If you have any questions about printers, or the printing process, then feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

Further reading

Up Close ebook

About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, publisher, traveler, workshop leader and photographer based in the UK. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.

Comments

  1. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for these articles, I’m following them closely. I am considering buying a printer since I haven’t been overly satisfied with my local lab (though that may be my own fault.)

    Anyway, you said: “Also, some photos will catch the sun, and in that case they’ll eventually fade no matter which type of ink you use.”

    For fine art prints, you indicate that pigment based inks are the best. Isn’t there some sort of ‘guarantee’ that they won’t fade in sunlight? Are there not printing options that give you a guaranteed archival print?

    Also, is it only the types of inks that contribute to archivability, or does the paper have an influence on this as well?

    Additionally, I assume that the framing and the type of glass that is put over the print (if any) would also contribute to the longevity of the print.

    Thanks, Raymond.

    1. Author

      Hi Raymond,

      All prints fade in direct sunlight, no matter which ink you use and which paper you print them on. If you own a print that you want to last as long as possible (one bought from another photographer, for example) then you need to hang it somewhere out of direct sunlight. You can also use UV resistant glass to extend its life.

      There’s no such thing as a guaranteed archival print, for the simple reason that any print will fade in the right conditions. All you can do is use inks and papers that have archival qualities and look after the print as best as you can.

      And yes, the paper / ink combination is crucial. Some last much longer than others.

      I’ve linked to several articles below that go into this in more detail.

      Hope that helps,
      Andrew

      https://www.ephotozine.com/article/using-uv-protection-to-look-after-your-framed-photos-8724

      https://www.shutterbug.com/content/how-long-will-your-digital-prints-lastbryou-may-be-surprised

      https://www.shutterbug.com/content/how-long-will-your-digital-prints-lastbryou-may-be-surprised-page-2

      Also lots of information here if you can navigate the badly designed website: http://www.wilhelm-research.com

      1. Thanks for that Andrew! I’ll take a look at those resources.

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