Editor's note: This month only – get $6 off my ebooks The Magic of Black & White, The Magic of Black & White: 50 Assignments and The Black & White Landscape using the code bw6 at checkout. Click the links for details. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks for reading. You can get more great articles and tips about photography in my popular Mastering Photography email newsletter. Join today and I’ll send you 47 PhotoTips cards and my ebook Introducing Lightroom Classic . Over 30,000 photographers subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.