A photo printer that actually works—does this magical unicorn exist?
November 14, 2018 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend me a photo printer that isn't a frustrating hunk of ink-sucking plastic garbage.

Do you fancy yourself something of a photographer? Do you print at home? Do you have a printer that appears to have been made by competent human engineers rather than, say, raccoons? A printer which can print more than three photos in a row without starting to complain that one of its thirty-seven miniscule ink cartridges, each of which is filled with purest saffron, is running perilously low—heralding the violent end of civilization as we know it? A printer which reliably produces faithful reproductions of your photographs rather than abstract interpretations thereof? A printer that seems to have been constructed from appropriately durable materials rather than upcycled milk jugs? A printer which won't start pooping Rorschach blots onto my photos three months in and which, if it does at some point malfunction, may actually be able to be successfully serviced? In short, do you own a photo printer that is actually fit for purpose?

Tell me. I have $500.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The to Technology (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
How many photos do you need to print, and how often? Any weird requirements in terms of media type or size?

For me, the answers are "a few, seldom, and plain photo paper in common (smallish) sizes." Given that, by far the cheapest TCO and best quality for my use case are achieved by just dumping the bits on a usb stick, taking it to the CVS pharmacy down the block and hiring them to print it.

Printers suck. Make them somebody else's problem if you can.
posted by sourcequench at 5:58 AM on November 14, 2018 [16 favorites]

$500 isn't enough. Find a professional printer service and have them do it.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:14 AM on November 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

A large portion of my professional photography life was and is centred around printing, which includes finding printers that don't suck, and I made a significant amount of money doing print work for other photographers and artists.

The sad truth right now is that in North America, you cannot buy a decent consumer-grade photo printer. They are all designed on the razors/razor-blades model to nickel and dime you to death. (In countries with lower average per-capita incomes, you can buy printers that print fairly well and don't cost the earth in ink, because printer manufacturers have figured out how to extract wealth there, too, but in the US and Canada you cannot buy or legitimately import these printers.)

However, if you look at some of Epson's "EcoTank" line of printers, which cost a lot for the initial machine, but allow you to just pour ink into tanks, that the quality of photos they produce is -- acceptable -- for most purposes, if you print on matte photo paper (do not bother with glossy), though they are not designed for photo printing (slow, somewhat grainy, colours not as vibrant as possible). These printers are not cheap, and the ink that Epson sells is dye-based on purpose, so the photos will eventually fade, on purpose, but if you don't hang your prints in the sun and just want them to kick around for a few years, it'll do. (I own two EcoTank printers, and am reasonably happy with them. It's nice not to have to fight with a printer to just put ink in it.)

But if you want good quality prints that will last, take your files to CVS or Costco or whoever. It is cheaper and less hassle in the long run unless you're going to literally produce thousands of prints and are willing to dedicate a significant portion of your life to managing printers, print-runs, supplies, etc, etc, etc.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:37 AM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah, seriously I've given up on printing my own photos at home. Frustrating, expensive, and not that great of quality. Every couple of months I just send a couple hundred snapshots to Costco. I could do that for years before I get close to what I would spend trying to do it all at home. I just rock a Brother laser printer at home for printing non photo stuff. That works well.
posted by trbrts at 6:47 AM on November 14, 2018

I've seen your photos. Get them professionally printed.

If you just want a printer to knock out a couple quick prints to give to grandma when she comes over, then get a Canon and assume the cartridges will be dried up every time you need it. Keep spares on hand.
posted by bondcliff at 6:53 AM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

My answer depends on two things: (1) how large do you need your photos to be and (2) what's your willingness to printer-wrangle?

If you only want 4x6 prints or smaller, and want quality and ease of use, I'd buy one of the tiny Canon dye-sublimation printers (their SELPHY series, while obnoxiously named, is good). Call it ~30¢/print, and you're buying the paper and ink as a single pack, so none of the "which one of these sixteen fart-sized cartridges just shat itself" problem. We've had one for a few years, and it does what we need to within its capabilities.

If you want larger than 4x6, but don't see yourself spending a lot of time printing (e.g., you want a print now and then), I agree with the consensus - make it someone else's problem. I don't have much direct experience of this, but I've had printing done by AdoramaPix a few times (most recently for our wedding album in 2016) and their quality is damn good.

If you want the ability to cackle like a mad scientist and go "I have the power to print anything, bwahahahaha", do what I did six years ago. Buy a secondhand HP banner printer (I have a Designjet 130 with roll feed, which eats 24" rolls of paper), buy new printheads and cartridges on eBay and go to town. The largest single photo print I've ever done was 24" wide and 72" long. I print protest signs on printable vinyl and canvas. I've printed research posters... but it's a major hobby for me, and I've wrangled printers in one form or another since I was in high school. With the right paper, the photos are archival (and survived several years of sun exposure in CA!), but this is pretty much the "swatting flies with a sledgehammer" solution to your problem.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 6:58 AM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have the the Canon Pro 100 and it's great. After rebate, the current price is a paltry $119. Obviously, it follows the "give away the razor and charge for the blades" model, so the ink (like any other printer) is not cheap. This article breaks down "true cost" of printing.

I used my local Costco lab for years, and was super happy with the quality and color matching. I knew the people who ran the lab, and they were experienced photographers in their own right, which was helpful. I never hesitate to recommend them to anyone who asks. I'm sure some locations are better than others, but my local lab is fantastic. But it was really important to me to have total control of the entire process, and to print on archival cotton matte paper. I know this costs me more per print, but to me it's worth it. I'm mostly interested in printing fine art prints, but if I were producing tons of snapshots and family photos, I would probably go the Costo route again.

One thing this printer does better than any other I've had is that it performs well even after not being used for a while. I've had printers that basically want a new ink cartridge any time they sit idle. I haven't had that issue with this one. I'm very picky about my prints, and this printer produces excellent quality. I don't think I've ever had a ruined print due to printer malfunction. One word of warning: it's BIG and heavy so you need room for it.
posted by The Deej at 6:59 AM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

My Canon Pixma printers have been pretty reliable - the current one has been going for about 6 years now, and works as well as the day I bought it. I don't ever buy Canon cartridges, as there are third-party cartridges that use identical ink, perform equally well and cost 1/2 or 1/4 of the price. My local place sells me full two sets of cartridges (plus a spare black) for £16, which is about $20.

Another option is CISS (continuous ink supply systems). These allow you to adapt a printer to use bulk ink containers that reduce the TCO even further. I haven't invested in one because my needs are too modest, but I have a friend who swears by his. I believe they add less than $100 to the cost of the printer, so you'd be well inside your budget.

Unfortunately, unless you're an industrial customer, you'll never find a near-indestructible printer that can be serviced for many years. Those days are long gone.
posted by pipeski at 7:08 AM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I currently have a Canon Pixma, and it is full of devilment. I hate it with a fiery passion. I've been getting stuff printed by a local lab but it's pretty expensive, I hate having to leave my house, and they recently put up one of those obnoxious "thin blue line" flags in the front window so I'd like to take my business elsewhere. I've also grown tired of Instagram and want to start doing a lot more printing in general—framed prints for myself, for family and friends, maybe enter a few juried competitions. I was thinking that I could print up to 8"x10" at home and sub out the larger stuff, but apparently home photo printing is an endless wasteland of unmitigated garbage.

So, where should I have my printing done? I have had terrible experiences with my local CVS—their machines are half-broken and there's nobody on staff who knows how to use them. There are no Costcos nearby. Also, I would prefer not to have to leave the house for this. Who runs a reasonably-priced online service where I can just send them my images and have the prints show up on my doorstep a few days later? How do I deal with issues like prints coming back too dark or with a funny color cast? Also, it would be nice if they can do basic framing that doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:25 AM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm not a professional photographer, but I've always been pleased with Snapfish. Turnaround is usually less than a week.
posted by kuanes at 8:44 AM on November 14, 2018

I've gotten two photos made into framed prints at mpix.com and was happy with the quality and price.
posted by exogenous at 8:45 AM on November 14, 2018

I've had good experiences over many years with Adorama, though it's been a couple years since I last printed anything with them.
posted by moonmilk at 9:00 AM on November 14, 2018

I've been getting stuff printed by a local lab but it's pretty expensive,

You will never ever get cheaper prints at home, sadly. The economies of scale do not work.

The pixma Pro 100 is highly rated and regularly on special but I find printing at home a hassle.

Rather than snap fish, who I found pretty terrible, i recommend Adorama pix.
posted by smoke at 12:02 PM on November 14, 2018

Not a photographer, but I've heard some mostly positive chatter about mpix as far as ordering prints online.

Also: your question has killed me dead. I'm still giggling. Printers are so much garbage.
posted by helloimjennsco at 1:03 PM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Epson makes great printers, and they have archival ink for them. But there are print companies forr serious photographers, that do a great job, and if you are proficient with photoshop, ICC profiles and all the rest of the print dialogue, you should be able to hand a thumb drive to one of these, tell what paper you want, and say just let pbotoshop handle the print job. I miss my 17 inch Epson printer, yes I do.
posted by Oyéah at 4:50 PM on November 14, 2018

Marking this resolved as "No." There are no photo printers that work. They are a waste of money, don't buy one.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:03 PM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

This was the conclusion we came to after an AskMe last year and TONS of research. I don’t know if Mystic Print is still in business, but there turn around is very decent and I do remember back in the day they had a digital service.

EDIT they are out of business long ago :(
posted by jbenben at 10:30 PM on November 15, 2018

« Older Applying for disability while "working"   |   help me fix myself Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments