What kind of printer do you need?
All-in-one printers that can scan, copy and fax are wildly popular, but there are still great reasons to buy a stand-alone inkjet printer instead. All-in-ones are expensive if you don't need the extra functionality, and they can take up considerably more space on your desk. Although all-in-ones can print text and graphics flawlessly, most can't print photos as beautifully as a stand-alone inkjet printer. ConsumerSearch.com covers all-in-one printers in a separate report.
Laser printers are another option not covered in this report. Although they cost more than inkjet printers initially, laser printers cost less to run, and they tend to be more reliable, without the frustrating ink clogs that can plague inkjet printers. Laser printers can't print photos like an inkjet, but they're great for office-type use (printing text, charts, etc.). See our reports on color laser printers and black-and-white laser printers.
Inkjet printers fall into three types:
General-purpose inkjet printers are the cheapest, and are fine for home use or small offices. Even basic inkjet printers now print text nearly as quickly and clearly as a laser printer. Photo quality is typically good, but not great on cheap models ($100 to $200), but they'll suffice for families and others who just want to be able to print out homework assignments, personal documents and a snapshot now and then. Mid-priced inkjet printers (around $250) are faster, more feature-rich, and print very nice photos and graphics. These are the workhorse printers you'll need for a print-heavy home office or frequent home photo printing.
Mobile printers let you take your printing on the go. These small, lightweight machines can print nearly as well as a full-size basic inkjet printer. Although they used to cost more than a basic desktop inkjet printer, the price has come down (about $150, without the optional rechargeable battery) -- but mobile printers' ink tanks are tiny, so you'll pay more to operate one in the long run.
Photo printers are overkill for general home and office use -- but they're essential if you want to produce truly beautiful photo prints on your own. For about $400, you can get a semi-pro model that can easily outclass any run-of-the-mill photo lab. Top-notch pro photo printers cost much more ($1,200 and up), but they're essential for professionals and many serious photo enthusiasts.
To find the best inkjet printers, we studied professional tests from both home- and office-centric sources (ComputerShopper.com, ConsumerReports.org and PCMag.com) and those that cater to photo enthusiasts (such as Shutterbug, Northlight Images and Imaging-Resource.com) to find out how quickly, easily and beautifully each printer produces text, graphics and photos in the eyes of experts. We also scoured owner reviews from Amazon.com, Staples.com and BHPhotoVideo.com, to see how printers perform in real life.
For terrific text, photos and graphics, Epson Artisan 1430 does it all
For an active small- or home-based business, print quality is important -- as are speed, easy paper handling and low ink costs.
A cross between a high-class photo printer and workhorse office printer, the Epson Artisan 1430 (Est. $265) nearly does it all, reviews say. Photos (up to 13 by 44 inches), graphics and text all look impressively crisp, making it an easy pick as the best jack-of-all-trades inkjet printer. In addition, it'll print wirelessly from your computer, smartphone or tablet, and Epson even throws in a free copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements photo editing software (an $80 value).
It's not a fast, high-volume pro printer; instead, this inkjet printer is ideal for families, schoolwork and small offices. At this price, "it's hard to find fault with the printer," says Joe Farace at Shutterbug. Owners are highly satisfied with the Artisan 1430 too; it gets high ratings from photo enthusiasts at BHPhotoVideo.com, as well as customers at Amazon.com and Staples.com. We did find some complaints from Amazon.com customers that say that they received buggy units, but most report no problems.
Photo-wise, "Colors are rich and vibrant, and skin tones are reproduced beautifully," especially on Epson's own Premium Glossy photo paper, Farace says. "Detail is exceptional, particularly for a printer in this price range." Landscapes, flowers and portraits look great, but black-and-white photos suffer from a distinct color cast. There's only one monochrome ink in the Artisan 1430's six-tank dye array. On the plus side, the prints really are smudge- and water-resistant (Farace rubs and douses them to find out). To print better photos, you'll need to step up to a professional photo printer (discussed in our section on best photo printers).
The Epson Artisan 1430 offers "features that could appeal to many photographers, especially for those who enjoy printing but do not print day in, day out," Farace says. It can handle most types of photo paper, but not heavy fine art papers. It does print on CDs and DVDs, like dedicated photo printers can. Tiny ink cartridges (11 milliliters, testers say) mean the Artisan 1430 isn't for high-volume users, though.
Text and graphics look very nice, too, but this isn't a particularly fast printer. Epson estimates print speeds of just under three pages per minute for black-and-white or color documents, and nearly two minutes for an 8-by-10-inch borderless photo.
There's no Ethernet jack, but the Artisan 1430 can connect via USB or Wi-Fi. You can email documents to your printer or send them wirelessly from your iOS or Android device. A PictBridge port allows you to print directly from your camera.
Mobile printers for color printing on the go
Mobile printers are ultra-convenient if you need to print on the go (while traveling, for example). Canon has long ruled this category, and the Canon Pixma iP110 (Est. $160) is its latest triumph. At just over 4 pounds, it's smaller and lighter than some laptops -- and it still manages to print photos and text nearly as well as a desktop printer, and much faster (and better) than its rival, the Epson Workforce WF-100 (Est. $200).
The Pixma iP110 delivers color photos that are "unusually good" -- drugstore-print quality or better, says M. David Stone at PCMag.com. At ComputerShopper.com, "We were similarly pleased with the photos we printed," William Harrel says. "They looked, to be blunt, darn good -- the level of quality was high enough that you would feel comfortable handing the output to potential real-estate customers or other prospective clients." A 4-by-6-inch photo prints pretty fast -- between 1 and 1.7 minutes in tests, and the iP110 can print photos up to 8.5 by 11 inches.
Photo printing is not the only thing that this Canon does well. Text looks "easily good enough for most business use," Stone says. The iP110 can print documents up to legal-size, at a fast speed for a portable printer (6 to 8 text-only pages per minute in tests). Its hefty 50-sheet paper tray is convenient, too.
To cut the price this year, the Canon iP110 comes without its optional battery pack, the Canon LK-62 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery (Est. $85). It includes a power cord and built-in Wi-Fi antenna. It can print directly from laptops (via Wi-Fi), cameras (via Wireless PictBridge), iOS or Android phones and tablets, or the cloud (via Google Cloud Print, Apple AirPrint, and Canon's own Pixma Printing Solutions (PPS), which can print from Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Photobucket, and Evernote). However, there's no USB PictBridge port or memory-card slot.
The main downside to this portable printer is its cost. You pay a premium for portability. Even without its optional battery, the Canon Pixma iP110 still costs more than a comparable desktop printer, reviews say, and ink costs can add up, too.