If you want truly top-quality photo prints at a reasonable price, experts hail the Canon Pixma Pro-100 (Est. $390) as the best deal around. It costs hundreds less than a "pro" photo printer, but even picky experts admit that the Pro-100's color photos look fully pro-quality. "Produces photos worthy of hanging in a gallery," says Tony Hoffman at PCMag.com.
The Canon Pro-100 prints photos up to 13 by 19 inches. It comes with eight ink cartridges, including three monochrome inks (black, gray, and light gray) for impressive black-and-white and color prints. The 13-milliliter cartridges are much smaller than pro printers' 36- to 80-milliliter tanks, though, so you'll spend more on ink over time.
How else does the Canon Pro-100 cut costs? It uses dye-based inks. Pros usually prefer longer-lasting pigment inks, which create more realistic skin tones and are a must for matte papers. But the Pro-100's dye inks are pretty long-lasting themselves (with today's improved dye inks, "nobody should really worry about fading a properly stored print," Imaging-Resource.com says). And for bright subjects like flowers and sunsets, the vivid colors of a dye print can sometimes outclass a pricier pigment print.
Pro pigment printers do a better job with subtler work (matte prints, black-and-whites). But for most people who just want great-looking photos at a reasonable price, the Pro-100 is more than enough. "If you're looking for a printer for your family photos then the PRO-100 is fast and effective," says Keith Cooper at Northlight Images. Mike Pasini, Imaging-Resource.com's choosy expert tester, also puts the Pro-100 through its paces and comes away thoroughly impressed. "Outright prolonged applause for the Pro-100," he writes.
The Canon Pro-100 has been around for a few years (although it still has all of the latest convenience features, like wireless printing via Wi-Fi and Apple AirPrint, plus USB, PictBridge and Ethernet ports). Over those years, thousands of customers have had plenty of opportunity to live with, work with, and intimately get to know the Canon Pro-100.
The verdict? They love it. The Canon Pixma Pro-100 is a customer favorite at Amazon.com, Staples.com and the photo-centric BHPhotoVideo.com, where roughly 95 percent when of the more than 1,100 picky buyers who rate it there award the printer either 4 or (mostly) 5 stars.
When it comes to pro-quality photo printing, Canon and Epson are locked in a tight battle. But Canon's newest pro printer, the Canon ImageProGraf Pro-1000 (Est. $1,300), proves unbeatable. Printers from both brands produce gorgeous prints. Canon simply makes it easier, experts say -- and owners report fewer frustrations (like clogged nozzles, splotches, streaks and breakdowns) with Canon printers.
"The ultimate desktop-sized professional photo printer," Jeremy Gray calls it at Imaging-Resource.com, where it wins Printer of the Year."I've seen my images printed on a variety of printers over the years, and the PRO-1000 renders my images better any of them."
Shutterbug's George Schaub agrees, after exhaustively putting the Pro-1000 through its paces. "Quite simply, this is the best print I have ever produced from this image," he says, after the Canon masterfully renders a difficult shot of a pastel-and-gray building against a bright blue sky.
The Canon Pro-1000 gives experienced photographers what they want, experts say: Glorious pigment-ink prints, ease of use, seamless compatibility with lots of different papers (in an unusual step, Canon even provides meticulous profiles to help you get the best results with other paper brands) and -- importantly -- no laggy switching between different types of black ink, unlike the case with Epson printers.
Glossy prints look their best on the Canon Pro-1000, thanks to its chroma optimizer that evens out the glossiness. Testers don't see dull patches or "bronzing" of black areas, as often happens with glossy prints. Canon's rivals don't have a chroma optimizer. The result? "A printer that I feel really can do justice to my own professional photography," says Keith Cooper at Northlight Images.
The Canon Pro-1000 has 12 ink tank cartridges, including the optimizer -- whopping 80-milliliter ones, so you won't be changing them constantly (and the printer ships with a full-size set of cartridges). Colors look vivid and natural, and four monochrome inks (photo black, matte black and two grays) deliver truly neutral black-and-white prints. Even seasoned experts can't detect any color cast with the naked eye.
"My black and white images have never looked as dynamic and rich in detail and depth as they do coming from the PRO-1000," Gray says.
Compared with the former Best Reviewed pick -- the Canon Pixma Pro-1 -- the new Pro-1000 boasts bigger ink cartridges (80 milliliters vs. 36), larger maximum print size (17 by 22 inches, up from 13 by 19 inches) and borderless printing on any paper at any size up to the printer's maximum (the old Pro-1 forced borders on some papers, which was a big frustration for some reviewers).
The only problem, reviews say? The Canon Pro-1000 still can't accept roll paper. If that's an issue, the Epson SureColor P800 (Est. $1,200) is roll-paper compatible.
However, aside from the roll printing, most experts prefer the Canon. The Epson has fewer inks (nine -- and it ships with 64-milliliter "starter" cartridges, not full 80-milliliter ones like the Canon), no gloss optimizer, and Epson still hasn't solved its black ink problem: Unlike Canon, Epson's pro printers can't switch seamlessly from matte black to photo black, so every time you switch between matte and glossy paper, the Epson has to run through an ink-swapping cycle that wastes time and costly ink.
Both the Epson and Canon deliver gorgeous prints in tests. But unless you really need to print on roll paper (for example, to create panoramic prints longer than 22 inches), reviewers prefer the Canon Pro-1000.