The best home photo printers produce photographs that are as good as a professional printing service. They can also create stunning graphics for expert presentations. Print quality is usually excellent, but selecting a photo printer to produce lots of text documents is the definition of overkill.
Inkjet printers designed specifically for photo printing typically use ink systems with more colors than those used in basic printers designed to print text files. You'll find things like finishing coats, specific blacks for use with matte or glossy stock, and even multiple shades of black for spectacular monochrome prints.
The Epson Stylus Photo R3000 (*Est. $640) uses pigment-based inks for impeccable color prints, and four types of black ink -- including specific blacks for glossy and matte stock -- for black-and-white images that experts say are simply stunning. One big drawback: Every time you switch between glossy and matte paper, the printer needs to purge the other type of ink out of its system, wasting a few milliliters each time. Aside from this one flaw and the R3000's rather high price, photography experts love this printer. It wins award after award, and is named the 2011 photo printer of the year by the Technical Image Press Association, an organization made up of editors from 29 photo publications worldwide.
This printer is a step-up model from the older Epson Stylus Photo R2880 (*Est. $600) , and the major difference is that you must no longer physically swap out the black ink cartridges for glossy and matte stock. In addition, the R3000's tinier ink dots create better-looking photos. The R3000 also adds bigger, more economical ink tanks, as well as Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity so several computers can share the printer over a wired or wireless network. "Although it would be easy to justify the extra cost for the R3000 with any one of these extras, adding them all makes the printer that much more of a value" compared to the R2880, says PCMag.com's M. David Stone.
If you need to print really big photos -- 17 by 22 inches max -- experts and users say they adore the pricey Epson Stylus Pro 3880 (*Est. $1,300) . You can spend several thousand dollars for a wide-format printer, but reviews say the desktop-sized Epson produces nearly flawless images. "Exquisite, gallery-worthy prints," PCMag.com says. "Faultless," says Photo-i's Vincent Oliver; "I would be more than happy to exhibit or sell any print produced by this printer."
The 3880 uses 10 colors of pigment-based ink, again including four blacks, to produce black-and-white prints that are impeccably neutral, with no color tinge at all. Color photos boast "some of the best skin tones I've seen in an inkjet printer," says Shutterbug's Jon Canfield, with finer detail and truer colors than the now-discontinued Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mark II in his test.
The drawbacks? Besides its hefty price tag, reviews say the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 suffers from a finicky paper feed and a wasteful ink-purge process each time you switch from matte to glossy black, just like with the R3000. Experts say the 3880 is still a great choice for serious amateurs or pro shooters, but many photographers will be more than happy with the less expensive Epson Stylus Photo R3000.