Shopping for a photo printer is tough. You want something that prints decent photos, in a reasonable time, without costing you a fortune in ink, all for one low price. You may be tempted by the free printer that comes with a new computer or the $29 special at the corner big-box store. In the long run, those printers are hardly a bargain.
I’ve researched three quality photo printers that deliver high quality photos, have reasonable ink costs and won’t break the bank.
The three printers that I researched aren’t the cheapest. With printers, I whole heartedly believe that you get what you pay for. Print quality, durability, price of ink and ink usage are heavily factored into my decision to buy a printer. I’d be much happier to spend around $100 – $150 on a printer that uses half the ink at a cheaper cartridge price than the cheap-o $39 special.
While these three printers are only recommendations, I would have to strongly suggest that you look at brands that have a history of quality printers, low ink prices and good OS X support. My favorites are Canon and HP.
Canon Pixma iP4500:
The Canon Pixma iP4500 will print “near-lab-quality” photos, has a 5 color ink system and prints up to 9600 x 2400 resolution. It can handle various paper sizes and with PictBridge technology, you can print directly from your camera.
Sounds good, but let’s look at ink costs. I will use both Staples and Amazon as a guide since they are nationwide and their prices are similar.
Ink costs for the iP4500 range from around $14-15 for each color cartridge, the black being $1-$2 cheaper, to $13 each for a 4/pack. The fifth cartridge (second, pigment black) runs close to $17 at Staples, $15 at Amazon.
Drivers work well in OS X, without installing crap-ware and non-essential background processes/daemons.
HP Photosmart D7260:
The HP Photosmart D7260
also prints “near-lab-quality” prints, has a resolution of 4800 x 1200 dpi and can print directly from your camera’s memory card – without the computer. It also prints 34 pages per minute. It’s fast, although print quality (dpi) is half of what the Canon iP4500 could do.
The HP Photosmart D7260′s ink costs are a whopping $10 per color cartridge, with the black going for $19 at Staples. The downside is there’s five color cartridges but if you combine them into a 5-pack, the cost is around $45. Not bad at all. According to some reviews at Amazon, the ink doesn’t last very long.
The driver issue with HP’s in OS X is a bit interesting. On one hand, OS X includes a generous portion of HP drivers, built-in. On the other hand, if you install from the CD, you risk getting a bunch of useless software also installed.
OS X includes the HP Photosmart D7600 series drivers. Don’t install from the HP CD unless you like crap-ware. If you don’t have it, download the HP Printer Driver 1.1.1 directly from Apple.
Canon Pixma iP2600:
The Canon Pixma iP2600 is the cheapest of the bunch, more than half the price of both the HP D7260 and the Pixma iP4500. It prints at 4800 x 1200 like the HP but at about 17 pages per minute. While it may seem “lower class” due to it’s price and lack of printing directly from camera / memory card, it’s a solid printer for half the price. If you want a cheap solution that gives you quality prints, I’d consider the iP2600.
Ink costs for the iP2600 are reasonable for a cheap printer. While it uses one cartridge only for color, instead of the more efficient separate cartridges, it still only costs around $20 at Staples ($17 at Amazon). Black runs about $16.
The Bottom Line:
While the Canon Pixma iP2600 is the cheapest, with ink cost factored in it can cost more in the long run. Especially with the inefficient 3 color cartridge. If you run out of yellow for example, you can’t just replace the yellow – you have to replace the entire cartridge, wasting the remaining cyan and magenta.
The HP Photosmart D7260 would be a step-up except it’s actually more expensive than the iP4500, with half the quality and a couple complaints about heavy ink usage. Although faster, I’d prefer to wait the extra 5 seconds for a quality that’s twice as good. If it were me, I’d buy the Canon Pixma iP4500 and enjoy high quality prints for a reasonable price.
Disclaimer: I’ve had a Canon Pixma ip4200 for three years now and with light to moderate use, only had to replace the color inks twice and the black inks three times. It has never given me a problem and prints wonderfully. At work, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with many different models of HP printers. With HP it really depends on the model – some are great and some aren’t. I’ve also had three or four different models of Epson printers and they have done nothing but waste ink which was very expensive to buy and fall apart on me. I refuse to buy or recommend anything by Epson. Sorry.