Photo printers: what sets a photo printer apart

A photo printer is not only a big topic for creative people: More and more users consider high photo quality important and choose a printer that specialises in printing pictures and photos. But what actually distinguishes it from a classic inkjet printer?

First of all, it delivers the best quality when printing photos. This is usually a printer with inkjet technology. Because ink is still considered a pioneer in the field of colour photography, especially when it comes to high-resolution images.

The wide selection of papers makes photo printing particularly attractive: special paper qualities are usually used here, either glossy, matt or otherwise specially treated. The colour of the prints looks very authentic and won't blur or fade afterwards.

Photo printer: paper tray and design

A photo printer differs in only a few points from a normal inkjet printer for common paper documents. The greatest distinguishing feature is that it usually has several compartments and inserts for different paper formats instead of a single compartment.

This is because in a classic inkjet the paper is always bent over a roll. This is the best way for the print heads to apply the colour. However, when printing on special photographic paper, this bending is avoided: The material is heavier than usual and this would cause kinks in the paper. For this reason, it is often inserted via a special insert.

Such a slot is located on the back of the printer and can usually be adjusted. If required, it can also be retracted so the printer can be placed completely against the wall.

A standard photo printer, such as Canon, HP or Epson, can process paper formats up to DIN A4 format. Special devices are required for A3. Special 10x15 cm papers are used particularly frequently and feature an ideal postcard size. In order to print this format perfectly, a postcard insert is absolutely necessary.

Printer ink and paper in the photo printer

A photo printer works in most cases with ink cartridges. Such inkjet printers are regarded as particularly good in this segment, and as a rule the quality of a laser printer lags far behind. Nevertheless, laser printers are also available that are specially designed for photographs. Often, however, a higher price has to be paid for them than for an equivalent printer that works with ink.

The classic photo printer can work with different substrates. On the one hand, normal A4 paper for colour or black prints (e.g. text documents) can be inserted into the machine. At the same time, you can also use all the photo papers that are usually available on the market.

The quality of the image increases and decreases with the photographic paper - regardless of whether it is a device from Epson, HP or, for example, a Canon Pixma: A photo on commercial DIN A4 standard paper has a different effect than one on a high-gloss background. This is mainly due to the surface texture and the degree of absorbency: Substrates for photographs are often very smooth and display both colour and black optimally. Anyone who works a lot with a camera will appreciate this quality.

Piezo and bubble-jet printer

As inkjet printers, photo printers can work with two different processes. A distinction is made between piezo printers and bubble jet printers. Both printer variants are included in the DOD (drop-on-demand) printer family.

Piezo printers are, for example, from the Epson company. They apply the ink through a nozzle behind which so-called piezo crystals are located. The crystals condense in the ink chamber and push the colour through the nozzle onto the sheet. The advantage is that the piezo process does not require high temperatures.

The bubble jet process also pushes the ink out of a nozzle. In this case, however, it is pressed out of the valve using overpressure. This results in high temperatures.

Both methods work without any problems in everyday life. A piezo printer is only recommended sooner or later for users who print a lot or in large quantities: the probability of overheating is zero. In the bubble-jet process, on the other hand, wear and tear quickly becomes apparent, especially in continuous operation.

Thermal-sublimation printer

Another, still relatively new variation is thermo-sublimation printing, as used by Canon for the SELPHY. In this process, coloured film are used instead of inks: These films are strongly heated by a thermal print head and evaporated onto the sheet. Colour and background combine to make such prints particularly light fast, smudge-proof and waterproof.

Printers with thermal sublimation technology offer many possibilities and variants in colour printing. The price per picture is indeed higher than with common models that work with inks. But also the durability of the resulting photo prints is significantly higher: Here it is important to carefully weigh up costs and benefits.

Speed and capacity

In tests, photo printers feature high printing speeds. Even standard documents can be printed out extremely quickly, but even in the field of photography most models are convincing with a respectable speed: around 15 pages per minute in black are usual. When it comes to colour, they usually generate up to 10 pages per minute.

Important to know: For special formats (for example 10x15 cm) the printer needs much more time, no matter if it's a model from Epson, HP, Canon or another of the big manufacturers. For postcards, for example, it can take just under 3 to 4 photos per minute.

Those who print a lot of photos should buy a printer that works with five instead of four ink cartridges. Such printers are equipped with a special photo black ink: The quality of the images increases enormously, and the contrasts in particular appear clearer and sharper. The 5-tank system offers clear advantages to all those professionally involved in photo printing.

Printer accessories for the photo printer

As far as accessories are concerned, it's primarily the right paper that counts here. While standard office paper is often sufficient for a classic inkjet printer,the photo printer is more sophisticated. The aim here is to achieve completely different effects and results with different types of paper.

Since photographic paper is usually inserted in a separate tray, the number of sheets that can be inserted at one time depends on the manufacturer and model. Usually the capacity is between 20 and 30 pages. It looks similar in the postcard sizes.
These common types of photo paper are available from most dealers today:

  • Plain paper (60 to 90 g/cc)
  • Professional photo paper (210 g/cc)
  • Glossy photo paper (270 g/cc)
  • Matt photo paper (170 g/cc)
  • High resolution paper (100 g/cc)

Plain paper is used for simple documents in black and colour. Glossy photographic paper, professional and high-resolution backgrounds are ideal for sharp and high-contrast photographs. Professional material is a must, especially with portrait shots!
Matt photo paper is often used for drawings or plans such as those created by architects or artists.

Wi-Fi connection

Photo printers are really convincing in tests, and not only because of their high resolution and fast printing. They also offer numerous other extras: For example, more and more of them are being equipped with WLAN. This is often coupled with the possibility of controlling the device via a smartphone. This allows print jobs to be sent to the printer on a mobile basis.

Wi-Fi also makes network use possible - a real benefit in offices, which companies are reluctant to do without! This is because several computers in the network can access the same printer.

Canon offers models that are also continuously being improved in terms of connectivity. In addition to the well-known Canon Pixma, almost a classic among photo printing devices, the manufacturer has, for example, launched the Canon SELPHY, which allows users to print from a variety of mobile devices. In addition to smartphones, iPhone and iPad, this also includes the camera.

The SELPHY – mobile, compact, versatile.

The Canon SELPHY also comes with Wi-Fi capability. Above all, however, it offers numerous extras: For example, it offers various options for image processing. You can also experiment with creative effects and choose between different surfaces and layouts. A highlight is also the passport photo printing in many popular formats.

In short, the SELPHY is a printer that features a high fun factor! That's because this thermal sublimation printer not only prints, but offers great ways to get the most out of your image.

So, do you prefer a photo printer or a classic inkjet printer? When considering the price and offers, you should keep an eye on the advantages and disadvantages:


  • High-performance printing
  • Best quality for image and photo
  • Wireless Wi-Fi connection possible
  • Use not only via the computer, but also mobile
  • Separate paper insertion for photo paper
  • Bubble Jet or piezo possible
  • New models (e.g. Canon SELPHY) offer creative freedom


  • High ink consumption with heavy use
  • For multiple printers, a photo printer with 5 separate ink tanks is recommended.
  • Be careful with the price of ink and accessories - high-quality compatible alternative cartridges can be worthwhile here, e.g. PRINDO.

Conclusion: the users, the differences.

Photo printers from Canon, Epson & Co are versatile. They can be used not only in the office or photo studio, but are also being increasingly used at home. There are differences in tank size, printer size, and mobile and creative tools. For example, buyers of printers that are specially designed for photos sometimes have to do without office functions such as a scanner or A3 printouts.

While occasional printers can manage with four ink tanks, multi-tank printers and particularly demanding users are recommended the models with a 5-tank system: They offer a more contrast-sharp image and also have optional XL ink tanks, which can be used to increase the page range if desired. This lowers the price!

The level of the major manufacturer models is now high. Therefore, for professional use, it's worth it to take a close look at price, equipment and Wi-Fi connectivity. For those who enjoy experimenting and have a creative streak, a photo printer like the Canon SELPHY is definitely recommended.