For the photo development is nowadays no longer the walk and photo studio necessary. Photo printers for home use take over this task without problems. This saves time and money, which is especially advantageous when many photos have to be ready for final use quickly. Many devices now print the photo prints in extremely high quality and accept orders from other access sources such as the camera or mobile phone in addition to the PC.

Photo printers are available in a wide variety of designs. The so-called multifunction printer is relatively common. Besides the regular print function on conventional paper, it also offers special printing for special formats such as envelopes, posters, CDs, DVDs, glossy paper or even photo paper.

Alternatively, there are also exclusive photo printers that work with special print media or sophisticated printing techniques for photo printing. Basically, not every device is equally powerful and there are sometimes big differences in handling and printing costs. For this reason, here is an overview of the most important information about photo printers.

Which photo printer is the best?

Which photo printer is ultimately suitable for the personal needs of the end user depends on many different factors. People who want a compact device with versatile usage options are sure to get the most out of a multifunction printer. This is especially true when external printer access from mobile devices and off-network photo sources is required in addition to various print formats.

In general, multifunction devices are the standard solution for private use and home office work. Users can then purchase photo media separately and as a supplement to plain paper as required. This keeps the printing costs for photos manageable and within reasonable limits. A special bonus with multifunction printers is that there are now very energy-saving devices and environmentally friendly cartridge and paper variants. These photo printer models are therefore particularly environmentally friendly and the ink range is relatively productive.

The expensive thermo sublimation printer, on the other hand, can be rather recommended to professional photo artists, graphic designers and for general use in the field of print media. Complementary to photos, with this photo printer it is also possible to print high-resolution posters, placards and image formats in canvas size, at least in the case of bigger models.

It is therefore designed to produce sophisticated graphics and photo prints. Moreover, in the test, the thermosublimation procedure appears to be more easy to maintain than for example the inkjet printing and is thus made for the professional serial printing of photos and photo material. The low wear and tear as well as the good resistance of photos from the dye-sublimation printer to environmental influences predestines the corresponding devices for the production of photo prints for practical use, for example in the design and presentation area.

The ZINK and INSTAX models also offer artistic possibilities. Nostalgics and art photographers with a preference for old photographic techniques can certainly be enthusiastic about these photo printers. The aging effect on photos is often desired in art photography and can be further optimized with appropriate photo editing programs. ZINK or INSTAX photo printers are also ideal as original gifts for Polaroid fans or for creating nostalgic party photos. The print media for ZINK printers usually also have an adhesive device on the back, so that the photos created can be easily stuck into the photo album after printing.

Buying a photo printer - What you have to pay attention to

As shown above, when buying a photo printer, it is important to first think about its intended use. The later field of application limits the final choice to a certain extent. The selection of supported formats is even more refined. Usually, multifunction and dye-sublimation printers are the better choice for versatile printing tasks. Special interfaces for external job sources are found in almost all photo printers today, regardless of the type of printer.

The size of the device must also be taken into account when buying a photo printer. Buyers who do not have much space at home will inevitably have to resort to smaller models. With ZINK and INSTAX printers one still has the free choice. Multifunction and thermo-sublimation printers, on the other hand, often require very precise measurement of the size ratios.

Comparatively easy to store on shelves and in cupboard compartments are then usually multifunctional devices that are designed for office use. In contrast, thermal sublimation printers often require a free space that is open at the top. Large models with a standing function even take up the floor space of entire pieces of furniture, which is why the space requirement should be carefully checked before purchase.

With regard to inkjet printers, it is important to look out for models with a printing system that is superior to that of an ordinary 4-colour printer. While these may also have photo printing options, photo resolution and image quality are not always very high in such cases.

Inkjet printers with separate 5 or 6-tank systems are therefore better. The colors come from individual ink tanks and distinguish between the standard colors cyan, magenta and yellow as well as between black and pigment black. 6-tank systems also work with grey or even fluorescent ink. This allows a better colour variation on the photo and promises sometimes very extraordinary colour results.

Software and accessories for photo printers

Printer software and drivers are usually included with photo printers or available for download from the respective manufacturer's website. The power cable is also usually included. The situation is different with network cables, special media for photos and professional software for photo editing.

While some products include connection cables for USB and Co., other printers have to be purchased separately. Extra print media such as photo paper or film rolls should also not be included in the standard purchase. Also programs for image processing are indeed available in the software offer of many manufacturers, but they are not part of the scope of delivery.

For very professional photo-prints, it might be necessary to purchase software for image processing with costs. This applies in particular to the creation of art photos and large photo formats. Image sharpness and special effects must be added manually before printing, as the printers only output the final image result.

For dye-sublimation printers, it may also be necessary to use photo cutters to remove print margins. Also in the serial printing of photo formats such as postcards, passport photos, flyers, etc., photo or paper cutters are sometimes a great help.

Smaller photo printers like ZINK or INSTAX are often used as mobile printers. A carrying case and portable battery-powered devices can therefore be useful. Likewise, some models have special manufacturer's cameras as accessories, which stand out for their particularly good compatibility. For inkjet printers, it is advisable to purchase XL or XXL cartridges for photo printing. These are characterised by their longer range and are therefore more economical in terms of ink consumption.

ZINK and INSTAX photo printers

Unlike multifunction devices, ZINK and INSTAX photo printers are designed exclusively for printing photos. Models from the Canon Selphy series, for example, which allow direct photo printing from the camera, memory card or smartphone, scored particularly well in this test. And also well-known manufacturers of photo accessories like Polaroid, Kodak or Fujifilm have some good models in their range.

The printing technology of exclusive photo printers differs significantly from that of conventional multifunctional devices. As a standard, special photo media such as ZINK paper or INSTAX instant photo films are used, on which the photo colours are already present.

In the printer, chemical stimuli (heat or exposure of the film) then merely trigger a corresponding colour reaction on the print medium. This procedure is therefore best compared to the traditional photo development in a photo lab, except that the development does not take place in the lab but in a printer device.

Advantages and disadvantages of ZINK & INSTAX photo printers

Photo printers of these two types are usually handier and smaller than multifunction printers. Their compact design is therefore easier to integrate and they fit comfortably even on small footprints. Colour gradients on ZINK and INSTAX photos appear very smooth and harmonious. In some cases, however, the detailed representation of photo motifs could suffer from this. The printers are also conspicuous for their lack of colour fidelity, with green tones in particular often not being displayed correctly.

Thus, zinc and INSTAX printers are a print quality with a rather nostalgic character. In addition to that, both the Polaroid technology of ZINC printers and the film technology of INSTAX printers is limited to certain media formats with the corresponding colour equipment.

  • nostalgic photo print with original photo character
  • soft colour gradients and harmonious appearance
  • ZINK and INSTAX photo printers are small, compact and handy
  • lack of colour fidelity and limited photo details
  • Choice of print media is limited and may be slightly more expensive

Thermal sublimation printer

Relatively luxurious are photo printers that work with the so-called thermal sublimation process. In chemistry, sublimation is the transition of a solid into the gaseous state. In a thermal sublimation printer, these solids are colour pigments which are converted into colour gas by the application of heat and then evaporated onto the photo medium. The printer generates temperatures of up to 400 °C to sublimate the pigments from the ink cartridges.

With its precise printer technology, the device then ensures that the vaporised ink particles end up exactly where they belong on the photo. Canon, Epson, HP and Kodak are considered to be good manufacturers of dye-sublimation printers.
The thermosublimation process has been around for a very long time. Already in the 1980s and 1990s it was the standard procedure for marking keyboards and other surfaces embossed in printing. And even though there are cheaper printing alternatives available for this purpose, thermosublimation printing is still important, at least for professional photo development.

Because the printing process allows a particularly fine variation of different colour tones, photos from the thermosublimation printer are considered to be of particularly high quality. However, the printing costs are also significantly higher than those of a multifunction printer. Therefore, this type of photo printer is mainly found in photo shops, where the purchase of such expensive photo printers is really worthwhile.

Advantages and disadvantages of thermosublimation printers

In terms of size, printers with thermal sublimation processes are often based on conventional multifunction devices. But there are also models that are much bigger and take the dimensions of a stand printer or photocopier. The acquisition costs for a thermosublimation printer are relatively high compared to multifunctional devices. The famous borderless printing, as it is common for most multifunctional printers, is only supported by a few printer models in the thermosublimation procedure.

Therefore, if you rarely print photos, it is better to think about a cheaper printer model. On the other hand, the thermal sublimation process naturally offers a variety of quality features. Printed photos become razor sharp, have an extraordinary colour depth and are also very abrasion and even water resistant. Even against UV rays, photos from thermosublimation printers are incredibly resistant. In addition, printers of this type have an outstanding printing speed. Compared to inkjet cartridges, thermal inks are usually more durable.

  • best photo quality with a high range in the colour spectrum
  • Photos are very resistant to wear, water and UV radiation
  • high printing speed
  • high acquisition costs
  • may be very large and difficult to integrate in the home
  • often no borderless printing possible