For A4 photo output, inkjet printers still rule the roost. But there are plenty of choices to be had. For regular document printing, four-ink printers are normally the most cost-effective option but, traditionally, you needed a six-ink printer to do full justice to photos. As you'll see below, times are changing. Only five photo printers are worth buying.
5. Epson Stylus Photo R285, £65
The R285 uses six dye-based inks from Epson's latest Claria range, supplied in individually replaceable cartridges. This is good news for high-quality, rich and vibrant photo output. But black text looks greyish and poor.
There are precious few frills on this budget printer and no PictBridge support. It does print direct onto compatible CDs and DVDs, however. Print speeds are good in normal quality mode but slow in 'Best' photo mode.
Key specs: 5760x1440dpi * 37ppm colour * 37ppm mono * A4 best quality photo: 4m 24s * Ink costs per page (A4 mono/colour/10 x 15cm photo): 2.0p, 7.8p, 15.0p * USB * 450x282x187mm * 5.4kg
4. HP Photosmart D7360, £99
A good all-rounder, the D7360 breaks HP's long tradition of using tri-colour cartridges, in favour of separate cartridges for each of the six colours.
The colour inks are dye-based, while the black ink is pigment-based. The net result is that the printer is equally as good for solid, mono text as it is for photo output. Direct printing from cameras or memory cards is simplified by a novel touch-screen LCD. Printing onto CDs and DVDs isn't supported though.
Key specs: 4800x1200dpi * 31ppm colour * 32ppm mono * A4 best quality photo: 3m 13s * Ink costs per page (A4 mono/colour/10x15cm photo): 2.0p, 6.1p, 14.5p * USB, PictBridge, Memory cards * 8.6cm LCD * 450x282x187mm * 5.4kg
3. Epson Stylus Photo RX585, £130
The output quality and speed of the new RX585 proved identical to the cheaper Epson R285 in our tests. But the RX585 adds plenty of photo-friendly features, including a high-quality A4 scanner and plenty of onboard controls for standalone printing or photocopying.
However, running costs are a little high on this model and quality is second-best compared with the equivalent Canon in our group.
Key specs: 5760x1440dpi * 37ppm colour * 37ppm mono * A4 best quality photo: 4m 30s * Ink costs per page (A4 mono/colour/10x15cm photo): 2.0p, 7.8p, 15.0p * USB, PictBridge, Memory cards * 6.1cm LCD * 1200dpi scanner * 450x282x187mm * 5.4kg
2. Canon PIXMA iP4500, £79
Not much dearer than the Epson R285, the Canon iP4500 offers a much faster turn of speed, especially in top quality photo mode. The unique range of five inks (including both pigment-based and dye-based black inks) makes for superb mono text quality and drop-dead gorgeous photo output alike.
Direct printing onto CDs and DVDs is very straightforward, while two input paper trays make it easy to mix and match standard and photo paper stocks. Ink costs for photo printing are half that of most of the iP4500's competitors.
Key specs: 9600x2400dpi * 24ppm colour * 31ppm mono * A4 best quality photo: 1m 45s * Ink costs per page (A4 mono/colour/10x15cm photo): 1.8p, 5.0p, 7.4p * USB, PictBridge * 445x303x160mm * 6.9kg
1. Canon PIXMA MP610, £120
The new MP610 looks exactly the same printer as the iP4500, but it adds a wealth of extra features. These include a multi-format card reader, a colour LCD menu and preview screen, a class-leading 9600dpi flatbed scanner and highly intuitive onboard controls for direct printing and photocopying. All in all, the MP610 is the perfect all-rounder.
Key specs: 9600x2400dpi * 24ppm colour * 31ppm mono * A4 best quality photo: 1m 45s * Ink costs per page (A4 mono/colour/10x15cm photo): 1.8p, 5.0p, 7.4p * USB, PictBridge, Memory cards * 6.2cm LCD * 9600dpi scanner * 450x389x188mm * 10.0kg