What is the best budget printer for graphic designers? That’s the question I’ve looked into with this post, since Google itself doesn’t seem to have a clear answer (to this albeit vague question). There are so many budget printer options out there, that you have to narrow the field by picking out the main features you require. In my case, the key feature I wanted was the ability to print high-quality photos in A3. My second ‘requirement’ was separate ink cartridges for CMYK, that included a lot of black (K). I had looked into other aspects such as a built-in scanner and wifi capabilities, but that introduced problems, mainly pushing the price up and many not having an A3 glass plate – several required scanning the image in two halves to be later stitched together to form one large image. Not the best option.
In terms of a ‘budget’, I didn’t want to spend more than £250. Figuring it would be used regularly and hopefully last a couple of years, that seems like a good investment. It would also allow me to make prints of illustrations that could be sold in my shop, essentially helping recoup the initial price. If I sell a lot, I may do another post entitled “What is the best printer in the world (under £100,000,000) for graphic designers?” We’ll see how that pans out.
Cutting to the chase, I ended up going for the Canon Pixma iX6550 from Amazon. At around £160 it was well within budget and had the main features I was looking for. It also looks good, it’s almost Apple-esque in design.
Installing and setting it up was fairly straightforward. My main complaint was that there was no USB cable included, effectively making it impossible to connect to a computer since it has no networking. This lack of a cable was not mentioned anywhere, ironically the manual states that you should “now connect the USB cable to the port on the right”. Nevertheless, stealing a cable from another printer, we were up and running.
It may be the best budget printer, but what about the ink?
It contains five separate ink cartridges (Black, Magenta, Cyan, Photoblack? and Yellow). They are incredibly easy to install and replace, with new ones being around £10-£15 for the chipped five-pack. Reasonable.
After installing drivers and updating for Mac 10.7 Lion (with which it works perfectly) I was good to go. Leaving out the default included software for printing seemed fine for me since everything would be done through Photoshop’s print dialog boxes, where there would be more control. My test prints consisted of an A4 test page on cheap stock, an A4 illustration on Ilford Galerie 240g/m² classic pearl paper, an A3 illustration on 220g/m² matte canvas and a 6’x4” photograph on Canon’s own “Photo Paper Plus Glossy II” paper. Everything came out looking great, the borderless 6’x”4 looks amazing with deep reds and rich blacks. Speed isn’t a concern for printing as I feel the quality is worth the wait in a slower print time. In saying that, the Canon Pixma prints at a very reasonable speed. The A3 with high settings took no more than 30 seconds, but felt like no time since I was saving the image and closing Photoshop.
Reviews on several sites state that this printer excels in colour graphics and photo printing, and I would agree – it’s pretty amazing for the price.
Amazon had the best prices by far and the free postage sweetened the deal. It may be worth mentioning that having ordered it around 3pm on a Friday, it was up and running by the same time the next day! I would happily recommend this printer for both designers and the home-office user. Large offices may find the lack of network capabilities may be problematic, but a USB connection works fine for me – just remember to buy one on eBay or something as it doesn’t come included.
The Canon Pixma ix6550 Closed lid and paper tray – “slick”
I apologise if this post title is a little disingenuous. I have had no experience using the other budget printers on the market with similar to features to the one I chose. I do still maintain that this is the best affordable printer to buy if you want to print high-quality A3 photographs and graphics, for less than £200 – here! If I am wrong I would love to get your feedback or comments below – what do you feel is the best budget printer for graphic designers?