Graphic designers work with print more than most other creatives today. Once everything is approved and sent out for printing, your commercial printer will do an amazing job for sure, but until then you need to show your client that it’s worth the investment long before your design goes into full production.
Effectively presenting your vision to a client is next to impossible if your final product doesn’t look like a final product. The in-house printing of proofs will give you more control and a more accurate visual of what the final printed product will look like. How do you get started?
There are always new models coming out with fancy new features, but below we look at the best printers for graphic designers in 2020, and guide you through choosing what is right for you
Choosing between a laser or inkjet printers
Deciding whether your needs are better served by an inkjet or laser printer used to be easy. The differences between speed, color, and image resolution between the two used to be stark, but in the past several years the technological weaknesses of each have largely caught up with the strengths of the other. The question now is less about choosing between the color and sharpness of inkjet versus the speed and ruggedness of laser, but more about selecting a printer with a higher pages-per-month capacity and lower cartridge replacement price ratio for your business.
A lot of your choice comes down to the type of imagery you commonly work with. If you occasionally print proofs for in-house review, or it’s but a small part of what you do, the low material cost of a laser printer may appeal to you (especially if you are sharing your printer with others who print a lot of text documents). Still, the majority of today’s recommended professional photo printers are inkjet, and the improved results you get from even mid-range inkjets printing images is stark. As you get closer to photo quality images in your proofs the likelihood that you’ll be shopping for an inkjet (with pigmented inks, usually) goes up considerably. A lot of this comes down to the type of work you are doing and how efficacious, convenient, and budget-conscious bringing a print-shop quality printer into your studio or office will be in the long run.
Individual ink tanks
Your inkjet printer head should have individual tanks for each color. If your printer has one cartridge for all three colors, not only is there a higher likelihood of them clogging, but the chance of color bleeding and casts is much higher. If you require photo quality images in your design, choosing a photo inkjet printer with more than four color pots will improve the color and sharpness of your images. There are some printers with as much as 12 color pots capable of producing images with a vast range of color and deeper dark tones.
Remember: especially when you are working with photographer-grade pigmented inks, the paper you choose to pair it with makes a big difference. Understanding how your ink will react to the paper you decide to print your proof on can spare you a big inconvenience later on.
Inexpensive ink and toner cartridges
Replacing cartridges is a major inevitable expense that many people don’t consider when shopping for a new printer. Understanding the number of pages you can anticipate from each cartridge and price shopping the cartridges themselves can throw back the curtains on future expenses you can be saddled with.
Laser toner cartridges generally produce more pages and is more efficient–despite being more expensive–than ink cartridges. But for designers who will mostly be using inkjet cartridges, choosing a printer that works fine with compatible ink will make cartridge replacement a lesser pain on your budget.
Dye-based inks or pigmented inks for inkjets
Dye based inks for inkjet printers are generally less expensive and more vibrant in color than pigmented inks. Yes, dye inks tend to fade quicker than pigmented inks, but thanks to the fast paced nature of graphic design chances are your prints are not needed in the long term. Unfortunately, the difference between dye-based and pigmented inks mean they are not interchangeable between printers. Some use dye-based ink, others use pigmented and trying to swap them out isn’t an option at this time.
When you are shopping for a printer, you should consider the type of printing you’ll be doing most and be mindful of the ink it uses when making your choice. To illustrate the archival benefits of using pigment, Photo.net printed two identical photographs using dye-based ink on one, and pigment-based ink on the other. After leaving the photo exposed to sunlight for 18 months, this is how the photos turned out.
The one on the left was printed with dye-based ink and the one on the right was printed with pigment-based ink. As you can see, in terms of fade resistance, pigment ink stands superior to dye.
Unless you print exhibit sized media, chances are you won’t need a 44 inch wide large format printer for any average presentation. But not every proof is standard A2 size either. Perhaps one of the more important considerations that goes unmentioned among most techy features is the maximum print size each model can handle. While laser printers have caught up in quality, one major detriment is that they often can only handle 8.5 inch width—your standard computer paper or legal size. Your individual needs will vary of course, but if there is one factor that weighs towards inkjet this is an important one. Finding one at an affordable rate that’s able to print at least 13 by 17 inch proofs does help make your design more presentable.
Your printer needs to be able to accept light, heavy, and double sided pages easily. This allows you to run drafts of your presentation on cost effective light stock, then transition to a presentation grade without changing printers. Front feed printers like many of the popular inexpensive models (and most affordable HP models) don’t accept heavier grade paper stock and therefore are not ideal choices. Many color laser printers are limited in the paper weights they accept as well.
Let’s go back to looking for a printer that can give you sharp results but doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. There are dozens of printers with various bells and whistles from which to choose, but only a couple meet the rigorous standards of what graphic designers need. Here are a couple of my personal favorites that will help you get top grade results without breaking the bank.
Top Printers for Graphic Designers
Below is a summary of the recommended printers for designers:
- Canon Pixma iP8720 Inkjet Printer ($192)
- Epson Expression Photo HD XP-15000 Wireless Color Wide-format Printer ($293)
- Canon PIXMA Pro-100 Wireless Color Professional Inkjet Printer ($331)
- Epson Expression Photo XP-8500 ($213)
- HP ENVY 5055 Wireless All-in-One Photo Printer ($59)
- Lexmark CS410dtn Color Laser Printer ($499)
- Brother HLL8360CDW ($350)
- Canon Color imageCLASS MF733Cdw ($330)
Prices are approximate.
Best Inkjet printers for Graphic Designers
The best value printer for graphic designers, artists & photographers
Canon makes some of the best printers for photo and graphic design. For designers looking to replicate print shop quality without spending an arm and a leg, the ip8720 is a great choice. Like most other Canon printers, this model features a sturdy feed system that can accept a variety of different paper weights and finishes. This gives you the versatility to use both economical office paper for drafts and pull together professional-grade presentations without leaving your desk. As Red River Catalog notes, Canon’s dye based printers almost never experience head clogs.
- Don't get stuck in an 8 inches x 10 inches world; Print your favorite photos up to 13 inches x 19 inches
- With a 6 color ink system including gray ink and 9600 x 2400 maximum color dots per inch, the results are incredible quality and amazing detail in your black & white and color photos.Noise...
- Print wirelessly from any Wi Fi enabled computer around the house; Ink droplet size: 1, 2 and 5
- NOTE:Kindly refer to the user manual provided as a PDF manual in the product description section
- Ink Compatibility : PGI 250 Pigment Black XL, CLI 251 Cyan XL, CLI 251 Magenta XL, CLI 251 Yellow XL, CLI 251 Gray XL, CLI 251 Black XL , PGI 250 Pigment Black, CLI 251 Cyan, CLI 251 Magenta, CLI 251...
This Epson printer is another high quality photography and design workhorse designed for consistent results. It features six individual dye ink tanks for ultra-realistic image print results. The XP-15000 can print paper as large as 13” x 19” and it can handle most every standard paper weight and finish. This Epson model is compatible with high-yield ink cartridges that can print upwards of 800 pages per color.
- This printer is designed for use with Epson cartridges only, not third party cartridges or ink; Cartridges described as Compatible, Re manufactured, refilled or refillable may not work properly or at...
- Professional ultra HD photo quality get brilliant border less prints upto 13 inches X 19 inches
- Individual 6 color Claria photo HD ink includes red and gray inks for an ultra wide color gamut and enhanced black and white prints.Sound pressure level:Pressure: 49 dB(A)
- Professional projects: Made easy features a 50 sheet rear tray for specialty media, including cardstock (1); Accommodates a variety of paper finishes and border less sizes from 4 inches X 6 inches To...
- Ultra compact wide format A3+ printer 30 percent smaller than its predecessor (2); Easily fits on your desktop
The best professional large format printer
For those looking for a fantastic large format professional level photo printer, the Canon PIXMA Pro-100 Wireless is for you. This professional Wireless Photo Printer has 8 dye based color inks for colorful and vivid prints, 3 of which are dedicated grayscale inks for beautiful black & white prints. Of course, this premium quality comes with a cost. But that’s what you get, with the best. You can print at 4800 x 2400 DPI for incredible detail and up to 13″ x 19″ in size.
- 8 Dye based inks for amazing gradients and color, 3 of which are dedicated grayscale inks for beautiful black & white prints
- Output Tray Capacity Auto Sheet Feeder 150 Sheets of Plain Paper; 20 sheets Photo Paper (4x6); 10 sheets (Letter/8x10); 1 sheet (A3+). Manual Feeder 1 sheet of Photo Paper (all sizes)
- Built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet Connectivity: The built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet port gives you the freedom to place the printer where it's convenient and allows multiple users to seamlessly print from...
- Includes setup ink tanks, setup CD-ROM, CD/DVD disc printing tray, print head, power cord, manuals and other documents
- Canon Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering (FINE) features a patented print head that enables printing with microscopic droplets and high resolution up to 4800 x 2400 dpi
The best mid-range printer for designers & artists
Experience an amazing range of colors with this new Epson Expression Photo XP-8500 Small-in-One printer. A quiet, no-nonsense printer that deliver vibrant 4×6 prints in 10 seconds! It also comes equipped with a rear specialty paper feed tray to accommodate specialty art paper. This printer uses 6-color CLARIA Photo HD ink cartridges—black, cyan, magenta, yellow, light magenta, and light cyan—that deliver smooth tonal gradations, detailed blacks, and higher contrast images.Learn More
- This printer is designed for use with Epson cartridges only, not third party cartridges or ink. Cartridges described as Compatible, Remanufactured, refilled or refillable may not work properly or at...
- Ultra powerful small-in-one — Fast, quiet performance in a compact, space-saving design.
- Professional-quality, borderless photos up to 8" X 10" — 6-color Clarian photo HD inks deliver smooth gradations and amazing skin tones.
- Fast — high-quality 4" X 6" Photos in as fast as 10 seconds (1).
- Never run out of ink again - printer features Dash Replenishment which, after activation, keeps track of your ink usage and orders more from when you are running low
The best budget printer for graphic designers
The HP Envy 5055 replaces the HP Envy 4520 and it now has Bluetooth, improved Wi-Fi connectivity, faster print speeds & more! It’s just $89 making for a very budget friendly printer, although they do make you sign up to ‘Instant Ink’ ink subscription plans which has its downfalls. Make sure you read 8 things you must know before you sign up to HP Instant Ink.Learn More
- Replaces the HP ENVY 4520, HP ENVY 5055 comes with Bluetooth, Smart, improved Wi-Fi connectivity, faster print speeds and more
- Step up and create projects at home – Print, scan, and copy borderless, high-quality photos and documents with crisp, sharp text using this versatile all-in-one printer
- Ink delivered to your home: get your first 2 months free when you enroll in HP Instant Ink (optional) during printer set up; plans starting at $2.99 per month after the trial period, shipping and...
- Our most powerful printing app ever: the HP Smart app allows you to easily set up your wireless printer, scan documents with your camera, and print from social media or the cloud, such as iCloud,...
- Stay connected, no matter what: whether connecting to your network or your mobile device, reliable Dual Band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Smart deliver a stable connection for steady performance
If you feel like you need high-duty capacity more than vibrant prints, a laser printer would best accommodate your needs. Here are some recommended models to try:
Best Laser printers for Graphic Designers & Agencies
This color laser printer offers solid print results for small and medium-sized design firms. The CS410dtn is fast, printing over 30 pages per minute, with a recommended monthly output of up to 75,000 pages. This makes it an excellent choice not only for printing proofs, but also keeping up with everyday printing. If you are going to be printing a lot of pages, be sure to take into consideration the toner cartridge yield for this model.
- The small and quiet Lexmark CS410dn network-ready color laser printer with 2-sided printing standard, a 800 MHz dual-core processor and 256MB of standard memory prints at up to 32 ppm black and color.
- Lexmark Named Color Replacement and PANTONE calibration make it easy to develop a consistent brand image by accurately matching your colors.
- With up to true 1200x1200 dpi resolution, images and graphics stay crisp. Lexmark's Unison Toner ensures consistent quality from the first to the last page.
- Easily print up to 6,000 pages a month, plus enjoy fewer maintenance hassles, thanks to our state-of-the-art paper handling.
A bit less expensive than the Lexmark CS410dtn, the Brother HLL8360CDW retails at $350.00 on Amazon. It’s ideal for small and medium-sized firms who are looking for fast and efficient results for networked printers. Each toner cartridge yields approximately 3500 pages, keeping down monthly operation costs, and thanks to AirPrint and Google Cloud print options it can easily network several people from a single location with ease. The HL-L8360CDW prints at a maximum resolution of 2400 dpi.Learn More
- HIGH-QUALITY COLOR PRINTING: The Brother HLL8360CDW can print professional color documents at speeds of up to 33 ppm.
- EASY CONNECTIVITY: Connect via wireless or Gigabit Ethernet network interfaces or wireless print from your mobile device(1).
- AUTOMATIC DUPLEX PRINTING: The Brother Color Laser Printer features an automatic two-sided printing feature that can help save money and time.
- DASH REPLENISHMENT ENABLED: Upon activation, Dash Replenishment measures the toner level and orders more from when it’s low. Standard Memory (MB): 512
- BROTHER GENUINE TONERS: TN431: TN431BK, TN431C, TN431Y, TN431M, TN433: TN433BK, TN433C, TN433Y, TN433M, TN436: TN436, TN436BK, TN436C, TN436Y, TN436M
The all-in-one, Canon Color image class MF733Cdw prints at speeds of up to 28 pages per minute and has a generous 850 sheet capacity. The quick print time of 9 seconds or less is great for small workgroups, and the direct Wi-Fi connection makes printing from your mobile devices easy and convenient. Overall, this is an outstanding all-in-one printer from Canon, and the three year warranty with US based customer service, makes this a great choice.Learn More
- Includes 3 year limited warranty 100percentage U. S. Based service and support team provides friendly, expert help for every level of experience
- Print at speeds of up to 28 pages per minute with your first print in your hands in 9 seconds or less. The memory capacity is upto 512 sheets and the paper output is 150 sheets (face down)
- Easily connect your mobile devices without a router using Wi Fi Direct connection
- Generous, expandable paper capacity allows for up to 850 sheets
- Hi capacity toner options keep up with your printing needs and limit toner Replacement interruptions.Power Source: 120 V, 60Hz
Best Printers for Graphic Designers Summary
Choosing the right printer is an efficient way to get exactly the results you want while saving money at the same time. While differences in office size and the types of tasks you undertake will make some printers more favorable than others, knowing what’s important before you get started is the first step to securing years of quality in-house printing.
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Nicholas Brown is a content editor for LD Products where he frequently writes about the ways businesses in various industries can leverage printer technology for improved efficiency in design, marketing, and overall office operations.
Also published on Medium.