In the past if you wanted to print high-quality photos at home, you needed to spend good money on a dedicated professional inkjet photo printer. Not only would the actual printer set you back upwards of $1000, the cost of having to replace the inks when they would inevitably run out after what would seem to be only a dozen or so photo prints, was aggravating.
In 2021, things haven’t changed all that much when it comes to replacement inks – they are still a pricey necessary evil of home photo printing – but the quality of more affordable, budget-oriented photo printers has improved. And they don’t just do photo printing anymore; many offer multi-functionality. Which brings us to the Epson Expression Photo XP-8600, a $250 all-in-one (print, scan, copy) device that I’ve been testing over the last few months and have quite enjoyed.
Is the Epson XP-8600 the best budget photo printer in 2021? Read my review of this affordable and versatile device for the home office below to find out.
Design & Features
Epson calls the Expression Photo XP-8600 a “small-in-one” printer and while that moniker is a little overly cute, it’s fairly accurate. With dimensions of 13.7 x 20.7 x 7.2 inches (WxDxH) when in use, and 13.7 x 13.4 x 5.6 when the various flaps and trays are folded up for storage, the XP-8600 weighs a light-feeling 14.8 pounds. It will fit easily on a desk or small side table.
The Epson XP-8600 is a six-color inkjet printer (Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan and Light Magenta) that uses six individual Claria Photo HD Ink cartridges. I’ll get to the inkjet consumables costs later, but I was happy to see how much color range the XP-8600 offered for both photo prints and documents including copying. (I remember back in the day when a six-ink photo printer was considered cutting edge.)
With a black design that folds up into a rectangle shape when not in use, the Epson XP-8600 is attractive looking while not drawing attention to itself. The rounded sides of the unit are glossy while the flat top, which opens up to reveal the 1200 dpi flatbed scanner, is matte black. I was a little put-off by the plasticky feel to the XP-8600, particularly the hinges on the various flaps and trays, which are a bit flimsy, but for a sub-$300 all-in-one photo printer, it’s generally well built.
The Epson XP-8600 features a 4.3-inch tilting touchscreen that’s clear and easy to navigate to access the printer’s various functions. The only other exterior control is a round power button on the front.
There are two paper trays on the front of Epson XP-8600 – a 100-sheet input for plain or photo paper of up to 8.5 x 13 inches, and a 20-sheet input for small, thicker photo paper, such as 4×6 or 5×7 inches. Meanwhile, the 20-sheet rear feed slot allows you to print out photos or documents of up to 8.5x 44 inches.
The XP-8600 can also print onto inkjet-compatible disc media such as CDs and DVDs (if anybody still does that) and No. 10 envelopes. The motorized output tray, which automatically opens and extends when printing is initiated (a nice touch!), has a 30-sheet capacity. The Epson XP-8600 allows for color and black-and-white duplex printing and can print 8.5 x 11 borderless photos.
Cord cutters will be pleased that the Epson XP-8600 has fairly robust wireless features including Wi-Fi Direct, which allows for router-free printing from a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android mobile device. You can also print directly to the XP-8600 via a USB 2.0 port or an SD card slot.
Since I am mainly reviewing the photo printing capabilities of the Epson XP-8600, I’ll focus my evaluation on print quality and ease of use. As mentioned earlier, putting six dedicated photo inks into a consumer all-in-one printer should produce pretty decent color depth in prints.
The printer has a maximum resolution of 5760 x 1400dpi, which is also good. The XP-8600 uses Epson’s tried and true Micro Piezeo printhead and the minimum ink droplet size it produces is 1.5 picoliters. Combine all that with the printer’s six-color Claria Photo HD Ink set and the result should be high-quality photo prints. I’m pleased to report that the Epson XP-8600 lived up to expectations.
Printing on 8.5 x 11-inch sheets of Epson’s Premium Photo Paper Glossy, my photos of summer and fall landscapes showed rich but not oversaturated colors across the spectrum, smooth tone gradations, and better than average resolution and sharpness. I often find that consumer photo printers struggle with printing portraits, particularly in rendering skin tones that can look unnatural and somewhat plastic. The Epson XP-8600, however, produced true-to-life if not truly exceptional portraits. Skintones were decent but the portraits lacked some pop and were on the flat side. But again, that’s way above average for an all-in-one printer in this class.
The only print quality area where the Epson XP-8600 produced results that were typical for a printer in its class is dynamic range. The shadow areas in my photo prints lacked detail such as in leaves on a forest floor in a photo taken just as the sun was setting. Other darker areas – the bottoms of trees, a distant ridge line – were virtual black holes with almost no discernible detail. Again, this isn’t bad for a photo printer in this class but not on the level of a professional model like the Epson SureColor P700, which I was testing alongside the XP-8600, and produced exceptional dynamic range and D-Max. At $800 though, the P700 is quite a bit more expensive.
The Epson XP-8600 is a speedy printer overall. The XP-8600 took about a minute to print out 8.5 x 11-inch photos at the highest resolution and about 30 seconds for 4×6 snapshots. So, if you’re in a hurry to make a bunch of photo prints but don’t want to compromise on quality, the XP-8600 won’t slow you down.
The printing process with the Epson XP-8600 was easy and smooth thanks to the printer’s simple touchscreen interface and clear menu system. My only glitch was that from time to time I would get the infamous “Filter failed” error prompt when printing wirelessly from my MacBook Air laptop to the XP-8600.
The “Filter failed” error is apparently a known issue for Mac-Epson users and it’s unclear whether the problem is on the Apple OS side or the printer driver’s side. The workaround is to delete and then add the printer back in MacBook’s Printers & Scanners section in System Preferences. It’s annoying and I’m still researching the issue. I will update this section if I find out anything else.
The Epson Expression Photo XP-8600 is one of the best printers you can get for the price and our favorite budget photo printer of 2021. Image quality for 8 x 11-inch prints and 4 x 6 photos was well above average for a sub-$300 all-in-one device. While discerning photographers, such as yours truly, might be able to tell the difference between a photo printed on the XP-8600 vs one printed on a professional photo printer, the general public probably will not. Throw in the very good scanning and copying features that this multi-function device offers, and you’ve got an excellent, affordable option for the home office as well as the home “studio.” The only major strike against the Epson XP-8600 is the cost of replacing the six inks, which can get pricey. Replenishing the entire set will run you around $70 and, depending on how much you print, this can add up fast. Otherwise though, we’d recommend the XP-8600 to any photographer who’s looking to quickly turn the images sitting on their hard drives or mobiles devices into attractive photo prints.