This is a difficult question to answer, as it is fairly subjective. Both Epson and Canon printers are excellent, and provide astonishing quality. I'll try to avoid the culture war here, so here are some basic statistics and important points about printers that meet your needs:
- One of the first things you need to decide is how valuable quality is to you:
- The base cost of the printer is minimal compared to the long-term running cost
- Cleaning and maintenance have an intrinsic cost due to ink usage and part replacement
- Ink is the most costly part of creating your own prints
- Determine how long you hope to use your printer:
- You may want to print 10x15 and 12x12 now, but what about the future
- Will you ever need to print 17x22?
- Will you ever need to print panoramics (i.e. roll paper)?
- What is the minimum quality bar you require:
- If you intend to sell your prints, what you percieve as acceptable may be a far cry from what your customer percieves as acceptable
- Does the printer you are looking to buy produce adequate resolution and tonal range to be "acceptable" to your customers?
- How long do you expect your prints to last?
- Some papers and inks last for a few decades
- Some papers and inks last for hundreds of years (theoretically)
Both Canon and Epson printers can serve your needs. Canon offers two types of professional photographer printers that use different types of ink. Epson printers all use the same type of ink, but offer progressively greater versatility in terms of paper sizes and variety, and some of the higher-end models produce some extended tonal range into areas even computer screens can't reach (i.e. deep vivid purple hues.)
When it comes to Canon, you have a choice between the PIXMA series, and the ProGraph series. The PIXMA series offers two printers, the 9000 and the 9500 Mk II. The 9000 uses dye inks, which are generally cheaper and do not dry out as easily, and are extremely economical. The ultimate tonal range and longevity of dye prints is generally on the lower end. The 9000 uses 8 individual ink tanks, allowing colors to be individually replaced.
The 9500 uses 10 pigment inks, including several black/gray shades for B&W printing. Pigment inks generally produce more accurate tonal range, and the longevity is up in the 105-200 year range. Pigment inks are generally preferred for archival and professional prints, however they do come at a greater cost. Pigment inks have a greater tendency to dry out if not used, and dry pigment ink can clog a print head, which generally costs about $120-$160 to replace. Canon ink tanks for the 9000/9500 are about 14ml in size...extremely small. These ink tanks do not last for a very long time, and the ratio of waste is fairly high. This increases the cost overall.
The Prograph series of Canon printers are a step up. They are generally geared towards the truly professional photographer and business class. All of the current Canon Prograph printers use the same Lucia pigment ink that the 9500 does. The advantage these printers have over the 9500 is greater paper size versatility (up to 17x22 or beyond) and considerably larger ink tanks. Lower end Prograph printers use 80ml ink tanks, and higher end (truly business class, probably well out of your interest range) use 160ml tanks.
When it comes to Epson, all of their printers use their stellar UltraChrome K3 pigment inks. Epson printers tend to use a higher native print resolution than Canon printers, however they have a lower DPI. Like the Canon 9500, the ink tank size for the lower end of their Stylus line are about 15ml, and like Canon this increases cost due to general operating waste. Higher end Epson Stylus printers use larger ink tank sizes, and offer the same benefit that the Canon ProGraph line does. One of the benefits of Epson is greater paper versatility. Epson provides an extremely diverse line of papers, including paper roles for panoramic and banner printing (up to several feet long.)
HP is also an alternative, as they also make a professional photography printer. I've read reviews about HP printers, however I have never used one, and can no personally provide an objective review of their capabilities. I would look into some reviews if you are interested, however Epson and Canon are the top dogs in the professional photo printing arena.
Alternative papers may be used on either Epson or Canon printers. Canon fine art papers are in actuality just Hahnemuhle under the Canon label. I use a Canon 9500 MkII myself, and I use the Hahnemuhle ICC profiles for Fine Art, Museum, and Matte papers, which produce significantly better results than the Canon default ICC profiles.
Before you make a decision, I highly recommend seeing if you can print some of your own work on a couple different Epson and Canon printers. Determine if you yourself like the results, and see what some of your potential customers (or friends/family who you think are similar to your potential customers), and choose the printer that best fits you and your potential customers needs. The Canon PIXMA Pro 9000 runs around $400 or so, while the PIXMA Pro 9500 is about $600-$700. Canon Prograph printers run from around $1200 to many thousands of dollars for the top end business class. The iPF5000 or iPF6000 series are at the lower end of that price range, and are very efficient printers. Epson Stylus printers run anywhere from about $500 up through $4000 or more.