The process of printing photos can be complex, which is often why most people don’t even bother to do it themselves. Why purchase an expensive printer, ink cartridges, and paper when your local supermarket can do the same thing for much less? Some of these places advertise amazingly low photo printing prices. Is it possible to get your images printed for so low, or are they just stringing you along?
In a few words, it isn’t, they are, and the reason is paper.
To get a high quality print, you need to print on glossy paper that prevents the ink from bleeding. Different kinds of paper, to different extents, prevent this from happening. As a general rule, the more you pay for paper, the better your prints will turn out. I’m not only speaking about the short term. I’m talking about years down the road when it really matters.
You must understand that in order for these places to charge such ridiculously low prices, they have to cut corners somewhere. That “somewhere” tends to be the paper department. They’ll say it’s all done on high quality glossy paper, but there are different grades of glossy paper. Some are more suited to the job while others just aren’t. And at a very low price, the chance of getting your photos printed on good paper is just as low.
How much should you expect to pay for a high quality print?
At least $1 per print. I know that sounds extreme, but if you go to the store to buy photo paper, that’s what the highest quality papers cost. You might get a slightly lower price than at the drugstore, but remember they need to make a profit too.
Most people don’t need the best quality prints. They aren’t taking pictures for artistic purposes. They’re taking them partly for fun and partly for preserving memories. Most of these people are put off by the high price of quality printing, so companies try to cater to them with incredibly low prices.
Is it better to print at home?
Not necessarily. Most affordable home printers don’t produce the best possible images. Inkjets are the most common home printer, and they have their limitations. Companies certainly advertise them as if they produce the best possible images, but they’re more or less designed for office purposes. They’re good enough to print out charts, graphs, and medium quality photos. You can do a few things to finesse them into high quality photo printing, but it isn’t really worth the effort. You’re better off going to a professional who has the right gear to make it happen.
What’s the best place to print your photos?
Find a printer who caters to visual artists and painters. These guys and gals know how to do the job right. They're usually called 'prolabs'. They will definitely charge you more, but you get what you pay for. When you take your photos to a professional printing company, they take the time to look at color profiles, making sure the image you see corresponds exactly to the image you’re printing. You’ll almost always get exactly what you want.
Professionals also have much more experience than the guy getting paid minimum wage at the drug store. They know, for example, that you can’t create a poster-sized print with a 4 megapixel image. They just won’t let you print it. They aren’t a bunch of people simply manning (and womanning) the machines. They really know what they’re doing, and they can point you in the right direction so you don’t make any mistakes.
Whatever you do, don’t pay rock bottom. You’ll just end up paying twice.
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