Photographers all know how it goes—you start by buying one lens, and soon your entire closet is full of more lenses, bags, stands, and other essential camera gear. However, other bits of gear can be trickier to decide about, like deciding whether to get a personal photo printer. Which one should you get? Are photo printers even worth it?
A photo printer is worth buying because:
- It allows you greater control over the quality of your prints.
- You have more creative freedom.
- There is no waiting time to get your prints.
While that’s the basic answer, there’s more to it than that. Read on below to see what having a photo printer in your own office can do for you, when and why to use a printing service, how to choose the right photo printer, and more.
Why Should I Get a Photo Printer?
Whether or not to buy a photo printer is dependent on your situation. Let's cover how a photo printer can help you in your studio first before we get into the situational stuff.
You Get Your Prints Faster
One of the biggest pluses to in-home or in-office printing is the speed at which you get your prints. While many printing services offer fast printing and shipping speeds, no one can beat a 30-second turnaround!
Being able to get your prints fast opens a few new doors, like:
- You can give sample prints to potential clients right away.
- You are able to make tweaks to prints and printing settings right away, even during batches of printing.
- You won’t have to be worried about bulk printing to save you money.
Overall, being able to print and immediately have it in your hand gives you more flexibility.
It Opens Up New Creative Doors
Another huge benefit of being able to print at home is the creative flexibility it provides. When ordering from a shipping service, you’ll mostly be limited to a standard size of prints and borders. If you want something outside of that, it will cost you extra and sometimes be a headache to set up.
With a photo printer at home or in the office, you can:
- Try any size or shape of print you want.
- Experiment with border widths and sizes.
- Print with non-standard border colors.
- Do just about anything you’d like with your prints!
Being able to try whatever cool idea you have in your head without having to try and get a print shop on board lends a huge amount of creative flexibility to your work!
It Gives You More Control Over Your Work
While print shops offer good prices, you often have to use a certain service a lot to get a feel for the types of paper they use and the quality of prints they produce. Worse, what if you get a batch back and they’re way too glossy, for example?
With a personal photo printer, you have:
- Control over the exact type and quality of paper being used.
- The ability to stop a printing batch and swap a different type of paper.
- Control over the quality vs. speed aspect of printing.
- The ability to do test runs on different types of paper before ordering large batches elsewhere.
Being in control of every aspect of the printing allows you to produce higher quality prints, experiment with different papers, and test out anything you want.
It Has Personal Uses Too
Besides the professional pros of having a photo printer, it’s a great piece of kit just to have around the house or office. It can cut the hassle and allow you to do cool things, like:
- Immediately print family photos and hand them out at the gathering.
- Pass photos of a party or wedding out as party favors.
- Print posters or other artwork you own for your home.
- Take your scrapbook game to the next level.
Those are just a few fun ideas—there are plenty more. Plus, you don’t even have to feel guilty about spending the money on one since it’s a business expense!
Why Shouldn’t I Get a Photo Printer?
While the reasons discussed above are all true, there are also reasons maybe you should think twice about picking one up right away. It offers more freedom and flexibility, but that doesn’t always make it worth it.
They Can Be Expensive
This won’t be a surprise to anyone, but high-quality photo printers can run a sizeable price. From the printer itself to the paper and ink, costs can add up when you look into actually purchasing one.
A top-level photo printer capable of printing large formats and borderless photos with deep color range could cost as much as $1,500! Something that size will also cost you a pretty penny to keep running, between its ink and rolls of paper.
However, that's not the case for every printer, and there are certainly budget-friendly printers. You can find a good photo printer capable of most prints for $200 to $300. If you’re willing to buy a used machine, you can get even better deals.
You’ll Need Extra Tools
Unfortunately, when buying a photo printer there are other things you’ll need to factor in the cost of. They are minor costs, especially when compared to the printer itself, but they’re necessary in order to work with a photo printer. Here’s a quick chart of what you’ll need and the average cost of each item:
|Cutting Mat||$15||Keeps you from scarring up your work surface when cutting your prints|
|Paper Trimmer||$25||Absolutely necessary for ensuring your prints are cut perfectly every time|
|Cutting Knife Set (Optional but useful)||$15||Really helps clean up prints that may have a very thin border, or if you need to cut anything other than right angles|
Remember to factor those into the price of your photo printer purchase, because a photo isn’t much good if you can’t cut it out of the sheet!
Although you would most likely buy the bigger photo sheet packages, you can also have the option for direct prints, say 4×6 for example, depending on the photo printer.
How Much Do I Have to Print to Make a Printer Worth It?
Another thing you'll have to consider when you print is the price of the paper and ink you use when printing. This is where the rubber meets the road—can printing at home be more cost-effective than using a printing service?
Unless you have a plan, the unfortunate answer is no, it probably won’t be. At least, not for a while. By the time you factor the price of your printer, the ink, and the paper, you’ll be paying more per print than if you bought from a printing service. However, the more you print, the lower your cost will be per print.
It all depends on the printer, ink, and paper you buy. However, if you’re printing all the time the cost will likely only be a few cents more than a printing service.
Should I Just Use a Printing Service?
After weighing up the cost versus benefit of getting your own photo printer, it’s tempting to ask—should I just use a printing service? After all, there’s a reason they’ve become so popular. Maybe you don’t want to deal with the hassle of home printing, or you just want to let another professional handle that part of the process.
It Will Almost Always Be Cheaper
Unfortunately, when home-printing, the economy of scale is against you. Since you’re printing smaller batches less frequently, your price per print will be higher.
Printing services on the other hand can turn out thousands of prints an hour. This means:
- They get bulk deals on paper and ink.
- They can spread the cost of their printers across millions of customers.
- They can use almost all of their paper, including leftover scraps.
Essentially, this means that no matter how cheap your supplies or how much you print, you’ll be hard pressed to be able to beat the price of a professional printing service. However, often they’ll only be a few cents cheaper per print, so it’s not a lot of money if you aren’t printing tons of photos.
They Can Offer Additional Services
In addition to cheaper costs, printing services can offer lots of additional services to you.
Here’s just a few of the extra things a printing service can offer:
- Access to a large variety of paper styles.
- The ability to have your prints framed before delivery.
- Printing on all sorts of items and surfaces—coffee cups, pillows, etc.
- Fast, bulk delivery if you need hundreds of the same print.
The exact services offered depend on the company you choose, but there's no denying that a large company can offer products and services you can't do in your own studio. That can be a good a reason as any to choose to work with one.
Many Services Have Discounts and Offers
Professional printing services are cheap as-is, but there are ways to defray the cost even more.
Nearly all major print companies offer special discounts and offers constantly. It’s just a matter of being able to find one that suits your needs.
- Shutterfly has become famous for allowing free 4×6 prints as long as you order them from your phone.
- Amazon Prints offers special packages for storage and shipping if you’re already a Prime customer.
- Snapfish often offers deals such as “100 4×6 prints for $4,” which can be great if you need a bunch of standard size prints for clients or personal use.
Should I Print Online or In-Person?
When it comes to choosing how to print, there are a couple options.
First, you could take your photos on a flash drive to local printing shop in person. This has a few benefits:
- You are able to explain exactly what you want from the print.
- They may be able to show you samples of the papers they have.
- You can ask directly for any discounts or deals that may help you.
- Many shops offer same-day pickup.
Your second option is to order prints online. This also has a few benefits:
- It’s very convenient, and can be done quickly.
- You can more easily see a catalog of what the printer can do.
- While not same-day, many shops offer one or two day shipping.
- Can be done outside of normal business hours.
However, remember when ordering from an online shop to buy a few individual prints of different types so you can see the quality. This will save you a headache! Better to test the shop with a few smaller prints before ordering 100 and finding out they use cheap glossy paper that looks bad.
When Should I Use a Printing Service?
In general, you should use a print service when:
- You are printing standard sized photos.
- You need lots of similar prints.
- Price per print is very important to you.
What Are Some Good Photo Printing Services?
You've seen how to decide whether or not to get a photo printer or use a printing service. Now let's outline some good options no matter which road you choose to take, starting with printing services. There are many to choose from, but here's a short list:
Shutterfly is one of the most famous photo printing services. They provide:
- Unlimited online photo storage.
- All sorts of prints, including large format, art prints, and metallic prints.
- Everything from books to mugs to potholders.
- Discounts on bulk prints.
Shutterfly also has a blog where members of the community can share ideas and projects. You can order prints directly from your phone at any time of day, and their pre-paid print plans can be a great option for photography professionals. You can get 600 4×6 prints at only 9 cents/print, for example.
Snapfish is owned by HP, and they provide many of the same services as Shutterfly, like:
- Prints from 9 cents/per print.
- The ability to import photos from Google, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and more.
- All sorts of stationery, photo books, and framed prints.
They’re a great alternative to Shutterfly if you need lower priced prints without ordering in bulk.
Amazon Photo is Amazon’s photo printing branch, and they offer many of the same services as above. What sets Amazon apart is their free two-day shipping if you’re already a Prime customer.
Since two-day shipping from many other sites, such as Shutterfly, can cost you as much as $10, if you’re ordering a lot of prints and you are already an Amazon Prime customer, this is a great option for you.
What Photo Printer Should I Buy?
If you've decided that the freedom and control of printing your own photos are worth paying a little more per print, then check out a few qualifiers below on how to hone in on the best photo printer for your situation.
Determine Your Use Case
The first thing you must decide is what you need out of the printer. For example, do you need a few standard sized prints per batch? Or do you need huge, borderless, large format prints daily?
Deciding what you need to do with your printer will play a large part in deciding which one to get.
What Is Your Budget?
Photo printers can run from $100 for an all in one to $3,000 or more for photo printers with specific use cases.
When setting up a budget, remember two things:
- The more features you need, the higher your budget will have to be.
- A used printer will cost less, if you’re willing to shop around for the right one.
What’s the Best Photo Printer for Me?
With those two metrics in mind, here’s a pick of three printers. They are from different budget ranges and each offer different features.
|HP Envy 6055 All-In-One Printer||$129.99||All in ones offer multiple solutions but are bad at all of them. If money is tight, then this is a good entry level printer. You get basic photo printing capacity along with other basic office tasks. This does not offer borderless photo printing or large format printing.|
|Canon PIXMA PRO-100||$499.99||Fantastic mid-level printer can do everything the HP Envy does as well as borderless prints. Produces quality prints. Does not offer support for large-format prints.|
|Canon PROGRAF PRO-1000||$1,299.99||Great professional home printer. Can do everything the PIXMA can as well as print large-format posters and other prints. Makes high quality prints.|
Is a Photo Printer Worth It?
Now that you have all the info you need about photo printers, you’re in a good spot to decide whether or not your studio needs one in-house.
Having your own photo printer:
- Allows you to control exactly how your prints look.
- Gives you a wide degree of creative freedom.
- Provides the ability to get prints instantly and edit them on the spot.
However, there are also reasons you may want to choose to use a photo printing service, like:
- You need a lot of bulk prints.
- You want the lowest price possible per print.
- You don’t want the hassle of maintaining your own printer.
It ultimately comes down to your budget and your use case.