Cut the cost of printing photos
It doesn’t seem so long ago that getting your photos processed meant traipsing off to a high street lab or posting off your films and waiting for anything from an hour to a week to see the results of your photographic endeavours.
Today, however, both amateur and professional photographers have a lot more options. Digital cameras allow snappers to download their photos to a PC, memory card or CD with the click of a mouse. And there are numerous options for printing images – including home printers, high street laboratories, DIY kiosks and websites.
But with so many options available, and costs and quality varying, getting your photos printed isn’t straightforward, and many of us end up not even bothering. So if showing friends and family your photos means lugging around your laptop or, worse, using the tiny screen on your digital camera, here’s how to get the prints your photos deserve without paying over the odds.
In this article, I look at different printing options ans explain how you can share your photos (for free) online. Share your views and experiences of printing in the comment box below.
Online printing normally works out much cheaper than using a high street store or kiosk to print snaps, or printing them at home. There’s a whole raft of websites that allow you to upload or email digital photos and post them in an online gallery.
After viewing your pictures, you can order prints, or have your favourite shots printed on a t-shirt, mouse-mat, calendar or mug.
Most sites also offer photo storage – which is handy insurance against your hard drive failing – and photo sharing.
These services typically use the same minilab machines as high-street labs and offer identical print quality. They are generally quick and convenient to use, but you will need a broadband connection to upload your picture files.
The cost of prints depends on the site you use and the quantity you order, but most offer a number of free snaps with your first order.
The low price doesn’t mean quality is compromised. Antonio Goard, marketing and product manager at Photobox, says the company uses high-quality machines to rival, and in some cases better, those used by high street stores.
The main downside of online printing is that you are at the mercy of Royal Mail and orders can take anything from a couple of days to over a week to arrive. You should also take delivery costs into account - and bear in mind that the more you order, the more expensive this will be.
Cost of 6x4 print
|Photobox.co.uk||10p||8p per print (200 - 349)
7p (350 - 499)
|£1.49 (up to 99 prints)|
9p (100 - 249)
|£1.39 (up to 40 prints)|
|Bonusprint.co.uk||10p||7p (100 - 199)
|£1.99 (up to 99 prints)|
|Foto.com||7p||n/a||£1.49 (up to 10 prints)|
|Snapmad.com||10p||7p (50 - 199)
6p (200 - 499)
|Free (if you spend 99p)|
|Truprint.co.uk||9p||n/a||99p (up to 50)|
|Pixum.co.uk||10p||9p (26 - 200)
7p (201 - 500)
|£1.99 (up to 25)|
|* The number of prints ordered is displayed in brackets after the price
** This is the cheapest delivery cost to domestic addresses
Websites may be more convenient and cheaper than the high street, but traditional retailers are not giving up the fight, and one clear advantage they have over internet-based services is speed - most offer a one-hour service.
Although twice as expensive as most online printing sites, at the time of going to press Boots was a lot cheaper than rival stores Jessops and Snappy Snaps.
Prices vary though so it's worth doing a bit of research before deciding which store to pick. And as always buying in bulk can reduce the price per picture.
But whether you get what you pay for is open to debate. Some research suggests not all stores offer the quality printing you might expect.
However, freelance photographer James Fletcher says that if prints are bought from the high street and you’re not satisfied – due to poor colours, lack of contrast, bad cropping of images or colour casts – the photo lab will usually redo the prints at no extra cost.
“This isn’t quite so easy when buying online, because there is little opportunity for customer liaison to explain the problem encountered,” he ads. “It can be difficult for a customer to explain what it is they are unhappy with over the phone or by email.”
Fletcher adds that Jessops and Snappy Snaps tend to have more specialist staff than Boots.
“This is perhaps because Jessops and Snappy Snaps specialise in photography and attract staff who want to work in that industry, often photographers themselves,” he explains. “With labs I’ve used, at least one member of the team is either a keen amateur or professional photographer.
"They know what they would expect from a print and offer this same quality to customers. Perhaps this justifies them being more expensive.”
|Store*||Cost of 6x4 photo|
|Asda||20p (1 - 99)
16p (100 - 199)
15p (1 - 99)
10p (100 -199)
|Boots||25p (1 - 49)
22p (50 - 99)
20p (1 - 49)
15p (50 - 99)
10p (100 - 149)
7p (150 - 199)
15p (1 - 49)
|Jessops||25p (1 - 5)
19p (5 - 49)
12p (50 - 99)
7p (100 - 199)
|* Online ordering and home delivery may also be available
** Only orders for less than 150 prints will be ready for collection in one hour
Most of the big high street labs offer kiosk-based DIY printing. Users insert their memory card or CD, select the image they want to print and the photo is printed there and then. Kiosks can be found in chemists, photographic stores and shopping centres.
The biggest advantage of using kiosks is convenience. If you’re happy to do it yourself you don’t have to wait for staff to do it, and you receive your prints in minutes. There is no need to make a return trip to a shop or wait for your photos to arrive in the post.
However, convenience comes with a cost. The DIY option is an expensive one.
Some high street kiosks can write the contents of a memory card onto a blank CD, which can be a real life-saver for anyone on holiday who has run out of memory and has no other way to back
up their images. Some stores offer the same service.
“I think these kiosks appeal to a younger generation that is technology-savvy,” says Nigel Atherton, editor of What Digital Camera magazine, “Also you can print out photos in total privacy with these machines – unlike in a shop or online printing service where someone else will see them.”
But when it comes to print quality, Fletcher is less enamoured with this option. He brands printing kiosks “awful” because the colours sometimes bare little resemblance to those in the screen image, you don’t have a choice of matt or gloss and the prints are often too vivid or too grey.
“This type of printing often doesn’t produce a proper photographic print. Prints can fade quickly, and, unlike photographic prints, they can be ruined by contact with water,” he adds.
PRINTING AT HOME
Printing your photos at home using an inkjet or photo printer will give you instant results, but is unlikely to deliver quality comparable with a professional processor. Expect to pay anything between £60 and £500 for an inkjet printer and £45 to £400 for a photo printer. Bear in mind though that a cheap model may produce poor results and be quite slow.
Small photo printers allow you to print directly from a memory card, but can only produce prints in a limited range of sizes.
Atherton says online printing services and high street labs use RA4 paper, which produces quality results superior to anything you can produce with a home printer. “Professional services are cheaper to use and produce better prints,” he adds.
Peter Wigington, spokesperson for Fujifilm, says the costs of home printing can soon mount up. “Buying photo paper and ink cartridges and investing in a good-quality printer can be very costly, typically around 27p per 6x4-inch print using high-quality photo paper and 17p for an inkjet print,” he says.
“With its less-than-perfect results and long print times, home printing is not usually the best or most cost-effective method of printing your photos.”
With many of us now having a broadband internet connection at home, it is not always necessary to print photographs. They can be shared online instead, usually for free.
A photo-sharing site is where users upload their digital images from digital cameras, memory cards, mobile phones and CDs to a third-party online server. You can then create albums and slide shows and invite friends to view them.
As well as sharing your photos, these sites store them for you, so if your computer fails and loses all its data, you can still access your photos.
Flickr is one of the best-known photo sharing sites. It allows you to upload 100Mb of images each month and add captions and titles. KodakGallery.co.uk goes one step further and can print your pictures as well as share them (see above).
While this sharing service is promoted as free, the small print reveals you do have to make a purchase every 12 months - if you don't, your photos will be deleted.
Elsewhere, social network site Facebook allows you to upload photos to your profile for your ‘friends’ to see. They can also ‘tag’ you in their photos. The site estimates that about nine million photos are uploaded every day.