The basic set up and tools needed for printing photos at home.

When it comes to showing photos, nothing has quite the same emotional impact as a printed picture when you hold it in your hand.

Sadly, few photos shot today actually get printed – even though most devices come with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that make it easy to connect phones and printers. Most are taken with smartphones and automatically consigned to the Gallery app on the phone, where they may be reviewed occasionally but are frequently forgotten as subsequent photos get taken.

Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth make it easy to print your photos directly from your phone. (Source: Canon.)

Printing at home
It has never been easier to print your photos at home – or more affordable and environment-friendly. Thanks to new printers with refillable ink tanks, the costs of running your printer have also reduced dramatically – and the waste associated with single-use, low-capacity ink cartridges has been largely eliminated.

Printers with refillable ink tanks save you money in the long run and are more environment friendly. Models that use six inks, like the one shown above, produce better-looking photo prints than 4-ink models, which are designed mainly for general business use. (Source: Epson.)

Add to that the wireless connectivity technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which are embedded in even basic printers to make it easy to print from your digital devices. We’re also seeing more ‘print-anywhere’ devices emerging, some of them stylish enough to be included among home entertainment devices.

Having a home printer lets you make prints in your own home any time you want. This is great for people who live in rural areas and outer suburbs many kilometers from the nearest camera store or printing outlet.

Many of the latest printers are stylish enough to be set up in home and office environments for spontaneous printing of photos from cameras as well as smartphones and other portable devices. (Source: Epson.)

Most inkjet printers you buy today produce prints that match the quality of typical photolab prints – and you can usually obtain a regular snapshot print within a minute or less and at a lower cost. Today’s printers also use more durable inks so prints will last longer than prints from the small dye-sublimation printers used for ‘instant’ printing – and even ‘traditional’ photo prints from chemical labs.

Printing at home lets you be more creative because you’re in charge of the entire process. You can decide whether and how to crop images, the types of borders to include (or whether to print borderless) and the media to print on – which needn’t always be paper. Your printer can also turn your photos into iron-on transfers or print labels on optical discs.

Special iron-on transfer media are available for printing your favourite photos at home on fabric items like T-shirts. Make sure you choose the one most suitable for the background colour of the fabric you plan to print on. (Source: Canon.)

It’s easy to switch seamlessly between colour and monochrome printing – and customise the both. You can also create your own greeting cards, calendars, posters and photo books and decorate pages with scrapbooking artwork. We explain how to do some of these things in the next chapter.

Choosing a printer

Many people have home printers for handling routine office tasks; some are laser printers, but the rest are inkjet printers. Laser printers are good for general office printing but they can’t produce photo quality prints. As well as being cheaper to buy and run, inkjet printers are the best performers as well as the most versatile.

‘Instant’ printers like Fujifilm’s Instax and Canon’s Selphy models, only produce small prints, cost more to run and they don’t produce long-lasting photos. Designed for on-the-spot production hands, they’re handy when you need a quick print to share but quite costly to run.

We recommend models with refillable ink tanks because they’re environmentally friendly and will be the cheapest to run over time. You pay a bit more up-front for the printer but you’ll more than recoup the difference in price over a year or so in the money saved on inks.

The printer on the left is a four-ink model, while the one on the right is a photo printer that uses six inks. Both are designed for general office printing but the extra inks in the photo-capable model mean it will produce better-looking and longer-lasting photo prints. (Source: Epson.)

While most current models aren’t using the longest-lasting inks available, in most cases their photo prints will keep their colours and look good for at least 30 years, according to recent tests. To find the right model you must know what you want the printer to do. This means deciding on:

1. The maximum size of the prints you make. Most inkjet printers can produce prints up to A4 size (210 x 297 mm), with some also capable of printing on paper longer than 297 mm but still 210 mm wide. Some special ‘photo’ printers can also print on papers up to A3+ (329 mm x 483 mm) size for creating poster prints. ‘Professional’ A2 printers are also available – but they’re large and pricey.

2. How you plan to use your prints. Prints that are stored in albums and shared with friends are best kept to smaller sizes like 100 x 150 mm or 125 x 175 mm. Larger prints are usually framed or displayed in some other way.

You need a photo-capable inkjet printer if you want to create a collection of framed family photos for display in your home or office.

3. How important it is for your prints to be colour-accurate and detailed. The number of ink colours the printer uses dictates the range of colours and tones it can reproduce. Basic office printers use only four ink colours: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. In theory, all colours should be reproducible by combining varying proportions of these colours. Because it’s difficult to obtain pure enough ink colours to produce true ‘photo quality’ prints from only four inks, printers with extra inks – typically grey, light cyan and light magenta – often match the quality of traditional photo prints.

4. If you’d like to be able to make high-quality black-and-white prints, having one or more grey inks in the ink set enables the printer to produce the continuous range of tones required for a good looking B&W print.

5. How long you want your prints to last. Some prints are only produced for short-term use; others are precious archives. Photo printers that use dye inks like Canon’s ChromaLife 100 or Epson’s Claria inks produce prints that can keep their vibrant colours for 30 years on compatible photo quality paper. (Pigment ink printers produce the longest-lasting prints – but they’re seldom available in A4 size for home users.)

6. Your budget. Refillable-ink printers should be viewed as long-term investments; you’ll pay more up-front but you’ll save over time as they come with enough ink to print up to 4,900 document pages, or 1,800 snapshot-sized (4 x 6 inch) photos. While reviewing inkjet printers, we’ve calculated the cost in ink to print one A4 photo in colour with a six-ink refillable printer, is around 40 cents, compared with roughly $3 per print for similar printers that use cartridges.

7. How you want to connect with the printer. Most printers offer Wi-Fi connectivity with Wi-Fi Direct and Ethernet support plus Bluetooth support for Apple AirPrint, Canon PRINT and other mobile apps. You can also connect them to your computer via USB and some printers include SD card slots that let you print directly from a camera’s memory card. (These printers have small LCD screens that display thumbnails to let you select pictures on the card for printing.)

8. The printer’s energy efficiency. This information is easy to check in the printer’s technical specifications. Modern printers are quite energy-efficient, with power consumption averaging 20-25 Watts when printing and dropping to less than one Watt in standby mode.

Avoid cheap inks

You’ll get the best results and longest-lasting prints if you stick with the inks recommended by your printer’s manufacturer. The inks are particularly important because they’ve been designed for your printer.

This samples sheet shows the differences in fade-resistance between the printer manufacturer’s inks (top row) and two cheaper ink sets purchased from a supermarket (middle row) and office supplies store (bottom row).

Although there may be cheaper inks on sale in supermarkets and department stores, using them is risky for the following reasons:

1. There is no way to guarantee the performance of third-party inks and no evidence they were produced with adequate quality control or whether they are suitable for a specific printer.

2. Cheap ink cartridges are often poorly-manufactured and may be susceptible to leakage, allowing inks to spread inside the printer’s electronics and mechanical components. This can damage cables, circuit boards and associated mechanical parts.

3. Many cheap inks are also too acidic and can etch the nozzles in the print head.

If you combine different ink types and formulations by buying from different manufacturers, the chemicals in the inks may react and coagulate. This will clog and damage print heads and may cause internal damage to the printer.

Paper choices

Although it’s usually best to use the papers and other media recommended by the printer manufacturer, as long as you choose media that are recommended for inkjet printing, you can look at other media. However, cheap papers seldom give you long-lasting prints with accurate colours.

To maintain your chances of high-quality prints, look for papers made by reputable manufacturers such as Ilford, Canson, Hahnemuhle and Red River Paper, which are available through specialty shops. Specialist media like stick-on papers and fabrics, iron-on transfers, printable vinyl and canvas and optical discs with printable labels are also available through office supplies stores.

Specialist paper manufacturers like Ilford produce a wide range of papers which can be seen at your local camera shop. 

When it comes to making photo prints, you can choose between glossy, semi-gloss (or ‘Pearl’) and matte papers – the choice depends on your personal taste and how you plan to use the end result. Glossy photo paper is shiny and gives prints a rich appearance with sharp definition and vivid colours, although prints on glossy media are vulnerable to fingermarks.

Matte papers are smooth to the touch but the colours in photos aren’t quite as vibrant as those on glossy papers. However, matte prints are immune to fingermarks and some are available with slightly textured surfaces that suit different projects. If you plan to frame prints behind glass, the difference between glossy and matte prints is minimised and the prints usually look very similar.

Useful links

Printed photo durability

Printer, ink and paper tips

This article by Margaret Brown is an excerpt from Shoot to Share pocket guide 

Pocket guide Partner: Camera House