Whether you print your own images or use one of the many photo print services, your best option will depend on the following…

  1. How big you want to print them;
  2. How much time you have to produce prints;
  3. The space available for your own printer;
  4. How long you want your prints to last;
  5. How you want to display the prints.

Output sizes

If you’re happy with snapshot-sized (150 x 100 mm) prints, there are plenty of services to choose from, with prices starting from as little as 10 cents each and 200 x 250 mm prints available for $2 each. Some services offer ‘poster’ sized 300 x 450 mm prints for less than $20 and 500 x 750 mm prints for around $40 each.

There are plenty of printing services, both online and in stores, that will print your photos at different sizes on the media of your choice.

When shopping for a printing service, pay attention to the printing technology used. In-store kiosks connect to the store’s regular printing equipment, which may be traditional but, these days, is more likely to be longer-lasting digital technology.

Fujifilm’s Imagine kiosks provide easy access to a wide variety of digital printing and gift ordering services. (Source: Fujifilm.)

You may need to check the website thoroughly to find out whether it’s traditional or digital. Lower-priced services like those provided by supermarkets and mass market suppliers tend to use traditional media that is processed with liquid chemicals.

More up-market digital services use ‘dry’ processes based upon inkjet technology (known as ‘Giclée‘ by some services), printed with equipment such as the Noristsu Digital Minilab and Canon DreamLabo machines or offset printing with the HP Indigo or Xerox Versant digital presses. (Both types of equipment are commonly used by photobook suppliers.)

If you want prints larger than A4 size (297 x 210 mm), it’s more economical to print your photos at home. Home-based printing will also give you the option to choose the longest-lasting ink-and-paper combinations, with some having permanence ratings of 400 years or more.

Inkjet printers are relatively cheap because manufacturers make most of their profits through selling inks and papers. You can buy a four-colour, multi-function (print/copy/scan) device that will make quite good photo prints up to A4 size for less than $50, although for better quality you’ll need to pay over $120 for a five or six-ink unit.

Dedicated photo printers that can handle A3+ paper start at around $330 for a five-ink model and $499 for a six-ink printer. (See factors that should influence your choice in Chapter 2 of Photo Printing pocket guide.)

Inkjet printers are the most popular for printing at home.

Time and space considerations

It takes time to produce attractive-looking prints – and even more time to learn the ins and outs of running a desktop printer. Both need to be factored into your choice when deciding how to print your best photos. Working people lead busy lives; for time-poor people outsourcing will often be the only option.

For those with the time and interest, this pocket guide provides a basic guide to help you ‘learn the ropes’ and understand how to save time and materials. But you’ll need to take the time to read it and devote time to printing before you become proficient.

You also require space for the printer. Most photo-capable A4 desktop printers have relatively small footprints, typically around 350 x 400 mm (or smaller). Printers that can output A3+ sized prints (483 x 329 mm) are closer to 500mm wide but usually less than 400 mm deep. You can also buy desktop printers capable of A2 (594 x 420 mm) output, although they’re substantially larger and more expensive.

Print durability

Digital printing technologies will usually produce prints that keep their colours for longer than prints made on traditional photo media, which can start to fade within 20 years.  However, prints made on the most durable traditional papers can resist fading for up to 60 years when stored in albums.

The quickest-fading printing technology is dye sublimation, which was pioneered by Polaroid and is currently used in Canon’s Selphy photo printers and Fujifilm’s Instax cameras and printers. The process uses heat to transfer dyes from a ribbon onto specially-coated paper, producing a continuous tone print. The media are brand-specific and supplied as an integrated paper/ink set which is loaded into the printer.

Fujifilm’s instax cameras, which produce instant prints from recorded images, are market leaders in dye sublimation technology. (Source: Fujifilm.)

Unfortunately, the dyes used can fade in as little as 3-6 years, although some dye-sub printers claim up to 100-years longevity. They also tend to perform poorly when black and white prints are required because it is very difficult to achieve neutral monochrome results by mixing colour inks. (The same is true for inkjet printing.)

For those making their own prints, inkjet inks from the main printer manufacturers have lightfastness ratings of at least 50 years for prints framed behind glass and 200 years or more when stored in albums. (We provide more detailed information on the various ink types available in Chapter 3 of Photo Printing pocket guide.)

Print to preserve

Printed photos are the most permanent way to store your favourite images. It’s easy to keep photo prints in albums and larger prints can be mounted and framed for display on your walls. Photo books have become increasingly popular – and there are plenty of options to choose from.

Printed photo books, like this example from Australian supplier, Momento, represent a safe and secure way of preserving photographic records of important events like trips and family celebrations. (Credit – Michael Harris – Lay-flat-Lustre-Paper – Clamshell Box.)

Article by Margaret Brown

Excerpt from Photo Printing pocket guide