View Full Version : Printing at home vs photo lab
I'm considering to buy a inject printer to print some of my work by scanning my negative at home. However, I just wondering how well is the print out from a home use inject printer in compare with the photo print from a photo lab. In addition, any suggestion for a printer which would do a great job?
Output can be very nice, depending on the printer and the inks. A GOOD photo printer is my next purchase, in distant future. I hear the Epson 2200 is an example of a quality photo printer that uses excellent ink.
I have also heard good things about the Epson 2200. A friend is a working pro and he uses one -- the shots he showed me from it were fantastic.
-- Home vs. lab printing is different when you're talking scanned negs vs. old-fashioned wet printing. For wet printing, "print at home" is always better (once you've mastered the skills) because you get exactly what you want, vs. what some lab machine wants.
In digital printing, you're doing all that decision-making onscreen, so the real test is how well the printer reproduces what you see on the screen. A lot of that has to do with monitor profiling, and that's easier to do with a home printer. But if you're working with the same photo lab every time, and if their process is reasonably consistent, you can profile to a lab printer too.
In terms of quality -- nobody here is going to like it, but I've used many of the top inkjet photo printers (I have personally worn out an Epson Stylus Photo, Stylus Photo XL, and Stylus Photo 1280, and currently have an R800, plus the HP printers we have at work) and I don't think that any of them produce results as good as a good photo-lab setup such as a Fuji Frontier system. If your lab's equipment isn't as good, then your results may not be as good... but if that's the case, why not use another lab?
Having a home inkjet does have advantages such as being able to get a print quickly, being able to get large prints less expensively (if you buy a wide-format printer) and the fact that you can experiment with different paper types and finishes. But if you're strictly after quality, I think a good lab can do better.
Again, I'll bet you that nobody is going to agree with this. (But when they tell you I'm full of it, ask them how many photo printers they've worn out.)
-- Don't rely on what you "hear." Although the 2200 has gotten good reviews and a lot of people like it, it may not be the best for you. Like the R800 and the forthcoming wide-carriage R1800, this is a pigment printer rather than a dye printer.
Pigment inks are supposed to be good for longevity (although HP's latest dye inks seem to do just as well as Epson's pigment inks in Wilhelm's latest cabalistic tests) but they don't have quite the vividness of color, and their surface sometimes looks a little funny when light hits it at different angles.
Look at output samples from various printers (ideally made from your own images) and make your choice on what looks best to you.
Like jlw, I haven't been too impressed by inkjets (although their results are quite good). I prefer sending my files and negs o my local lab. Their Noritsu 2901 is great and they know how to use it. I haven't seen an inkjet print that came close to a lab print yet. Not to mention the hassle of maintaining a home printer that is not used often enough... My Canon i950 is pretty much retired now.
On most prints, it can be hard to tell the difference (I have a Canon i860). If colour saturation is needed, then a lab print will likely be better, but I find that the paper that you're printing on, has the greatest effect.
I'm not sure what the situation is like in HK, but here in Toronto, 4x6 prints are almost 50% cheaper at the lab. 8x10's are ridiculously priced, usually 10x or 20x more expensive than a 4x6, even tho it's less than 4x larger. With a digital lab, this is just gouging the customer.
I do most of my prints at the lab, only 25cents/print CDN with next day pickup for 4x6. Almost all my 8x10's are done at home unless there's a special deal. I still print 4x6's for times when I don't/can't wait till the next day, or I need to play with the image a fair bit before I get it "right".
I also wore out a Stylus Photo 1280 and elected not to replace it. Personally I no longer print color at home -- it's not worth the trouble for me. I suggest not forming any opinions regarding the Epson 2200 until you have actually used one or examined the results -- it was remarkably better than anything I've seen from a home printer. I print B&W at home the old fashioned way -- stinky chemicals in a dark room, as God intended :angel:
I know a very successful commercial photographer who does even poster-size prints that sell for big bucks on an HP printer that uses 40-inch wide roll paper. He says it is more fade resistant than photo paper. He doesn't even't have a wet darkroom anymore. I use a medium quality range Epson that turns out prints that meet my needs and are certainly as good as those from a run-of-the-mill lab. Hope to get something better one of these days. But I couldn't go back to the hassle of a conventional darkroom now.
I know a very successful commercial photographer who does even poster-size prints that sell for big bucks on an HP printer that uses 40-inch wide roll paper. He says it is more fade resistant than photo paper.
Funny that should come up right now. There are two of those wide-format HP printers (DesignJet 5500s) running right behind me as I write this... I'm back in the output room, killing time online while waiting for my prints to come out of one of them.
About those big HPs: Their lightfastness certainly is very good if you're using the UV inkset rather than the photo-quality inkset (I don't believe the UV inks are available for HP's consumer printers.)
But on close examination, the print quality isn't as good as you'd get from a consumer photo-quality printer. This is particularly true of the black areas, which have a more visible dot pattern than you'd get with an Epson Stylus Photo or HP PhotoSmart printer.
Of course, nobody looks at poster-size prints that closely, which is why these big (and expensive) HPs are workhorses of the retail-display and advertising comp trades. But for a printer for your own photos, you might not be satisfied.
I've always said that the toughest test for print quality is ye olde 8x10 size... it's the largest print you're likely to view by holding it in your hand (as opposed to gazing at it on a wall) and if you're interested in the photo you're likely to scrutinize it closely.
Again, the moral is what several of us have been saying: look at output samples from various printers (preferably samples of the types of images YOU like to print) and decide based on what looks best to YOU.
Do a cost/benefits analysis - simple.
Take the estimated cost of consumables at today's prices. That's ink, paper, etc. Multiply that by number of times you'll have to repurchase consumables based on estimated use for a year. Add the cost of the printer. Divide by number of prints you estimate you'll make. This is your cost per print. Compare that to the cost per print of having prints made outside. One number is lower. That's the right one, all other factors being accounted for. This also considers the printer as being 'consumed' at the end of one year. If it lasts longer, your cost per print goes down - but not by that much. It is the consumables that eat you out of house and home.
Now, some things that can skew that logic:
1) If you don't use the printer that often, ink jets clog and dry out.
2) Sometimes prints don't come out so good - it takes several retries to get it the way you want to.
3) Your time printing versus your time dropping off and picking up prints.
In my case - things like me being colorblind. Not a good idea for me, eh?
I have found that for me - only for me - it is worth my time to scan negatives and then upload them to www.walmart.com's photo department. They have a pretty easy-to-use upload facility - I can crop, adjust, and then order prints in the sizes I wish. 4x6's are dead cheap. Larger sizes are not bad either. Then I place the order, pay online, and pick up the photos at my local wally world in an hour. Nice. I don't have a printer - don't want one, either. Printing technology just keeps getting better and better - let the photo dudes amortize the costs and take the risks.
A friend/pro photographer bought himself a Epson 2200 printer with calibration spider that profiles his screen and his printer, and although impressive, it doesn't come close to the output from our local pro lab.
I think inkjets are a convenience item, and although they might outshine high street labs, they've still a way to go before beating a pro lab. You can't help but notice the dot grain from inkjet output on the Epson 2200.
I can't comment on how ink jets compare to wet room processes, I definetly think
scan 35mm neg --> adjust in photoshop --> pro lab printing
gives you the most flexibility for the money. Most pro-labs will allow you to upload hi-definition TIFFs to get the best output.
I did the maths for myself too and decided that for me, it was better to have the negs scanned by the lab (9.95$CAN for 3000x2000px) and print there too (4.00$CAN for an 8x10). The scans are better than what I got from a Minolta Dual Scan IV without the hassle. Their corrections are so good I usually have nothing to do in PS but crop. The prints are gorgeous and since I don't print often, maintaining a printer at home doesn't make much sense to me.
I get pretty good prints from my Canon i950 for color, and I really like the black and white I get from my Epson C86 with MIS ultratone inks---- but they are nothing compared to the quality I get from an online lab, Mpix. 4x6 for 29 cents, 8x10 is $1.99. No matter how much you order, it's $4.95 shipping, arrives in about 3 days. I just got back a beautiful 16x20 mounted on double weight matboard for 23 bucks. I still print stuff at home, but when I want a really good print, I go for the lab. Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Mpix other than being a very happy customer.
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