The Pro’s and Con’s of Do-It-Yourself Photoprinting
The day after we arrived home in December of 2003, we headed out to buy a photoprinter so as to print all of our digital photos for the year ourselves. The previous year (our first year with the digital camera) we had our photos developed by Walmart. We were satisfied with the overall quality of their printing but not by the chopping off of the top and bottom of each photo. We had carefully mastered the skill of ‘filling the screen’ when we took our photos, so the systematic trimming was destroying some of our carefully composed shots.
The photo cropping is done by Walmart and other photodevelopers to resolve the discrepancy between the proportions of the images taken by the camera and the proportions of the standard paper size. Silly me—I assumed that little detail had been worked out behind the scenes by the photo industry. Wrong! Though we weren’t convinced that we would save any money by “doing it yourself,” we were convinced that we would be happier with the final products.
We bought an HP 7760 printer. It wasn’t a carefully researched decision but we took the leap because it was the product that the places we liked to shop carried and it was available for a good price. We assumed that the big name brands were all producing comparable products in this very competitive market and that we couldn’t go too far wrong. We compared models and brands offering the specifications that we cared most about and ended up with the HP.
After printing out about 1000 photos in the period of a few weeks, here’s what we learned about the advantages and disadvantages of doing your own photoprinting:
superb photo size flexibility
great quality (once they’re completely dried)
permits on-the-spot reprinting or easily making copies for friends
24 hour drying time before stacking photos is a logistics problem for mass printing (as in “Where do you spread out 50 sheets of paper?”)
because of the drying time, each page has to be removed from the printer before the next photo pops out, leading to a big babysitting job (we thought we’d set it up to print 50 or a 100 photos and walk away)
photoprinting ties up the computer as each 8½” x 11” page takes 3-4 minutes to print
a little more expensive than budget-priced commercial developing
maximizing the use of the expensive ink cartridges also requires sitting by the printer (to watch for color quality degradation)
each photo has to be trimmed (to separate prints on an 8 ½” x 11” sheet or for a symmetrical border around 4 x 6’s)
Most of the challenges with the photoprinter were because we needed to print a large volume of photos over a short period of time—one thousand pictures in 2 weeks. So for that kind of volume, the dedicated use of the computer and mandatory babysitting of the printer definitely structured how we spent our time each day. But despite the aggravations, do-it-yourself photoprinting is a great option for us.
The control over photo size alone made it worth the trouble. We prefer 3” x 5” photos to 4”x 6” for the simple reason that we can put more photos on an album page, but the developing industry has dropped the 3” x 5” format. With the 3” x 5”’s and an oversized album we can put 7 or more photos to a page, giving us a more intense album-page-flipping experience.
Bill tinkered with the photoprint software and adjusted the print size of all of our photos to a non-standard 3.75” by 5” so as to include the entire image we had captured and eliminate the occasional dismembering of our photo subjects . Yes, we had been trying to take this printing problem into account when we took the photos the second year, but it is wonderful to no longer worry about the ‘lopping’ problem.
Print size control also delivered royally with the grand panoramas Bill took. He is mastering the challenges of taking 3 or 4 successive photos of something like an Alp’s mountainscape and then connecting the photos with the software. Commercially, the assembled photo is still printed out on 4” x 6”. But with our own printer, Bill can have 4” x 10” or any proportion he can fit on an 8½” x 11’ sheet of paper for his long, skinny and dramatic panoramas.
For us, doing our own photoprinting was a great success. There were more inconveniences associated with large-volume printing than we expected, but they were all manageable. If we had the decision to make again, we’d definitely buy a photoprinter in a flash. And Bill will be able to speed up the printing process a little bit next year by creating the photo lay-out files while we are on the road instead of doing it at the time of printing.