For Photos, DIY Printing Isn’t Always Cheap (but some DIY processes are)

The NY Times has an article (bug me not) today on how printing digital photos at home isn’t necessarily a good deal compared to using an on-line service or a local retailer. Printer manufacturers like HP and Canon say their 4×6 printers make prints at a cost of around 30 cents, while folks like Consumers Union says it works out to more like 50.

I’ve done some home printing of photos on my inkjet, and I have to agree that the time and materials aren’t generally worth it, unless I just want to print out one or two pics without leaving the house. The Times article notes that larger pics, like 8×10, can be more economical to do at home (especially if you pick up your paper on clearance).

What I print at home tends to be draft versions of pics that I’ve doctored up in Photoshop, or pics in odd sizes.

But I really don’t print out so many pictures since I share photos online at Flickr. I save printing for the very best ones, or when I want to give photos away.

That said, until recently, I’ve done my photo printing at local stores which tend to charge more like 29 cents a print (I won’t have a Sam’s Club membership, especially not just to get 13 cent prints). So price is often a deterrent.

But recently Walgreen’s started offering 19 cent prints if you upload your pics online then pick them up in a local store.

(Yes, I would prefer use a locally owned shop, but here in Champaign-Urbana there’s almost nobody left. The last true pro photo processor is closing up shop any day now, and that’s where I took my good film, especially black and white.)

I really like this Walgreen’s upload option because it’s cheap, there’s no waiting for snail mail delivery and it saves me a trip, since I don’t have to travel to drop them off.

I do this for film, now, too. Instead of getting prints I just get developing, sometimes along with a CD. Then I can photoshop just the photos that turned out OK and have them printed. The scans I get from the likes of Walgreen’s from film range from decent to poor, apparently depending on who’s working the machine. I just bought an inexpensive film scanner (I only paid $79) that does 1800×1800 scans — about 3 megapixels — and actually turns out better results than what I typically get from Walgreen’s.

Even if you just use the Walgreen’s scans, it costs around $5 to get developing with a CD ($3 for developing alone), whereas it costs closer to $8 for developing and prints, and $10 for prints with a CD. Usually only a percentage of photos turn out well enough to want a lasting print, so you can really save some money over the course of a few rolls by only printing out the ones that you really like — not to mention cutting back on wasted prints that will only end up in a closet or trashcan somewhere.