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I am looking for a printer that can be used at home for printing photos. I am not expecting very high quality prints, but want ones that can last for a couple of years without much color loss.

And obviously the paper & cartridge cost would have to be equal or lesser when compared to getting the prints from a studio. Any suggestions and your experience if you're printing at home?

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@Mouli: What's your price range? How large do you want to be able to print your pictures? –  Jay Lance Photography Apr 29 '11 at 9:04
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@Mouli: Also, you'll almost never find a situation where you can compete at home with a basic mass-market lab on price. Unless you are extremely diligent at strictly managing your costs and waste, printing at home is generally far more expensive than sending them out... If you're diligent, it will possibly only be slightly more expensive than a lab. What printing at home does is give you control over your prints. Disclaimer: The above applies to the US. It also probably applies to other countries as well, but I have no experience printing photographs anywhere but in the US. :-) –  Jay Lance Photography Apr 29 '11 at 9:09
    
Hi Jay, between USD 100-200, mostly 4X6, 6X8 and may be if it works - 8X12.. thanks for the reply. –  Mouli Apr 29 '11 at 9:12
    
@Jay In Soviet Russia, the prints have control over YOU. –  koiyu Apr 29 '11 at 12:23
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For 4x6 prints, you can't compete with a mass-market lab. For larger prints, you can compete but only with a substantial up-front investment -- ink cost is usually inverse to printer cost. As @Jay Lance said, the advantage you gain is in control and quality, not cost. –  Jerry Coffin Apr 29 '11 at 14:34

4 Answers 4

I've given up on making prints at home. I've had various inkjet photo printers over the years, from Canon to Epson to HP. I've never had the high-end models, but I've had some from mid-range on down.

And, I got good results from the mid-range ones, and it's true that they offer more flexibility, but the constant problem I had was not printing enough. This meant that every time I went to print, ink had dried out, and the print heads needed to be cleaned and realigned. Not only was this tedious and annoying, but the wasted ink drove up the costs.

If you're doing serious work and need the control and utmost quality, a high-quality printer makes sense. Otherwise, I think a printing service is usually the best bet.

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I hear this very valid and practical suggestion... thank you very much –  Mouli May 2 '11 at 9:55

For your stated budget-- $100-$200-- I'd stick with going to a place like Costco, Walgreens, etc. They will make your prints with 'reasonable defaults', meaning that the colors will be predictably saturated, but they won't give you prints with border problems, with the colors wildly off (green skin tones, etc, unless you took a picture of The Hulk), and won't charge you if they mess up.

My home printing experience is limited to an Epson r800, and I moved to a Canon Pro 9500 Mark II, as per this question here. Both of these printers require calibration, and the only calibration solution that I've found has been one that combined both monitor and printer calibration (as per this question here). Prior to that, I would end up with strange color artifacts, such as bad skin tones and incomplete gradients ('stairstepping', where you can see individual tones).

One benefit of home printing is that you can mess with paper options past the standard 'matte', 'glossy', and 'luster.' But when weighed against the cost of ink (one set of inks for the Canon is ~$130, or most of your budget), it's just far more cost effective to use one of these labs.

Another benefit of home printing, though, is privacy. If you're printing photos you don't want other people to see at all, then home printing is the way to go. I just think that, to do it right, requires a lot of preparation and groundwork that is beyond your budget.

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"but they won't give you prints with border problems" - depends on how wide are your borders. I had problems with precise printing at Walgreens. Printing 11x8 of this photo.stackexchange.com/questions/7784/…, where the borders are just a couple of mm, I had to trim out the outer frame b/c the print was skewed enough to notice the asymmetry. –  ysap Apr 30 '11 at 6:01
    
@ysap-- that's pretty miserable. Did they at least offer to reprint, or a refund? –  mmr May 1 '11 at 17:48
    
Thanks for the answer. I agree with you totally! –  Mouli May 2 '11 at 9:56

I have a Epson R2400 I bought off Ebay for $100. It can produce excellent prints but is very tempermental & can go though a ton of ink ($130 for a whole set of inks which get used up really quickly). I've had two head cleanings in the last 8 months at about $80 a pop & the printer still will occasionally have banding issues (this is where you can see horizontal lines in the print from the printhead). Occasionally it will print flawlessly.

  1. If you are semi-serious (or more) about your photography then you gotta learn to print yourself--there just isn't any other way for you to get a handle on print quality until you start digging in the weeds. This means $ and time and frustration. It also means that you start learning all the details that go into making good prints (i.e inksets, printhead technologies, RIP drivers, photoshop tweaks, color corrections, etc). Sending your images to the big black box may get you acceptable and even great prints, but you won't have a clue about how to make it better because you will be completely divorced from that knowledge quotient. So maybe you don't keep printing yourself, but after becoming painfully familiar with the complications and what works/doesn't you will be a much better consumer of send-it-out labs.

  2. You can get very high quality printers (such as the R2400) on Ebay for relatively cheap--it's the inks that cost ya. And you really have to print a lot to keep the ink moving through the print head, making clogs less likely.

  3. Paper makes a big difference. Printing at home gives you the opportunity to try basically any paper out there. You will start to get a feel of certain papers strengths and weaknesses and how certain images may benefit from one paper over another.

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Thanks very much for the extremely practical thoughts. I love your point no#1 and infact thats one of my interests to dig deep into the printing... many thanks for the answer. –  Mouli May 2 '11 at 9:58
    
"Occasionally it will print flawlessly." Well that's something to look for in a printer, heh. –  Bob Feb 17 '12 at 18:43

Both Epson and Canon make very well respected photo printers. The Epson R printers and the Canon Pro printers make extremely good quality photos that will last many many years, and are suitable for sales. But, they can be pricey. Lower level models in the Epson and Canon line make serviceable prints, especially if you purchase one that has several ink cartridges on board, and you use high quality paper. The more ink cartridges in the printer the better the color range and quality in your print...typically. I would avoid printers that rely on a single color cartridge, which has three small pots for three colors.

Now, a personal recommendation for a printer I love at home: Canon Selphy printer. These are compact dye-sub printers that print only 4x6 prints, but these prints are indistinguishable from those you would get at your average photo printer (Walgreens, Target, Walmart, etc). They print fast, are waterproof, smudge free, and cost about $0.25 each, when you buy a large pack of ink and paper. I have an older Selphy 400, and its fantastic to make prints for the fridge, guests to take home, or for Grandma. While its only 4x6, that's basically what most people get from Walmart, etc anyway. Look at the Canon Selphy 780 or 800 currently available.

So the bulk of my casual printing is done on the Selphy, and I really no longer print on my photo printer (an old Canon 850), instead I send them off to Mpix or the Smugmug printer for larger images.

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Have you, by any chance, tried printing BW images with your Selphy? –  koiyu Apr 29 '11 at 18:06

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