I want to print photographs that I've taken over the last ten years or so - a few hundred photographs - and put them into albums (mostly) or boxes so they can be looked at easily.
Mostly they are personal and family photographs. Quite a lot of them are photo stories of trips or events.
I want them to be around for a hundred years or more.
Some are digital photographs, others are scanned negatives. Most are colour, but a lot recently are B&W - but I think I could print those myself in the darkroom, if other B&W printing options are not of sufficiently high quality.
I rarely take digital photographs any more, and my pictures now are almost all on 35mm film and negatives that I've scanned (and sometimes developed) myself.
I'd appreciate some advice - not so much about particular brands, models or commercial services, but about what approach to pursue. I think it is probably of more general use to talk about different technologies and systems than particular devices or services - but if you think any are worth mentioning, please do.
What I want
- high image quality
- consistent, reliable results
- print longevity
- small format (I'll very rarely want anything larger than 7x5 or 6x4)
- control over the output (format, borders etc)
In a printer specifically, I don't have any need for built-in scanners, general printing functionality, direct printing from cameras, etc. I don't even care about speed. Simply: I want the highest-possible quality output.
I don't mind spending money to get the results, but I am very tired of spending money and time and not getting the results I wanted.
In the past I've had disappointing results with both printing services and printing at home:
- Snapfish prints that mercilessly and without warning cropped all my photos to their format, and made all human flesh look like vaguely beige plastic
- Apple photobooks in which people looked like raw meat
- a Canon Pixma MP970 (a six-ink device) that deeply resented any period of disuse; after an initial success, I was never able to clean the heads to a point that I could not see visible banding and lines, however faint, in the output
So far, it feels that I wasted a lot of effort and money (not to mention ink and paper while trying to clean printing heads) with little to show for it.
These results have been so disappointing that they put me off getting photographs printed for several years.
My skills and experience
My digital photographs come from a variety of cameras. My negatives have been scanned in professionally when I've had them developed, or scanned at home by me with VueScan and a Nikon CoolScan slide scanner (in both cases with mixed results).
I've never been able to find a workflow that is satisfactory, reproducible and comprehensible for scanning and printing (scanning in particular seems to involve working the controls of a badly-explained black box).
I understand quite a lot of the theory of image quality and colour management, but turning that into practical skills that allow me to operate all the machinery and materials with confidence and satisfactory results has eluded me.
At the same time, it's very obvious and irritating to me when something is wrong with an image (colour fidelity, banding, lack of definition, printer artefacts) that other people often seem not to see - but finding the connection between a problem and the way I am using the equipment is another matter.
In other words, so far there's a gap between the skills I have been able to develop, and the standards I want to achieve when doing the work myself.
I can see a number of options.
Buy a photo printer
1. High quality inkjet photo printer
If there were a small format printer of the quality of say Epson's SureColor P600, I would be tempted to invest in that (I even considered buying a P600 with some friends to share the cost - but the thing is huge).
I'd hope that a dedicated photo printer like that would help avoid the issues I've encountered previously, as described above.
However, nearly all smaller inkjet printers nowadays seem to be all-purpose devices, and not aimed at the need to reproduce photos in very high quality. I feat the risk that I'd just be back to where I was with my Canon MP970, fighting with inkjet nozzles and printhead artefacts and mysteriously inconsistent results.
2. Buy some other dedicated photo printer
As well as inkjet printers, there are dye-sublimation printers such as Canon's Selphy devices.
I've never been able to get my hands on one, so I don't know what the quality is really like, and whether it can match the output of a good inkjet printer on good paper.
I also don't know how well these photos last.
Use a printing service
I'm in UK/Netherlands, if that makes a difference.
3. Buy individual prints made from my files
Aside from one extremely disappointing result, I don't have much experience with the services that are available.
I also don't have much faith in them - I have seen the kind of rubbish that people consider to be acceptable results (it's amazing to me that in 2018 the average standard for ordinary printed snaps seems to be lower than the quality you'd get from your local photo shop more than 30 years ago).
I don't really know where I'd start trying to find a suitable service, given what I want.
4. Buy printed photo books
Photo books have an advantage that they take up less space, but at the same time a disadvantage that you can't remove a photo from the album for a closer look. Many of my photos are as I mentioned in self-contained photo stories, so perhaps this doesn't matter too much.
However, I've never seen any that were better than "just about OK" in quality. Experimenting to find a service that I like could be a very expensive business...
Have I missed any obvious options from the list above to meet my needs?
Am I approaching this question in the right way? Are there other things I need to consider?
I think the main question is whether to find a way to improve my skills and results at home, or to find a service that works for me.
I'm willing to put an investment of time and money into the former, if the results I want are obtainable - and I'm sure they must be.
I'm equally willing to pay for the latter, again if I can get the results I need.
Either way, I'd like to find something that works well for me, and stick to it.
I'm hoping for advice on the best approach; and after that I can work out what particular equipment or service to buy or use.