When it comes to printing your digital photos, you have two options: develop and print your photos at home, or utilize local or online printing services. Practically speaking, for someone who only needs to print occasionally, using printing services may seem like the better and more cost-efficient option. Maintaining your own photo printer at home, however, may actually be beneficial. With home printing, you can control and manage every single detail of the process, from resources to cost, whenever you print.
Online printing services (also referred as e-printing, digital printing, print-on-demand, etc.) are typically touted as the best way to print just about anything, which is basically true. They are very flexible, allowing customers to choose from a variety of packages starting from around $0.10-$1.00, depending on the quality and materials used. And you have a wide variety of photo or specialty paper at your fingertips. Home printing, on the other hand, can be limiting, whether we like to admit it or not. The output you can get will depend on whatever resources you can afford to have in stock. Thus, if you need a really professional-looking document, then you better have the right supplies at hand.
You may now be wondering: Why I shouldn’t dump my print buddy and switch to those printing services? Hold on, guys! Both ways have good and bad points. We just have to weigh a few things up here before you make any moves.
Home Printing: What Can It Do For Me?
Look at your own printer, but don’t get sentimental. Just imagine how simple it makes everything for you. Plain text, reports, graphics, office files, business documents, photos and images are just some materials that it can produce. Some consumers even consider it as an investment to have a printer. The initial cost of such devices is fairly low nowadays, ranging from $135-$500+ (based on the review posted in CNET by Calvin Yu, entitled Best Photo Inkjet Printers).
Of course, there are supplies you need to buy first, like paper media and printer ink. However, in general, the overall cost per page of printing at home is much cheaper than the combined cost of charges that you have to pay for any printing services. Plus, you don’t have to walk through all the necessary processes involved in ordering online. You also don’t have to wait until the package gets delivered to your doorstep, even if it is just a day or two (unless you’re willing to drive to the store for a pickup).
Here’s another noteworthy advantage of home printing: with the right tool — I mean with a really competitive photo inkjet printer that can match up with the quality of prints one can get from a printing service — there’s no need for you to spend a couple of bucks per print when you can print with almost the same quality at the comfort of your home. That ultimately leads to the question: Which printer to choose? Well, that depends on your demands. Again consider it as an investment. A high-end model may run to a couple of hundred dollars more, simply because of extra features. So, first check the level of quality it can produce, as features and functionality may follow.
Printing Services: Why Should I Choose Them?
Firstly, let’s feature some of the best printing service providers that everyone talks about in the print industry. Here are some of the well-known online digital printing services you might want to look at:
SnapFish – Owned by Hewlett-Packard and membership is free. It offers storage, manageability and quality combined. It has a wide selection of photo gift categories, including calendars, posters, mugs, stationery, blankets, and clothing, as well as products and accessories for home and office. Pricing starts at $0.09 per print.
ShutterFly – Has an online community blog for members, where showcasing and learning awesome print projects are possible. Members can have a personal space (blog/site with a personalized URL) to host their own gallery with unlimited space. Plus network sharing is one of its fun features. Typical digital prints and photo gifts are covered. Pricing starts at $0.15 per print.
SmugMug – Recommended for photographers. It provides your own gallery, which can be viewed publicly or exclusively. Be sociable with your networks via the Like, Tweet, and Bookmark buttons for each photo. It’s more than just a digital photo printing service. Pricing starts at $0.19 per print.
York Photo – It requires membership and is more like a social networking site, rather than a printing service. Covering all basic digital prints and photo gifts, like playing cards, homewares and home décor. Pricing starts at $0.08 per print.
These four services come under the digital photo printing services category, which also includes:
- Walgreens Photo Center
- Walmart Photo Center
- Sam’s Club Digital Photo Center
- Costco Photo Center (Requires membership starting at $55)
And here’s a shortlist of the top competing online printing services currently available to choose from:
- U Printing
- FedEx Office
- Next Day Flyers
- Vista Print
- Overnight Prints
- Print Place
- Print Pelican
- 48Hour Print
- PS Print
Note that online printing services may cover fewer categories and features when compared to digital photo printing services with a wider scope. Online printing services are best suited for printing standard business documents and marketing materials. Whereas, digital photo printing services, as the name itself implies, are bound to satisfy the specific needs of digital photography.
Online Printing Services: Tax And Shipping Cost
Tax and shipping charges are applied on top of the total purchase amount of prints you ordered. So to give you an idea, let’s use SnapFish’s shipping standards and product pricing (prices were originally taken from their official website). Shipping and handling fees vary from different online printing services.
In SnapFish, once an order has been placed, order processing takes 2-4 business days. Orders using standard shipping take 3-4 business days, so your order should be at your doorstep in 5-8 business days.
For pricing, here’s a table of the calculated shipping cost for a 4×6 print order. Take note that state and local sales tax will be applied to all orders.
Quality-wise, these online photo printing services are indeed reliable, but can be costly and time-consuming. Should you need better print quality than you think your own printer can possibly deliver, then I guess it won’t hurt to spend your hard-earned money on some online printing services once in a while. Furthermore, a dedicated photo-inkjet printer comes with limitations. Most cannot print on mugs and shirts, for example! Primarily, it is the quality that you’re after, not to mention the perks that come with all these great services.
Now in light of all this new information, have you thought of putting up your own online printing service? Kidding aside, home printing can also perform some of the options being offered by websites. On top of printing out photos, having your own inkjet printer allows you to print business documents or school reports. A home printer is more than capable of fulfilling most of your needs. You just have to learn how to use it properly to fit to your preferences.