Should You Print Your Own Photos, or Pay a Professional to Do It?

Every photographer — every photographer — ought to print their work at least once. But if you want to do it more regularly, what's the best option? Should you buy a proper photo printer, or keep paying printing companies to do it?

I went far too long without printing my photography. Well, actually, that's not strictly true. My first attempt was within my first 6 months with a camera, and it was an underexposed shot onto a dull canvas at some dreadful website that primarily printed cards. I was thoroughly put off and didn't bother for years. Then, I printed a few images for family and friends and improved at it, but it wasn't until I was a professional photographer that I took it seriously.

In my first month of being a full time photographer, I had an enquiry to create some rather bizarre wall art for them. They produced industrial drill bits (6 feet in length, so massive) and they would like some wall art that showed what they do. I ended up shooting the welders as they did their thing and the resulting images were good, but I knew the prints had to be even better. So, I did some research and found a printing company in Scotland that I decided to try. They ended up being superb (the company is Loxley Colour — I wasn't paid for that plug and they'll never see this post I shouldn't think!) and the wall art they helped me create pleased the client. Since then I've printed all sorts with them and I'm looking to print a lot more, which is where this question comes in.

Having moved into a new house, I want to print a lot of my work and I wondered: should I buy an expensive printer and do it myself, or should I keep paying people who do it for a living? What do you do?

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g coll's picture

But there are people who are better than you at printing. They will get better results than you. Why not pay for their services?

Timothy Roper's picture

Like the film labs experts, who try to make every photo look like a high-key wedding photo.

Deleted Account's picture

If you haven't ran across Jose, Check him out.
I print my own for all it's worth. I have a Canon Pro-10 (pigment) (people and some other things) and Pro-100 (dye)(landscapes and flowers).

microteck's picture

I tried printing photos on my HP Office Printer (cheap one) and ran into two problems. Photos with dark areas take a lot of ink which increases the cost. And if my fingers are damp the ink runs and smudges the photo. So I have them printed the old fashion way.

Scott Ishiyama's picture

I'm not a professional photographer, but I find value in printing my own work. For me, seeing a print initiates a helpful feedback loop. I've learned to be less heavy-handed with some edits, and to explore different techniques to get the look I want. On those occasions when I succeed, it helps me to see possibilities in shots I might otherwise have overlooked. I've only been printing for a year or two, and feel it's been one of the best decisions I've made to keep me excited and looking for new things to try.

Dave McDermott's picture

With printing companies you have more options like posters and photobooks. I recently got an A3 book and I'm very happy with it. I've tried printing my own stuff too but it can be bit of a headache tying to get it right.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

I don’t think it is possible to edit images on a screen and print remote, and get back what you want. But if you do then you have the choice:)

I think a a3 printer like Canon Pro-10 and a calibrated monitor is minimum. After printing and adjusting at home, it’s more predictable what to expect from printer, if you need large print.

I think it is nice to make prints, but it’s challenging to. In the beginning it was hard to make the prints right. The looked dark. Only after I realized you need good bright light where you look at prints, I could get it right. I think that’s a common problem starring off.

Andrew Hayter's picture

I have to way cost with quality. I know the quality is under my control when I print myself, but I must way the cost per print. Ink is very expensive. Paper is very expensive. In the good old darkroom days of B&W cost was not as much a factor. Today cost is a major factor. I've used one outside printer (Adoramapix) with good to great results. Still I love seeing my work roll off my own printer.

David Pavlich's picture

Red River has print ink cost per print on their webpage. I use an Epson P800 and print a lot of 16X24s. I buy rolls and 17X25 sheets. Ink costs about $3.75 per print and using RR metallic luster paper, about $4.20 a sheet. So in raw numbers, the prints are not expensive. Of course, you have to add in depreciation numbers for your printer and if you're so inclined, your time.

I sell prints, so I like the fact that I have instant access to printing and can customize sizes to work for any special orders. There's a bit of a learning curve, but once your workflow is established, it's second nature.

Matter of fact, I'm heading out to the garage right now to make a couple of frames. I do that part as well. :-)

Michelle Maani's picture

Are you any good at it? Will it save you money? Then do it yourself. If you aren't any good at it, have the experts do it.