Your guide to Photo Printing
Although printed photographs are something of a rarity in the Instagram age - most of us content to flick through digital albums on our tablets and smart-phones - there remains an undoubted appeal to holding a physical picture in your hands. Fortunately, there are plenty of options available for those who want to keep alive the family tradition of leather-bound photo collections - from domestic printing stations to online delivery services.
Which one you plump for will obviously depend fore-mostly upon how often you need to print. If it's just the occasional family portrait you require, then it makes little sense to splash out on your own personal photo printing kit (particularly in light of the extortionate cost of ink and materials). You should also consider the style you are hoping to effect; a simple wallet snap is easy to do from the comfort of your office desk, but more ambitious projects - big wall shots, personalised calendars, picture journals, and so forth - are usually better left in the hands of the professionals.
If you do decide to invest in a home photo printer, the good news is the hardware itself is relatively inexpensive, with big-name brands such as HP and Canon offering basic printers at around £130 - these tend to strictly accommodate A4 and A5 prints, bigger ones the domain of more expensive models aimed at professional photographers. Ink cartridges, however, are quite another matter, costing around £30 to £50 a piece (and, bear in mind, photographs eat up much more ink than the average Word document). A pack of 50 glossed sheets will also set you back an additional £10.
Not convinced? Getting your photos done professionally can also be an expensive endeavour, but there are some obvious benefits too, not least higher quality, a wider array of choice and, of course, significantly less risk (mess up a print at home and your project ends up costing twice as much). Online services are fairly simple to use - you just have to upload your favourite snaps, select the print format you require and then wait for them to arrive in the post.
In the UK, probably the two most popular sites are Photobox and Snapfish, which offer standard-sized (6" x 4") photos from £0.05 and £0.07 respectively - this adds up once you start filling up your album, and there is a minimum spend requirement, but is a pretty reasonable price compared to the high street drop-in centres of 10 or 15 years ago. As you might expect, companies like these make the lion's share their money from their more elaborate prints - and you can choose from framed pictures, collages, DVDs, calendars, journals and even giant wall canvases if you're looking to add a personal touch to your living room. Tip: Photobox's customised movie posters usually go down well with the kids.
When it comes to choosing the type of finish on your prints, it really depends on the kind of look you are shooting for. The popular consensus is gloss prints are of a slightly higher quality, but the trade-off is they are also more susceptible to musky finger prints (a definite no-no for parents of young children). If you are planning to put your photos in a glass frame, then a matt finish is probably a better option, as gloss prints tend to clash with other reflective surfaces, particularly when exposed to direct sunlight.