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Print service versus quality 11X17 printer?

Discussion in 'Printing' started by CarlB, Jul 15, 2012.

  1. CarlB

    CarlB Mu-43 Veteran

    What are folks thoughts on printing: using a service versus "do-yourself-in?" :smile:

    I would like to start printing some of my photos, perhaps the largest approx. 11X17"

    If I'm going to be printing maybe 30 or so a year, what would be the advantages and disadvantages of either approach?

    Which way have you gone, and why?

    Anyone recommend good printers that don't clog much, and good quality printing services?

  2. meyerweb

    meyerweb Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Sep 5, 2011
    As with most things in life, there are trade-offs.

    How picky are you about getting exactly the image in your minds eye (or on the screen) onto paper? Or are you just looking for a "good" print? Do you use soft-proofing (in LR or PS) or something similar in an attempt to pre-visualize your print? Or will you make a print, then adjust color or contrast to try to get closer to what you want the final image to look like?

    For 30 prints a year, using a service is likely to be much cheaper. If you're not a perfectionist, you'll probably be quite satisfied with the better services.

    OTOH, if you do it yourself, you have much more control of the process. If you're not quite satisfied with the image, you can immediately make adjustments and make another print, rather than waiting for delivery and then decided to do it over.

    When you send a print off to a service, you're somewhat in the dark about how their printer is profiled. If you control the process, and use soft-proofing, you can generally get very close to what you want on the first try.

    I guess I'd summarize it as service is easy, and gives "good" results. Doing it yourself is harder, but can provide "excellent" results.

    As for which printer, I'm inclined to recommend Epson simply because there is so much aftermarket support. They are certainly the most commonly used brand in the "serious" photographic printing market. Every significant paper vendor makes available free profiles for Epson printers. There are multiple support forums. And the latest models, with teflon coated print heads, don't seem to suffer from the frequent clogging that used to be such a problem with pigment ink printers. But ANY inkjet can clog. The secret to avoiding clogs seem to be regular use and humidity. If you're not printing regularly, run a nozzle check every couple of seeks. It uses very little ink, and ensures every nozzle gets ink pushed through it. If it's dry where you are (or cold in the winter, so your house gets dry), use a humidifier, or get a plastic cover for the printer and keep a wet sponge under the cover (but not where it will get the printer wet).

    Which brings up another decision point: dye ink or pigment ink? Dye inks can produce brighter colors and a wider gamut, but will fade fairly rapidly if exposed to UV light or various oxidants, especially ozone. Pigment inks are much more stable, possible more stable than traditional photo printers. Modern pigment ink printers have much wider gamut than earlier ones. Not quite a match for pigment inks, but I don't feel the gamut is really a problem any more.

    Finally, glossy or matte paper, or both? Some printers are better at one or the other. There's lots of information available about the different Epson models if you do some google searches.
    • Like Like x 3
  3. michaeln

    michaeln Guest

    Several years ago I owned an Epson 3800, and was really delighted with the whole process of making my own prints and framing them. Problem is, I didn't make all that many prints, and I bought a bunch of different papers, and bought a complete extra set of ink cartridges. For the prints I actually made and hung on the wall I figure I am up to about $750 per print (I only have two hanging, and gave several others away).

    I got laid off and ended up selling all that great stuff. Now that I am gainfully employed again I am weighing the tradeoffs between buying all the stuff and doing my own printing and just using someone quality like Bay Photo to handle my printing needs.

    The downside of doing it myself is the very high expense per print. The actual PROCESS and the control it gives me are certainly worth something, because I really enjoy doing the whole thing from beginning to end... but is it worth it? Also, I believe if I was going to buy the stuff today I would buy the Epson R3000 instead of an Epson 3880. When I had the 3800 I never made a print bigger than 13x19 even though you can make 16x20s on it. When I look at the 13x19s I have on the wall, by the time you add an appropriate mat and frame, they are pretty big, so I don't think I need a printer that can do 16" paper.

    It's a LOT cheaper using a service to do your printing (a 13x19" Lustre print from Bay Photo is only $17.99), if you want to give up the control, and give up instant gratification, and give up the whole PROCESS of doing the printing (which I quite enjoy). However, I think a good service will likely do as good a job as I could, perhaps better.

    Not sure what to do, but with the current Epson $150 rebate, the R3000 at $599 after the rebate is looking pretty interesting, even if the ink cartridge set costs a whopping $250 or so.
  4. carpandean

    carpandean Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 29, 2010
    Western NY
  5. michaeln

    michaeln Guest

    Thanks, but that's a pretty unwonderful printer compared to the Epson 3880 and R3000. It's cheap, but that's it's major virtue.
  6. carpandean

    carpandean Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 29, 2010
    Western NY
    If you prefer, the Pro9500 Mark II, which is more on par with the R3000, is $499 after rebate.

    Either way, I was offering the OP another, less expensive, but still very capable option. $600 for a $750 printer is still well out of a lot of people's budgets, but a $450 printer for under $150 probably isn't. The Pro9000 Mark II has been rated as quite high, if not quite on the same level as the R3000/Pro9500 (or Pro-1).
  7. michaeln

    michaeln Guest

    If I buy a printer, it needs to be great at black & white / greyscale printing. The Epsons are.
  8. fin azvandi

    fin azvandi Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 12, 2011
    South Bend, IN
    I have no experience with home photo printers, but as an amateur/enthusiast I have been happy with the quality of prints I've ordered from Mpix. I PP my RAWs in Aperture using on-screen proofing and the Mpix rates include color correction.

    If you're printing in small numbers I think a home printer ends up being significantly more expensive. However that's the way to go if you are really interested in taking control of every step in the process.

    A couple of other online services that seem to have good reputations are White House (whcc.com) and ProDPI.com - but Mpix offers promotions once in a while if you don't mind saving up a batch for printing.
    • Like Like x 2
  9. carpandean

    carpandean Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 29, 2010
    Western NY
    Fair enough. Of course, that's a personal thing, too. Depends on how much black and white a person shoots/prints. I would have looked at the Pro9500 (three different black/grey cartridges) or the R3000, if I did more of it. Don't know if CarlB does or not.
    • Like Like x 1
  10. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Great discussion here. I was reading Michael's first comment and thinking to myself, "I must be very easy to please", because I've been very impressed with prints from the Canon Pro9000 II. After the second comment, I realized it might have to do with the fact that all of them were color prints. I've never had an Epson printer, but I have heard that they are the best for B&W.
  11. meyerweb

    meyerweb Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Sep 5, 2011
    Canon's printers are certainly capable of excellent output, and I think their newest pigment ink printer is pretty capable as a B&W printer, too. I had a 9500 which was so unreliable that it turned me off to Canon printers forever, but mine was apparently an exception to the rule.

    I'd still recommend Epson, though, simply because of the level of support their printers get online and from 3rd party manufacturers. When I started having problems with my Canon, I could find almost nothing online to help.
  12. hanzo

    hanzo Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 22, 2010
    I have an R3000, and I print about 1 picture every week. The good thing about having your own printer is that you can control the whole process and repeat the tweaks if you are not satisfied. But after having the printer for almost a year, I'm : a) starting to run out of things to print.. b) not as a good printer as I wanted to be. LoL
    I used to use print services before, but now looking at the results again after some time, I feel they are inadequate...
  13. Grant

    Grant Mu-43 Veteran

    I don't do a lot of printing but when I do I want high quality work so I send all my work out to a custom lab and I am very happy.

    First I checked with my lab and found out what they were using, I calibrate my work for that printer and formate it for the optimum size for their printers. They charge me roughly twice the cost of home printing material, assuming I don't have to print any test prints. I don't have to "invest" in any home equipment as the lab I use has equipment far beyond my financial mean and they seem to upgrade every couple of years. I can pay extra for rush but I usually I let them fit it in-between large runs they are doing and thus get a financial break.

    All this and they guarantee their work.
    • Like Like x 1
  14. michaeln

    michaeln Guest

    I had heard good things about (believe it or not) Costco's print service. So, as an experiment, I downloaded their printer profiles this morning and ordered a couple 16x20 luster finish prints. I soft-proofed them with the Costco printer profiles. $5.99 each, and I can pick them up at 2PM today from the SF Costco which is a 10 minute walk from my house. If they look good, any consideration of buying another photo printer will be dropped. I can buy an awful lot of 16x20 prints for what it would cost me to do it at home, and get same day service from Costco.

    Actually, I don't have real high expectations for the quality, but at six bucks a shot it's worth a try.
  15. LisaO

    LisaO Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 18, 2010
    New York Metro Area
    Home printing is expensive. If you only print a few times a year you may waste a lot of ink cleaning the print heads which dry out if you don't use them about once a month. I have both Epson 3800 and Canon 9500MKII I have gotten nice B&W from each, I'll occasionally make prints but find it cheaper to order prints online from AdoramaPix, WHCC or MPix.

    Printer ink cost about $6000 a gallon so that is where the printer companies make most of their money on the consumables. Often when I have made my own prints it takes several tries to get it right and sometimes I get random ink spots along the print edges that ruin the print even if it was a good print.
  16. michaeln

    michaeln Guest

    Costco Prints: WOW!

    I just picked up three 16x20 prints I ordered online from Costco this morning. Two were from my GX1, and were in color. The third is from a 4x5 Ektachrome transparency I shot in Bryce Canyon (Hoodoos) about 30 years ago. A friend of mine scanned it on his drum scanner and produced a 900MB .tif file from it (that's actually kind of medium resolution for a 4x5 scan, something like 2800 DPI).

    I brought it into ACR to do some dust spotting and basic adjustments, then into PS where I used Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 to convert it to greyscale. I sharpened it a little, resized it for 16x20 @ 300dpi and saved it as a JPG. It still ended up being almost 30MB.

    The prints are rich, vibrant, and razor sharp. The only thing I don't like is that they roll them up and slip them inside a clear plastic tube, and it's going to take them a while to flatten out.

    But after seeing their quality, at SIX BUCKS (yep, $5.99 each) for a 16x20, any thoughts of buying another photo printer to replace my Epson 3800 are out the window. Heck, I can buy five 16x20 prints for the price of a single R3000 ink cartridge (and there are NINE cartridges in the printer).

    Now to order some matting and framing stuff and get these puppies on the wall!
  17. RobWatson

    RobWatson Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    The staff at our costco are moderately flexible and after some schmoozing they will keep my prints flat instead of stuffing then in the tube. Gotta make sure who is working when I place my orders ... not everyone is susceptible to my powers of persuasion.
  18. michaeln

    michaeln Guest

    I put them on the floor in my spare room with a large pillow laying on them I live alone, and the door to that room is closed so they won't get stepped on. Doesn't really matter, I need to order some matting and framing stuff anyway, and by the time that stuff gets here, they'll likely be flat.
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