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The Print Shop: Stop Printing Photos & Start Ordering Online

Posted by inet - 2005-11-03

Printing a photo right after you've taken it is immediately gratifying. The excitement is like that of the old Polaroid--you can hand out prints instead of dubious promises that you'll send them later. But it would be a lot more fun if when buying ink and photo paper you didn't feel like you'd accidentally dropped your wallet into the paper shredder. Supplies can get pricey.
So why rush? If your cousin isn't about to leave on a polar expedition, you can teach him a lesson in patience and save a lot of money by ordering prints from an online service like Kodakgallery or Shutterfly and sending the photos later. Better still, you can simply upload your image files to an online gallery and let everyone order their own prints. Just expect them to all gang up on you at the holidays and call you a cheapskate.

Ink and Paper Costs--Ouch

For our April 2005 photo printer roundup, we calculated the ink and paper costs for printers from most of the major manufacturers. And though these costs vary widely--from 23 cents to almost a buck--all but the Epson PictureMate significantly exceeded the highest cost per print for an online service.

The printers we tested--both dedicated snapshot models and full-size inkjet printers--averaged 62 cents per 4-by-6-ink snapshot. Of course, this average is a best-case scenario. Each substandard print you file in the wastebasket raises your cost.

Saving Money Online

By contrast, ordering roughly 30 prints from an online service will cost about 16 cents to 29 cents, including shipping, if you prepay to get the lowest rate. As you'd suspect, larger orders are more economical due to shipping costs. If you order just 10 photos from Shutterfly, the prints cost almost 37 cents each: $1.90 for the prints, and an additional $1.79 for shipping. You'd be better off uploading your digital files to Walgreens.com and driving to your local store to pick up the prints for 19 cents each--but add in the cost of gasoline for this trip.

The hidden cost of these online services is time--upload time, that is. If you shoot high-resolution photos, uploading a lot of them could take a while. Uploading my 5MB image files to Kodakgallery.com over a T1 connection took about 20 seconds each when using Mozilla Firefox. When I used Microsoft Internet Explorer in order to take advantage of the site's drag-and-drop feature, it took about 37 seconds per file.

But you don't have to sit there watching the progress bar crawl across your screen any more than you have to wait at the mailbox for your prints to arrive. The process may be slow, but you gain the convenience of someone else printing your photos while you're saving money.

Bottom line: If you're snapping pictures of the new baby by the dozen, you're best off buying prints in bulk from an online service. But if you want prints only occasionally, the convenience of using a photo printer is worth the extra cost.

Take Note

Cracking Your Printer's Code: Almost a year ago, PC World reported that color laser printers were printing a code on every document that could be used to trace its origins. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says it has cracked this code. You can use its Dot Decoding Guide to find the traceable dots your printer makes.

Photo Printers Print on Discs: Epson announced two new six-ink photo printers, the $99 Stylus Photo R220 and the $199 Stylus Photo R340. Both models print on CDs or DVDs, use individual ink cartridges, and make borderless prints from 4 by 6 inches to 8.5-inch-wide panoramas. The R340 has a color LCD, supports PictBridge for printing directly from a digital camera, and can save photos from a memory card to an external CD-R or Zip drive.

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