There are a number of reasons for which you may want to outsource printing your images to a lab or online printing service. It is relatively cheaper and also hassle-free to not print at home. To start off you wouldn’t need to maintain a printer. Photo printers can cost a lot of money and if your requirements isn’t large then it certainly does not make sense to invest in one.
A normal 4” x 6” print can cost anything between 30 to 40 cents to make at home. That includes cost of ink, photo paper and electricity and not to mention whatever worth you put on your 2-5 mins of average time that it takes to print one. It would certainly be cheaper by at least 50% if you outsource your prints. Sure, there is a mailing charge involved, but even then it shouldn’t be too high to offset the price.
Even then, the quality of print that you will get, as well as the wide option of printing material, would be simply way better than you would be able to manage on your own; and the cost will be cheaper. To buy a professional quality image printer just for the sake of printing at home would be prohibitively expensive and impractical.
A word on monitor calibration
To get high quality images the first thing that you need is to be able to reproduce the color tones properly. Proper monitor calibration is very important for that. If your monitor isn’t calibrated properly the color tones will never be right. Most people don’t realize this or even if they do they show way too much confidence in themselves to do this simply by trusting their eyes. The fact remains that monitor calibration is not something that you can ignore or take lightly. Even if you use an outside printing service you will need to calibrate your images with the printing services’ printer.
The best way to ensure that your printer is calibrated properly is to use a calibrating software or device. Spyder 5 Pro and ColorMunki are two calibration options that come to my mind immediately. ColorMunki is my preference (I don’t get anything for writing that), but it is up to you which one you choose.
There are a number good sources to print your images. A lot of them accept your images online and mail you the prints afterwards. You can use a simple easy to use interface for uploading your selected images, approve the final number of prints and set the ball in motion. Some services like www.shutterfly.com even allow you to send a link of your online album to your friends; and they can not only view the images but also order their own selection of prints.
Professional photographers not always prefer to outsource their printing chores. But that is not a rule, but more of an exception. There are many good online services like Adorama (they also have one of the best online stores for photography equipment) who are known for their excellent print quality and affordable prices.
Shop around and order test prints from the services that you zero down before finalizing on the one that you would like to work for on a long time basis. A lot of other factors like packaging and punctuality of delivery also matters, especially if you print to order.
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