I've been looking at buying a new printer to replace my ageing Epson 2100 Stylus, and I started wondering if its worth printing my own shots at all or should I just use a lab?
Back in the days of film comparatively few people used to print their own shots at home or in their studio. Of course there were many enthusiasts who converted a spare room in to a dark room, but few had the facilities for colour work or large formats and these were usually left to the professionals.
Now you can buy a simple printer that you plug the camera into and out come your pictures as if by magic. Larger formats are simply a question of buying a bigger printer and reading the manual.
So now we have all this flexibility - but should we use it? Is there still a place for professional printing or should we run everything off on our own ink jets ?
Well as I think about it, there are advantages and disadvantages to either method.
Using a Print Lab
Generally for most print runs a lab will be cheaper. They have the economies of scale that you can't achieve unless you are producing fantastic volumes of prints.
There are no start-up costs associated with using a lab, before you can print yourself you have to purchase A printer, paper and all those ink cartridges.
On the negative side you have a less control. If the lab starts printing your shots darker than you think they should there is little you can do about it except complain or go elsewhere. Lead times can be a pain. Print something large, spot a fault with it, get it printed again and you could lose a few days (more if the post office are playing up) on a tight schedule.
Print your own
Printing your own works takes you into a whole new world of printer, ink and paper choices. Allows you to fill whole cupboards full of different types of paper that "really work well with this shot". All the learning opportunities about profiles and sharpening for output. Hours of endless fun printing with the wrong profile or spending a happy evening trying to retrieve the tiny bits of paper out from the rollers after a nasty paper jam. The joy of discovering you have just printed that 42 page spreadsheet on fine art paper instead of plain.
But when it works you do get complete control. If I spot a flaw in an image I can easily fix & reprint it in a few minutes. I can choose from a vast range of papers exactly the paper I want my image to appear on and use a completely different paper for the next shot.
I suppose I print stuff myself for the same reasons I mount pictures myself. I really like the idea that what I have produced is all my own work so that when I hand someone a signed limited edition print that I captured, printed and mounted it's all on my own. It gives me no one else to blame if it all goes wrong............but I can live with that.