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Thursday, 19 July 2018


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“Skill set and reasonable print volumes” says it all. My late friend and mentor Lee Carmichael never took up digital seriously because he felt he was too old to start over and learn a whole new way of doing photography. I tended to agree with him, but I am a bit younger, still quite living, and digital has become almost a necessity, even for my now amateur pursuits.

I have gone through 3 or 4 Epson printers. At the moment, I have my prints made at Costco. Occasionally, I have to have a few printed again, just as if I did it myself (or in the darkroom), but the bottom line is that they can make prints for less that I would spend for ink and paper! Never mind amortizing the initial cost of the printer itself.

And once Costco quits doing this (they will) I will switch to a very good local pro lab. The costs will be higher, but still not worth me doing it myself.

This is an excellent analysis Mark. Thanks for putting in the effort.

Interestingly, by the end of the post it dawned on me how unfair we photographers are to ourselves! If this was Mike's Fancy Racing Bike forum, I highly doubt anyone would be comparing the cost of buying and operating a fancy Italian racing bike to taking the bus, or riding a cheap bike from the hardware store. The shared, and perhaps unspoken, assumption would be that for people who just like to ride bikes, owning and operating a fancy Italian racing bike is a ridiculous waste of money, but life is short and if you can afford it, have fun.

Printing is its own reward, and life is short. If you love printing your pictures, and you can afford the cost of the printer, ink and paper, then do it.

#5. Doing what you want, when you want, in the way you want: priceless!

I'm sure Mark's analysis is correct for his system, and probably very close of other folks workflow.
The more, and larger you print, the better the economics work out.
High end printers need to be used, or you use the ink on extra cleaning cycles.
Some folks choose to send their work out for printing, and if you can get the control and results you want that is a fine way to go for low volume.

The worst deal is to buy a printer and hardly use it.

But economics aside, the fact that we can get the results now available with the best ink jet printers AT ALL is fairly amazing.
To be able to learn to get the nuances to make a print sing is still the same kind of revelation to me that Darkroom printing was, but the results are far better.
If you really love prints, this is a time you should cherish.

So the question becomes, does Mark's economic analysis, or any of the other comments in support of printing your own work make you feel any better?
You have loved prints your whole life, you have made fine prints available to thousands of people who might not otherwise have them. You have always been a supporter of the Physical Print.
You have written eloquently about holding a physical print in your hands, and caused other folks to appreciate fine prints.

Say the cost of printing your best work was $25 bucks per print
(which is way high if you use your printer even a modest amount)
Is your best work not worth $25 bucks?

I too have been wondering about why we haven't seen more about your new printer, I expected more print sales of your own work.

There are none of us who don't cringe a little when we buy ink, - especially in large tanks (even though more economical).... But if you keep your eye on the prize and consider less what you give, and more what you get, it is hard for me to hear that you think the results are not 'worth it'
I really hope that the collective message you hear from most of us, turns out to be helpful to you.

"All printer models can produce rejects every now and then... "
In my experience with ink jet printers, this should more accurately read "some printer models can even produce a decent print every now and then".

Printers are both good and frustrating. Paper feed problems can drive you crazy. When what should be a one hour printing run stretches to 11 hours because of paper feed problems - just say it is a good thing a factory rep is not in sight.

One I would like to see is a good comparison of B&W printing systems. Top quality printer inksets compared to the top quality aftermarket B&W specialty sets.

One place that self printing has it all over aftermarket is with custom printed cards. Like the Red RiverMoab and other pre-scored cards with high quality paper stock. You can afford to make small runs for targeted clients, family or friends.

A word of caution about trying to save money by using alternative inks. I had an Epson R3000 which I fitted out with third party refillable cartridges from one of the top companies offering these in the UK. The prints were fine but I had huge problems with nozzle blocks and the batteries in the cartridges going flat. I used so much ink trying to clear the blockages that I doubt I saved much.

Printing is undeniably costly, especially so if you want to make high quality archival prints which demand the use of high end printers with pigment inks. you cannot beat it for satisfaction though. I started out in the darkroom and was not going to be happy until I bought a printer.

Great post by Mark and link to the Aardenburg site. My personal approach to printing has always been very casual and I do not have a fully color managed workflow...I know...no excuse. As a result, I get anxious over my personal printing costs too. When I'm feeling confident I'll use my "reasonable" little printer with abandon. At other times, like now, I'll look at a low key image and think, how much ink is that gonna take? I suppose if I could nail it on the first print I'd be a little less anxious.

Reasonable Little Printer
-Canon Pro-100, 13x19, only 8 tanks, 3 B&W.
-Was $98 with lens purchase and $300 rebate.
-Chromalife 100+ dye based ink never clogs.
-Permanence: Canon Paper\UVGlass, good enough?
-Reasonable print cost, really nice quality.
-I try not to think about cleaning cycle ink.
-I can always use a prolab for special prints.

The Supreme court ruled on toner cartridge refills last year which helped on the law suit/patent front but the OEM's can still use other means to support their arm and a leg pricing racket.

I'll add to Mark's amortized two cents with the conclusion that my own DIY printing means the printer (Canon iPF6400) lives on caviar quality inks and papers while my "belly" lives off leftovers. Social Security allocations to each are not equal :-)

Yet - almost as though DIY printing is a drug - I can't live without it! And as a BIG print maker (who had a 44" Canon monster for a decade) who sells a little annually, all the points Mark makes are right on and well said.

I can't recall the last time I used paper smaller than 13 x 19 or 17 x 22 on my Epson 3880 17" printer, and it's been mostly the larger size.

I do fine art landscape, and it generally benefits from being printed larger, not smaller.

I tend to be a small-volume printer, mainly for myself, the company Artists at Work exhibit, the local monthly camera clubs, and the twice-yearly field workshops I attend with Alain and Natalie Briot (http://www.beautiful-landscape.com). So, I've not gone far into my second set of tanks, yet. A complete set of tanks for the 3880 costs about $450.

I've thought about upgrading to the P800, but so far, the 3880, coupled with Epson's Velvet Fine Art paper, and using ImagePrint RIP engine (https://www.colorbytesoftware.com), I've been very happy with the results.

I frequently don't have to print even a work print. I use a color-managed process, and usually nail it on the first print, with a custom curve tweak I use in ImagePrint, to deal with the difference in a reflective medium (print) versus a transmissive (screen) medium.

The economics of digital photographic printing are interesting I think. Another thing that I wonder about is: do people generally enjoy the process of making prints? This is different than liking the end product, which I assume all right-minded people do (because, obviously, if you don't like well-made prints you are not right-minded).

I ask this because I make prints in a darkroom and a substantial part of the reason I do so is that I love the process of making them: I quite literally dream of being in the darkroom and get noticeably frustrated (noticeably by people who know me) if I don't get to spend time making prints (I don't care about processing film, which is just a chore) often enough.

I have biases about this -- I suspect people don't enjoy the digital printing process as much -- but those biases might be because I have spent essentially every working day sitting in front of a screen for 30 years and I'm kind of bored of that now: I might be just as bored if I had spent every working day in a darkroom for that long.

It would be interesting to know.

I find the idea of whether you print or not based on ROI somewhat amusing and somewhat appalling!

I may be an anomaly, but I find making my own prints part of the whole process of photography. This may be because I worked my way through college as a custom printer in a photo lab, and as a photo assistant spent many a long day in the darkroom making prints for advertising clients.

But I really think it is because I find I'm a bit careless with my edits if they are left for images only to be seen on the screen, usually on the web on an uncalibrated monitor or tablet or phone! When I make prints, first work prints and then generally targeting a final size in the neighborhood of 11x17 I find the care of my edits always goes up. In addition because I already have the sunk cost of a printer I may make a fair number of smaller "work prints" and I may make two larger prints to get them "just right". That workflow just doesn't work when you send work out, either financially or really to maintain the groove of the creative process.

Sure I've been known to upload stuff to my local Costco and pick up some prints there, but I feel these are the photo print equivalent to the photography I do with my smartphones (Yes I carry more than one, which is a long story in itself).

How many prints to I make a year? probably less than 30 or 40 that I take to final full print form, but a lot of learning (and enjoyment) happens in the work prints that never make it that far. Without the last stage of printing, I would find significantly less enjoyment in photography.

I'm not sure if this is generational or not because my kids (in their 20's) love that they have access to both family pictures and my other work on the web, but do occasionally ask for a real print as a gift for a special occasion.

Well spoke Mark! I learned to print from a course taught by Rich Seiling of www.metalandpaper.photo over 10 years ago. The first thing I did when I came home from the course was to buy a tool for color calibrating my monitor. The next thing I did was settled in on a couple of papers and used the manufacturer supplied profiles for my printer. If you don't do at least this, you're fumbling around in the dark.

I never figured in the cost of ownership when I started printing, it was a journey of discovery and learning a new skill. It's akin to a small contractor owning his own truck and trailer to move machinery. It hardly if ever makes him money. But the convenience of being able to do what you want, when you want it done is priceless in my book.

That is how I view printing my own prints. I get the satisfaction doing the whole project from start to finish on my schedule & terms.

Having said that, were I trying to make money doing photography, or have less discretionary funds to play with. I might have a completely different attitude.

In my experience, the biggest factor impacting print yield is the frequency at which I print. Leaving the printer idle for even 10 days can produce clogs, which waste ink and drastically reduce print yield.

My number one bit of advice for anyone considering printing at home is, be sure that you want to produce at least 1 print a week. Otherwise, you're going to encounter a lot of headaches managing and dealing with clogs.

I was a pauper single Dad when I sidestepped from darkroom to digital printing and cost was a major consideration. I wanted to do b/w so got to grips with Roy Harrington's QuadtoneRIP. It doesn't have to be expensive - an eBay Epson 1290, a refillable cart and homebrew ink meant I could make very decent A3 prints on Epson Enhanced Matt. I blagged 500ml 'samples' of carbon pigment dispersions and surfactants, the only specialist items required. The ink cost was minimal.

One of the assumptions of DIY printing is that what you have to print is worth it. In my case, most of my pictures are like practice shots on the driving range. Every now and again I make one that is worth the effort to get it printed. So, I go to my local pro camera shop and have it done. For me, this approach makes the most sense. I get some prints to share with family and friends, an occasional large print suitable for framing, and I'm happy. Of course, YMMV.

With best regards,


To me, the biggest printing problem is why is it so !@&#! difficult to get a decent color print? My elderly Epson R2400 is terrific for B&W, no matter what paper I use, whether it's from a digital camera or a scanned film neg. But color? That's a different story, It often takes 6-8 prints and hours of tap dancing in P'shop & Epson software before I get a decent image.
It's a good thing that most of my print output is B&W.
There's a cultish group of printers who use terms and explanations that may as well have been written in Sanskrit. I see a lot of printing workshops offered that cost big bucks to join the club. Does it really have to be so difficult?

Mark --

As a reasonably experience printer i agree with your points.

Yet I am surprised at your lack of commenting on two very important and specific areas that every printer must face: dye vs pigment chemistry choice and OEM vs third party vs refillable inks. There are no general conclusions in either domain: it very much depends on a particular printer's competencies and interests.

After at least four printers and too many years (say, 13) of mostly printing for myself and others i have my own views about both issue classes. i would love to hear yours.

-- gary

It seems to me that you "should" only buy such a printer if one or both of the following conditions are met:
1. You print a LOT of high quality prints (as noted in the article above), and/or
2. You want complete control of the artistic process from beginning to end

I have owned a number of "Fine Art" desk top ink jet printers through the years, all Epson with the exception of one detour into a Canon printer. The amount of money that I have spent on printers and supplies is certainly not justified in any economic sense. I would be way ahead now financially if had used a good pro lab for the few photographs that were absolute "keepers" and that I ended up framing for my (or other people's) walls and sent the others over to Costco for printing. However, economics are not everything. With the exception of the small minority of photographers who are successful professionals, photography has never been an avocation that could be justified economically other than assigning an economic value to pleasure and satisfaction.

I started enthousuastically to print around 2004, an Epson printer was widely praised back then.

The results were abysmal. It took me countless prints to get rid of weird color casts and became a semi-expert in profiles.

Then I walked into a supermarket and tried one of the self-service printing terminals. Wow. The result was better than anything I managed to produce after hours of endless attempts, it costed next to nothing and was done while I’m shopping groceries. I worked my way up to larger formats, and results were always consistent and at reasonable prices.

Never used my printer again. That being said, I understand that printing is a hobby of its own. If you enjoy it, there’s no reason at all to not have fun and print your own images!

I had three inkjet printers dry up on me. To somebody printing at least once a month this might not be relevant, but to me who has longer periods of not printing, this is a huge financial factor.

I am using a HP printer with heads in the cartridges now, and while it is probably not the best quality for photos, it makes a huge difference when it dries out. New head, no more missing lines/broken nozzles.

Also the HP Instant Ink system (you pay basically per page in a monthly contract, and no, I do not get money for pushing it ;) is a very good deal if you print just A4 photos. I do not care how much ink I use, but only about the printed pages, costing each about 5 (Euro)cents each. Which is a lot less than on any printer I had before. Of course printing text in that pricing model would make me go broke.

My advice is to buy a printer with a decent scanner and the first time it asks for ink to forget about printing and enjoy the scanner. For better informed advice-

Andre Y wrote: "Lastly, there's at least one paper reseller in the UK who has the enlightened policy of making free custom profiles for their customers for any of the papers they sell. Why no one in the US has copied this to immediately gain a long-term customer is baffling to me."

Red River Paper, a U.S. company, has an inkjet printer profile library that lists ICC profiles for its papers, matched to specific printers. I'm a satisfied user of the profiles and papers.

The ability to make a print now without going out anywhere is of some actual value and varying emotional value to different people. The ability to do test prints along the way on the same printer that will do the final print is of considerable value (less and less as color-managed workflows get better and better; proofing on some other printer gets more and more viable).

And I don't do it enough.

And I have boxes of old prints a few going back to the late 1960s, some of which I probably shouldn't be keeping, to cross threads slightly.

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