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Wednesday, 18 July 2018


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Ink and paper are cheap compared to high quality mounting and framing.

I strongly suspect that everybody has mental issues of one kind or another. But as you say, they are hard to admit to, sometimes even to oneself.

I'm in similar circumstances myself, as the cost of making prints is more difficult for me to swallow these days now that I'm sitting on a pile of many hundreds, if not more than a thousand prints, that I dutifully made in years past.

Nobody is willing to pay me for them -- Heck, even when I offered to give them to co-workers, only a handful accepted* -- and I have no heirs or family to whom I can pass them along, so as much as I enjoy looking at them and holding them in my hands, really, what would be the point of my making any more prints now?

(After all, I have only three beds in the house underneath which I can store the boxes and my closets are full of camera gear ... lol!)

If I knew for certain that my photographs would be "discovered" posthumously, maybe things would be different. But the odds of that happening strike me as rather remote, so I assume they will just end up in a landfill someday.

The world already has more trash than it can handle responsibly, so adding to it with my collection of unwanted prints isn't exactly the sort of legacy I'd like to leave to future generations. (shrugs)

But I'm okay with this! I have no plans to stop taking photos or making them the very best they can be, because I enjoy both the process, as well as the challenge it presents. As hobbies go, I find photography to definitely be a good one! 8^)

* On the other hand, a surprising number of test prints -- which I ripped in half after reviewing -- were fished from trashcans, taped back together, and thumb-tacked onto bulletin boards all around the office.

I never did come up with a good explanation for that behavior, but took it as a compliment ... of sorts. (sigh)

Mike, I don't think ANYONE likes the arbitrary price of ink.
The more you understand about the process, the more you realize just how arbitrary the price of ink really is.
However the complexity of the printer and precision with which it can reliably create and lay down droplets if microscopic size to create the most nuanced color prints we have ever seen, sort of makes up for that.

If Printers were 10 x the current cost and ink was 1/10 the current cost, even fewer people would print, and the technology would not advance as quickly as it has.
You are paying for your printer via the subscription model.

I started working in studios in the 1960's, In 1970 I took what would become a 30 year hiatus to work on Wall st. I retired in 2000 at 54 years old as a managing director in investment Banking. That's important of only one reason, that early in my career I was taken aside by a wise and successful fellow. He said you are a smart young man, but you look at the world backwards. When you look at a deal you need to look first at What You GET, Not what you give.
In a good deal both parties win, One sided deals are short lived.
It was the best advice I ever got.

Think back to your dark room days, especially color if you did it.
If someone showed you then, your current printer and told you you could make this quality in 5 minutes, sitting in a comfy chair and make your prints for $5-10 bucks each in depreciated dollars, would you have signed up?
I certainly would have.
Look at what you get.
To me, it is more than worth it.

Plus, you knew the cost of ink before you bought the printer, you are second guessing a good decision.
Do I wish it was cheaper, of course, but it costs what it costs.

My approach was to calculate the approximate cost per print (around $10 per 17x22 print including 3 or so 7x8.5 test prints, on premium Epson paper bought on sale), and that cost was worth it to be able to engage in the craft of printing and seeing my images on the wall. Since I am not a heavy printer, the total cost is only around $240 a year, excluding the depreciation cost of the printer (which is already a sunk cost for you at this point anyway).

I'm with you and Jack Stivers. I have a decent printer, which hasn't been used in months. Mostly because ink cartridges are too expensive and don't last long. I'm not a good printer, and it can take several tries to get what I want. Since I'm not a pro, that isn't an issue, but the cost isn't helping me get better. Obviously, the printer companies know that once they sell a printer, they've got you by the ink. And the third party ink isn't that good. Paper isn't cheap either, but at least you can do small test prints before printing the big ones. So, I guess I'll be looking at my stuff on the screen, not on the wall.

My Vascular Surgeon says he does what he's good at. I've never put it into words, but I'm the same way. People tell me I'm not a real photographer because I've never mastered printing—neither did Henri Cartier Bresson, so I'm in good company. As far as I'm concerned, mastering is just another form of self-abuse advocated by control-freaks 8-)

So I save time, money, and aggravation, by having my printing done by a pro. The extra time generated I can spend lighting/shooting a photo—this works for me, YMMV.

Dear Mike
You're not alone. My Epson P600 hasn't been turned on in the last six months.
Your fear is not irrational it's common sense. To make matters worse one rarely gets a good print in one go and I can assure you I know how to print.
If this helps you feel better I know a well known Magnum photographer who suffers the same plight.
I'm seriously thinking of setting up my darkroom permanently because somehow it doesn't bother me printing my negatives.

I got rid of my old Epson 6-color printer recently for many of the same reasons. The cost for a set of ink tanks was around $100 -- not really too bad. However, if you did not use the printer often, most of the ink seemed to get used up in the initial head cleaning process. Also, what do you do with the prints? I've got room on my walls for four or five.

So crowd fund it with your readers. Or would that bring on another form of anxiety?


This probably won't help, but unwanted advice is surely what blog comments are for:

You shouldn't let the best be the enemy of the good. Thousands of us produce perfectly fine prints using a "small" (A4 or A3+) dye ink printer (I have used the same Epson Stylus Photo 1400 for very many years). Yes, they're not archivally permanent (though I have yet to notice evidence of this), and yes, you may not be able to use some of the fancier, over-priced papers, and, no, you'll never print anything bigger than 16" x 12", or even 10" x 8". But you'll print lots more and get much more satisfaction from it, because you're not inhibited by some super-duper (and expensive) vision of perfection.

Dye inks are still a rip-off, but not by comparison with pigment inks. I warn print buyers what they'll be getting, and how to maximise their longevity, and price prints accordingly. Much as I would like to have an A2 pigment printer and produce massive archival prints (that's probably not true, actually) I never will, precisely because of the problem you describe.

Small and cheap(er) is beautiful. In a corollary of a certain well-worn fallacy, the best (no, let's say good-est) printer is the one you actually use to make prints.


You know, setting an ink and paper budget is likely a good idea, psychologically, as well as financially. Make a reasonable goal and estimate the costs. Increase it by 20% for cushion. Then either save that much before starting, or more likely, just keep track of your expenses and see how they align with your goals. Might get you to print more and worry less. Of course, I do the same thing you do. My Epson is dry as we speak, waiting for my next ink purchase. Good habits are not easy.

What an interesting dilemma. I'm a huge fan of printing out photos. To me, an image doesn't really exist until it has been printed and even matted. Rationally, if you do the math, the cost of printing is not even close to the money tied up in bodies, lenses and accessories. But, the expenditures are annoying. You run out of ink or paper at the worst time, usually right after an unexpected bill has drained your bank account. Cartridges seem to run out in batches. And, when you shell out, you don't get anything new or exciting, just the ability to continue on.These days, camera stores don't even stock much in the way of paper and ink, so unless you plan ahead, there will be a wait while the online order gets shipped.

There are no panaceas, but I did find that moving to a printer with large cartridges helped a lot. I only seem to ruun out of ink a few times a year, so the stress us much reduced. I also buy ink and paper in batches. Better a single blow to the bank account than a series of small cuts. It's satisfying when an ink cartridge runs out and you can instantly fish in a drawer and find its replacement.

Motivation is the real key. If you are driven to produce nice prints, you will put up with the annoying expenditures, the clogs and the time spent trying to match screen and printer.

I don't think you are alone in this. Not by a long shot. My Canon Pro 9000 Mark II collects a lot of dust. Of course, it's not just the cost (those rat bastards) but a lack of printable images and wall space.

There's at least some discrepancy over who said "Half this game is ninety percent mental." Was it Berra or former Phillies manager Danny Ozark? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Yes ink is expensive,but we pretty much know that when we buy a printer for what we know is short money. Money that you are throwing away by not using the printer, the lines dry out and clog and if you are able to get it going at all it will eat a huge amount of ink doing cleaning cycles. If you are not going to print yourself, then I suggest that you still budget for printing but use one of your affiliate’s printing services. It’s more per print but you get a quality product and they bear the capital expense.

This is a tough problem. I experienced it to my great detriment during my film years; every time I pressed the shutter release, a voice in the back of my mind would murmur "fifty cents, fifty cents." It was until 2003 that I was freed by digital.

So remind yourself: it's not that you can't afford to print. You're already spending money -- on cameras for example. Just one of your recent camera purchases could have paid for months of printing. So remember that it's a choice you're making. It's a matter of priorities.

A suggestion: come up with a monthly printing budget. Whether it's $50 or $300, write it down and subtract your expenses as you print. (All the recent high-end printers will report the EXACT amount of ink used in the last, for example, ten prints, so it's a simple matter to do the arithmetic and determine your ink costs for each print.)

You really shouldn't be denying yourself the joy of printing. Me, I don't consider a good photo finished until it's printed and stuck up on my wall for a few days.

I completely understand where you're coming from. I bought a Canon Pro10 some years ago and while I'm delighted with the printer I got REALLY fed up with paying $20+ for itty-bitty 15ml cartridges that evaporate in no time. I finally had enough and switched to bulk after market ink and have never looked back. I'm in Canada so I use Precision Inks in Toronto, and have been very happy with the results. I know he buys his stock from the US so there's got to be someone not too far away that can supply you. Reloading the cartridges can be a little messy but simple once you get the hang of it. A 4oz refill kit is the equivalent of 8 cartridge sets. You'll need a couple of accessories like a mini scale and a chip resetter, but those are one time purchases and not expensive. I bought my first kit about a year ago and am just about to reorder now. Your mileage will vary depending on how much printing you do.

I got a 50 sheet package of 13x19 Canon Pro Lustre paper with the printer and was amazed at how good it is for most prints and its reasonably priced at $50 from B&H including shipping (used to be $40 but c'est la vie). Also watch the sales at Red River paper - they have some very nice papers and occasionally some very good deals.

My other big cost was matting. I belong to three print groups and paying for 6 new mats every month got to be a little expensive for my pension so I standardized my print size which allows me to reuse the mats for up to 18 months before I need to replace them. Occasionally there will be one image that won't fit the standard size but that's been a very rare occurrence. Shop around for the lowest price on mat cutting - I cut my cost in half.

Printing is still not "cheap", but the cost is now manageable and affordable. And oh the JOY of seeing a finished print in a matt on the wall.

Hope that helps.

If you think inkjet ink prices are bad, have a look at the cost of Samsung laser toners. A full set can cost MORE than a new printer, with a set of toner cartridges...

I previously compared this to another well known business model http://www.andrewj.com/blog/2017/business-models/

I once owned a nice Kodak wood frame 8x10 camera, and could not bring myself to pay the per-sheet price for film. As a dilettante photographer, that cost and the associated costs of larger trays and so forth stuck me as just too extravagant. I think today I would make a different decision.

Re dental care, you need to take the long view. Present costs and anxiety are the price of being able to enjoy eating decades from now.

Instead of worrying about the cost of paper and ink, why not make us an offer we can't refuse? Some number of readers subscribe to your supplies fund, and in return we get a print every now and then. Set up the terms in some way that seems right, and see how many people bite. As an example, a full set of inks for your P600 printer is about $255 at B&H, and 8 1/2 x 11 Canson paper is about $1/sheet. Get 10 people to put up $50 each (dirt cheap for a fine print), and you have funds to play with your printer, produce a bunch of prints for yourself, and hand out 10 of them to subscribers. A side benefit is that you'll be able to do more writing about printing, something we'd all enjoy reading.

Why is it so scary buying ink?

In my 20-plus years of digital printing, both for my own work and commercially, either think that the cartridges empty out all at once (never happens!), thus it will be expensive to replenish the inks or the cost of each cartridge if I suggest their cost/cc ink would decrease if they moved up and got more capabilities. Few can comprehend the math!

When I printed with my Epson 2200 years ago, a cartridge ran from $15-20 each and the cost of the ink was about $1/cc. Combined with the cost of the paper and pretty heavy ink coverage, the cost of an 8x10 was about $1.50 to $2.00.

When I moved up to an Epson 4000, same ink set, but larger, more expensive carts, the large cartridges ran about $100 each, but then the ink went down in cost to $0.50/cc. This lowered my cost per 8x10 25-33%!

Though the cost of one cartridge for that printer was nearly as much as a whole set for the smaller printer, my costs went down quite a lot as did the hassle of ordering ink to keep it running.

Today, with my Epson 3880 and 9900, nearly 20 years later, my cost per 8x10 is about the same, if not a little less. The 3880 is a little more costly due to the smaller carts ($60 for an 80cc cart vs. $160 for 350cc and $280 for 750cc). Using roll paper makes the cost for the paper even less.

Compared to the hours I spent in the dark room over 30 years and the cost of the paper and chemicals and even more costs for color paper and chemicals, let alone the trial-and-error in printing to craft a great photograph, there's little comparison.

Not only is the investment today much, much less to print your own photographs using your own printer, but the cost of the consumables is so much less along with the time commitment and best of all, fewer hazardous chemicals to expose oneself to and lower cost of the consumables!

In the dark room, you needed a bunch of chemicals that would have a fairly short shelf life once mixed. Then there was all the equipment, not including a dark room and plumbing! You needed reasonable environmental conditions including lack of light, ventilation, water, heat, air conditioning, etc., etc.

Today, you need a computer, a card reader, maybe a good monitor and calibration puck, printer, a few small cartridges, a waste cart, a couple of boxes of paper, some software, a little skill and you are good to go!

Figure out the costs of a few carts and a box of paper compared to the chemicals and sensitized paper and film you once needed and the math will surprise you!

Remember having to spend the day and 5-10-20 sheets of paper to craft that perfect print by burning-dodging, changing contrast, split-development, local-bleaching, hot-developer swabs, washing, toning, dry down and drying? All day to print a single photograph after all day spent in the darkroom carefully developing the film.

Today, good craft is down to a matter of minutes, if not hours. On a properly profiled and calibrated system with good profiles, the first print is usually nailed when it's out of the printer and if it needs a little fine-tuning, it seldom takes more than a second print.

But wait there's an even more important issue to compel you to print your work: Digital rot.

Digital rot includes end-of-life tech, like floppies and CDs/DVDs, obsolete hardware, software, file formats, even flushing the smartphone with five years of photos with no back-up down the toilet, literally!

The tech evolves on warp speed today, let the first photograph taken in France in the 1820s still exists though the process that created it is for the most part confined to the dust-bin of history... If the photo is important to you, print it out for future generations to enjoy!

In the mean time, the past 10-15 years may evaporate on a virtual cloud with no record of its existence...unless we commit the image, the words to paper to make it to the next generation.

I think a lot of us overthink this. We worry about archival quality, prints lasting 100+ years, etc. I am guilty as charged. But then I read an interesting counterpoint over at Andrew Molitor's blog. He points out, correctly I fear, that with very few exceptions, nobody will care about whatever prints you make in 100 years (and likely sooner).

So just go ahead and make prints with cheaper materials if printing makes you happy. Consider using non-archival papers, good quality third party inks, etc. Let it go and just print!

If you print monochrome and you like messing around, you can also look into mixing your own inks using Paul Roark's excellent resources. Ink costs very little per print in my Epson 3880 because I mix it up myself. It's the paper that is the cost centre now. If I want to see what something looks like printed, I just print it. For keepers I use Premier Art paper, which is excellent. For drafts, I go through boxes of Epson Ultra Premium Presentation Matte. It's not archival, but so what. The prints look great. If I like what I see after a few weeks, I'll print it on good cotton paper.

I hear you Mike. Add to that the spectre of clogging problems rendering my printer useless (not my problem yet, knock on wood).

My solution to reduce paper costs is to use Arista II branded paper from Freestyle. I am no expert, but so far the papers I like are nice. Like the suppliers of their Arista branded film and paper, at least some of the inkjet papers are (apparently) manufactured by the same manufacturers that supply the brand names. From time to time an employee will tell you something like "just use the printer profile from ______, they supply the paper to us."

As for ink, I agree with your feeling of being "exploited." It is a frustrating situation.

I concur with everything you say. The amount of proofing required normally sees me get through a couple of cartridges before I even get to the final print. It's quite shockingly wasteful.

My solution is a very good hand-print service run by an ex-darkroom printer. He takes pains over every print, and if his prices are not the cheapest, I worked out it was about the same as my ink and printer costs. I also get the prints properly mounted, and the quality is better than anything I could achieve.

I still print off stuff from my cheap IX6550, but only to hang on the wall for a while and see if I like it. I don't waste ink on exhaustive proofing and seldom print larger than A3.

But the fact that a bespoke print service is no more than my annual ink costs kind of puts those ink-costs into perspective. OTOH, it's nice that some traditional photography crafts have been reborn in the digital era.

Hey, Mike, your Open Mike is off topic : it is about photography!

Regarding ink costs, I've had mostly good experience with third party pigment inks, as long as you have got a way to build custom profiles - I've used InkJetFly inks in an Epson R1800. Gamut slightly reduced, and a rather subdued shine on glossy paper, but I'm no fan of Hi-Gloss anyway, and I had very good results on semi-gloss papers like Ilford Gold Fibre Silk.
With dye inks, I've also settled on 3rd party inks (OCP in a Canon ix6550), but they do fade very quickly indeed, and that does refrain me to make really good prints, the ones framed and cared for. The prints are basically ephemeral : I have not tried to keep them in a good storage, but left at the air they significantly alter in a matter of months.
In both cases, pigments and dyes, I've decreased ink costs by an order of magnitude (yes, that's a factor of ten, or maybe twelve or so in imperial units).

There is always the cost of paper, but you can find decent cheap ones for the proofing prints : I use Epson Archival Matte or whatever fancy name it is nowadays called, and I like it much for being rather neutral, in a sense of not imposing itself on the print.
And then fetch the good stuff for the good pictures : comme on dit chez nous, quand on va au bal, on danse!

I fully expected a confession about not having the mental strength to deal with recalcitrant printer profiles. ..Refusing to pay exorbitant prices for ink is just a sign of sanity and common sens.

The best way to punish the inkjet manufacturers for their shady businessmodel is to not buy their printer in the first place. The second best way is to buy it cheap (no margin for Canon) and stop there. At least they don't earn any money on you...

You are halfway there.

I have the same problem with printers. In my case, right after installing all new ink cartridges a small feed roller disappeared. The manufacturer wouldn't send me the part, and their recommended service center wanted too much to even look at it. Not paying double or triple digits for a fix I could do myself for a dollar. Done with them.
How about you start working on a series about how we can best get our printing done by the expert local shops, or even how to make it work using the big stores like Sam's, Target, Walgreen's, etc? I LIKE the big prints I have made at Sam's (after some tweaking) but there's got to be plenty of ways to improve the results.

As my Economics professor said: 'Why are Kodak cameras so cheap? Because Kodak film is so expensive.'

As a way out, have you thought of printing very small? Maybe that doesn't scratch your itch, but maybe you could produce a thing of beauty.

[That's what I'm doing currently--making small prints from my iPhone project files. The best one is 6x8" in size. --Mike]

mysolution is to buy extra paper and ink when I buy the printer. Then the incremental cost of one or two cartridges is no biggie.

Times change, and so do people. What I enjoyed yesterday is different than what I enjoy today. And may very well change tomorrow. Same as it ever was.

After 40 years, I'm burned-out on police procedurals. William F. Gibson and Bruce Sterling both have written new books in the last couple of years, so after I finish the latest Harry Bosch book, it's back to cyber punk. Also some history. Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States tops the list. I recently switched from real-paper to e-books, a change I thought I'd never make.

After years of driving 4x4s and pick-ups, my next vehicle will be an electric hybrid compact car.

Mike,it costs what it costs. A $1000 expenditure on ink and nice paper get you color or mono prints that would have cost $10,000 if done through a high quality commercial lab in the film days. And...added bonus: Youcontrol the color, density, contrast, etc instead of the lab operator. One note: Anyone who likes to make prints but buys a printer smaller than the Epson P800 or the equivalent from Canon is cheating themselves on ink costs.

Recently, I finally got a little extra spending change and I was gun-ho contemplating buying a printer. Problem was: a) I'm not tech savvy, b) the wife and I literally (ie- literally) do not have a single square inch to spare in our cramped apt. After months of unprecedented amounts of wasted paper, ink, and untold aggravation- I probably would have (somewhat) mastered that machine.

Instead, I opted to get beautifully printed, reasonably priced prints form a local custom lab, and save a marriage in the process...

What about earmarking part of your print sales for a set of ink tanks? Then no money directly out of your pocket.

I felt the same way about my printers, and was only using my Epson 7800 for paying work. Then I got lucky and found ink on eBay for less than half retail and some lovely 20" Fuji paper for a ridiculously low price. (I bought 40+ rolls)

I still don't use much of the nice B&W paper I have for my printer though, so the "bargain" therapy was only partially successful. And even at the low prices I used to pay for ink, the nearly 26 liters I have used was still quite expensive. As was the mile and a half of paper. Printing in the color darkroom was vastly cheaper.

It's hard to be rational about this stuff.

If you feel ripped off by ink prices then why not use third party inks? I have had great success with Rihac external ink systems on Epson and Cannon printers, albeit for non-photo purposes. They do carry a range of pigment inks that sound pretty good. https://www.rihac.com.au/

What I don't understand about inks is that there's never really been effective competition. The duopoly of Canon and Epson have obviously come to some kind of understanding not to rock the boat, but where ae the people who will undercut them? The profit margins must be enormous, so you'd think they'd attract some attention. IIRC, Kodak at one time sold expensive printers with inks at a reasonable cost, but that could be a pigment of my imagination. But, I gotta say, I feel like a chump every time I buy replacement printer cartridges. And this is not only for photo printing. Cartridges for regular office B&W machines are also ungodly expensive.

Once that kind of thought is wedged in, it's hard to unwedge.

By my estimate my Epson 3800 can print a 16x20 on Ilford GFS for about $10 CDN. (Cheap! The frame is 10x that price.) The ink cost is about $3.70. Note that the paper costs more than the ink.

If for you a photograph is unfinished until printed, then superb lightfast ink on lovely paper is actually pretty inexpensive.

I bought that printer for what it delivers onto the paper, a pigment ink with brilliant colour. For me the ink is the thing, and that's what I am paying for and willing to pay for. The gadget that applies it to the paper was a relatively cheap one-time cost---that's a bonus.

Now, let's talk about how I don't understand people who buy printers like this because they are impressed by the output, and then put effort into running 3rd party inks because it's cheaper (versus because there's an effect they want).

I, on the other hand, don't worry much about the cost of ink and paper. It's just one of the things that money is for, and since I don't print a lot it doesn't add up to much in the grand scheme. So after years of hesitating and worrying that digital printing would be the most complicated thing ever, I was encouraged by TOP and TOP reader comments to give it a whirl.

I bought an Epson Stylus Pro 3880 about a year before its replacement was announced. I immediately started making prints that were, to my somewhat critical eye, pretty good. The people I showed them to thought they were great. A few of those people were skilled print makers, so they either lied to be polite, or they really were decent enough prints.

Unlike Jack Stivers, my printer doesn't mock me. Instead, the drawers full of prints that rarely see the light of day mock me. There are only so many walls in this house, and the cost of framing makes the cost of print making seem like chump change. So the drawers fill up. Projects come and go and another drawer fills up. About once a year I spend a few hundred bucks to top up the ink supply and another couple of hundred on paper, and still the drawers fill up.

I think we expect too much sometimes. When we started using digital, we no longer were using a consumable product--film. We were recycling memory cards. Maybe we started thinking everything should be free or at least cheap now. It's not always the case.

Personally, I don't mind paying for ink and paper. I can remember all those sheets of light sensitive photo papers I tossed in the trash after every print session, all those chemicals I poured down the drain. Now those got expensive! And I really hate waste. With inkjet printing, I waste very little. I mostly print 6x9 on 8.5x11 paper. I consider them work prints although they're almost always the final print. I don't print everything 13x19 any more since I really don't have any space left to store or display anything large. I usually print in B&W, only an occasional color print. The Epson ink cartridges cost around $30 each for the R3000 but they last a long time. Since I use the expensive rag "fine art" matte papers, these can be costly. But they do go on sale and I buy several boxes at a time when they do.

Admittedly, I grit my teeth every time I have to run a head cleaning procedure for the printer. I get miserly when I think of the ink being wasted for this. But I don't have to do that too often because I print something every few days and this keeps things chugging along.

I recommend you reconsider printing, Mike. There's very little as satisfying as looking at a nice printed picture you did yourself while it dries on whatever flat surface you have available.

I have the same illness with my P800. At $54 per cartridge, it's torture to watch those ink levels fall. But here's a thought to ease the pain. Sell something online, leave the money in Paypal, and use that cash as needed for your ink/paper fund. It still hurts, but somehow much less so. - John

You may have a psychological problem but your fixation on the cost of materials, especially ink, is not an example of one. You, me and I expect, millions of others around the world avoid serious inkjet printing for the same reason. Cheated, conned, ripped off, are all valid words to use. For me, taking a photograph is only half of the enjoyment. I'm not satisfied until I make a physical print and I really enjoy doing it. I do not enjoy looking at my photos on a screen. Unfortunately the cost of inkjet printing and the unreliability of the printers, especially for a small volume printer like me, makes it very difficult to justify the forever ongoing, high, expense. I have an HP B9180 (remember that one, Mike?) that gave up the ghost years ago after a short serviceable period. It sits on my desk as a warning about going down that road again.


After having a darkroom for a number of years and then moving to digital and using an Epson printer, I found it useful to tally how much it would cost to do a certain number of prints in the darkroom with today's material prices. Counting chemistry, paper and film I consistently find the inkjet prints, even with the extortion like prices for OEM inks, to be less cost per finished "fine" print. As the prints get bigger the savings increase. The fact that I go through cartridges at different rates seems to make it a little more palatable as am only ordering one or two at a time. Epson's free shipping helps as well.

I have the same Pixma Pro as Jack and it's painful replacing the ink tanks. I have made a commitment to start printing again, but I now need to shell out $350 for the tanks. They do last longer if you print regularly. If you let the printer sit for awhile cleaning the lines will practically drain the ink tank. And here's one for you: A little over a year ago I ordered a replacement set of tanks from B&H. The UPS guy threw them over the neighbors fence. Charlie, my neighbors dog destroyed the entire set of 12 tanks. Now that was expensive... :-)

Hi Mike,

I also get annoyed at the high cost of ink. But what really aggravates me is when the printer is not used for some time the ink dries out clogging the head. My Canon Pro 1 requires a new head but I'm not willing to go to that expense, and to replace all the ink tanks costs about $450 (Aussie Dollars) most of which gets wasted in cleaning heads.

It's all very frustrating for amateurs who do not make money on prints.

Regards ....... Aubrey

My 20 year old HP LaserJet 5P is still going strong. HP no longer makes toner cartridges for it, but they are available at less than half the price HP used to charge for them. And it's good for making decent proofs of photos. When I need a good print of a photo, I go to Costco.

It was good to share my irrational anxiety about printing photos at home. Now maybe I can just pony up the $350 and get some printing done.

Of course it doesn't stop with ink and paper.

There's the monitor calibrating thingy, oh and I'll need a new, bigger monitor to color balance. And new color balanced lights for the print room (former home office--RIP). And then I'll need....

Probably be cheaper to donate the Pro One to the local university's art department. And send my files to a real printer.


I've very happily been using aftermarket ink for the past six years on my second-hand Epson 7600. That has reduced the cost of ink to a negligible amount, and I make a number of 18x24 or 20x30 prints each week.

It's not psychological. The price of ink from manufacturers is extortionate.

I have the same affliction Mike. Be warned it can be very much more expensive to not print than to print. The pigment inks can clog heads and lines if not regularly used and the fix can cost as much as the printer, in ink cartridges for deep cleaning cycles and in calling in a technician. You should do at least one "test print" which uses all ink colours once a week.

So there is something else to consider - the more expensive the printer the less expensive the ink on a per print basis. I started with a pixma pro 9xxx several years ago. The prints were nice, not spectacular, but the ink didn't last very long at all. So when my local dealer was having a special deal on the imageprograph pro1000 for less than msrp and included both a full set of inks (worth $600) and 10 boxes of 17x22 paper I bit the bullet.the prints are breathtaking and am able to charge premium lab prices for clients who want prints). You can sell the paper on Amazon or ebay to help defray some of the cost. The ink tanks are 80ml or so and they last a long time). Still not an insignificant investment but there is nothing like a print imho.

I wonder if the psycholigical problem would be lessened if the printer cost a lot more, say $1200-1500?
I think I paid nearly a grand for my first big photo-quality printer, but it was not cost that killed it for me, it was the frustration of trying to get satisfying results. Try one print, don't like, tweak it and print again, correct too much, try again and again and again...
Now I send stuff to a pro and like about 90% of the results.

You’re not alone here; I have the same issue. Thankfully my wife occasionally forces me to print images she wants, or else I’d probably never use the thing.

I tried the non-oem ink, refilling cartridges and the like. The cost was a destroyed printer that was thankfully replaced under warranty - although I’m sure Epson didn’t have to do that. It was back to OEM cartridges after that, in all their rip-off glory. For someone who prints infrequently there always seems to be at least one cart that is in need of a $30 replacement.

Part of the problem is the question of who’s going to look at these prints. There are only so many walls in my life. The shoe box is fine, but it’s hard to pony up the ink and paper cash knowing such an illustrious destination awaits.

I’d probably spend a lot more on ink if it were priced reasonably. I just can’t stand knowing I’m taking a bath.

The reality for most of us these days is that if you want to make prints, you've got to buy ink cartridges. For me, it's Ultrachrome 80 ml cartridges at sixty dollars per color. Yes, it's fairly expensive, but I bet the final per print cost will be less than your cost of making an exhibition quality silver-based darkroom print. It is for me. If you're careful in "developing" your images in, say, Lightroom and calibrating your monitor, you can cut down your ink and paper waste by starting with 4 x 6 or 5 x 7 test prints before going to the larger size final prints.

As for your emotional block, I'm not a psychiatrist or counselor, and can't help you there except to take a wild guess at a remedy. Try to forget that you're a victim of corporate greed and exploitation and pretend that you're a conservative Republican who won't let emotional blocks stand between him and his objective, i.e., making prints. Just do it. Cartridges. Sixty dollars a pop. You'll be happier and more productive.

Ah Mike. For me it is the print head. I have to print something once a week, and if I fail, it’s a new $680 print head for me. The paper is worth little, the ink is worth not-so-much, but the print head, that is a worth a lot.

Alas I have just a crappy, very cheap (as in 55$) Canon printer but the complete ink set is 50% more than the price of the printer.

Then again I found a non-genuine ink provider on Amazon who sells 4 (four) sets of ink cartridges for the awesome price of JUST ONE ORIGINAL CANON CARTRIDGE!

And imagine what... the quality of the ink is really not bad! And the cartridges are correctly chipped and work flawlessly.

Printer ink is a complete ripoff!

But then again I'm not really good at printing, I have to admit. For my needs it's very much OK.

It was said of restaurant owners that it was the garlic bread not the main coarse that paid for the owner's Mercedes Benz.

I think part of the problem is that when you make a print, then what? You evaluate it, maybe make some adjustments and remake it. Now what? You look at it, admire it, and maybe frame it and put it on your wall. But you only have so much wall space. You could put your best prints into a portfolio box but what's the point of that other than provide an inheritance for your son.

If you're going to make prints, part of the reason for making them is to share them. I go through the trouble to participate in art co-ops for just that reason. I don't sell enough to come close to covering my expenses, but the occasional sale of a print is at least a validation of my efforts. Otherwise, the making of quality prints becomes a purely academic exercise. Might as well just post them online.

There are many ways to work around the cost issues.

One is getting a small printer and a set of refillable ink cartridges. You can profile the inks and get excellent looking prints for not much money. Use an inexpensive paper like Kirkland's glossy ($19 for 150 sheets) and you can proof all you want. Then make a real print on the Epson. The proof prints likely won't last more than a few years with cheap dye based inks, but most likely they'll all go in the trash (try to ignore this sad reality).

An other is printing small for proofs. The P800 will print on 3.5"x5" paper, and you can enter custom paper sizes. A single sheet of letter (8.5x11) will yield 4 sheets of 4.25 x 5.5 paper. Again using inexpensive paper is fine for your initial proofs. Using the Kirkland glossy paper cut into 4 gives you $0.03 per sheet plus about $0.10 for the ink for a 3x4 print. You can make 6 to 8 iterations for a buck, and you'll be keeping your printer active an running well. If you do this every few days you probably won't need to throw much expensive ink in the waste tank, so in the end you're saving money.

With a well profiled setup colors should be identical from paper to paper (the paper color is where you'll run into visible issues).

Finally, there's something satisfying about small prints. You can hold them as an object and they don't take up much space. I'll often make a pile of the quarter sheet prints on nice paper just to flip through them.

You could also set a printer budget where you expect to spend x amount per month. Then it's an expected expense and not a guilty extravagance.

I admitted defeat long time back trying to photo print with my inkjet printer. I figured out that, based on my modest quality requirement, the price per print does not make economic sense.

So I farm out my print making to this shop, which is a bit far from your part of the woods but I'm sure you have one like it around the corner:


I'm satisfied with their quality. So I recently bought a low end $79 Canon printer that also works with blue tooth connectivity for making my documents and letters.

Dan K.

Ah, a flashback, Mike: My first exposure to you was in a glowing review you had written on the Hewlett-Packard B9180 printer that lead me to buy one in 2008 (after going through smaller Epson and Canon models). Later, I realized that your real skill was as a wordsmith, but it was a nice printer—as long as it lasted.

The prints piled up in boxes and drawers. Then HP discontinued the printer—without a proper replacement. So, I abandoned printing and put my money into a pair of big NEC wide-gamut monitors in 2010.

And I'm happy.

[That was a lovely printer...I got results with it that I could never replicate. I wish I had kept more of the work I made with it. I didn't even keep a single print from one of my own print sales. But the B9180 was ultimately let down by the fact that it just didn't work very well. It was a challenge to get all four printheads to register "green" (all clear) all at the same time. I finally had to give up. I even bought two of them and both had problems. The whole experience was borderline traumatic in the end, if I'm honest. --Mike]

I dunno, I could be wrong, but it seems to me the cost of materials for digital printing is far higher than for analog prints. I have exactly the same paralysis as you do when it comes to printing, and for me, at least, this is the reason why.

The only consumables in a darkroom are paper, chemistry, enlarger bulb, and safelight. Everything else lasts pretty much indefinitely. Paper can be expensive, but chemistry is cheap, and bulbs last for a long time. So the cost of making a print is pretty much down to the paper.

With digital, of course, we're in a whole 'nother world of cost, where even the printer is a consumable, and where everything is proprietary, to boot -- this latter feature meaning that we are price-gouged. And don't even mention the never-ending payment for Adobe products.

So, sure, you can print a digital image and maybe even get good at it. But you'll pay for the privilege, pay a lot, and you'll keep paying. This is a far cry from the economics of analog.

You shook me outta my miasma, anyway:) I have a Pixma Pro-100, which may not be great but boy howdy was it cheap, and it prints big(for a crop-frame shooter, anyway). Still, getting files ready to print is...work. And then you gotta frame it. But you got me to editing, which is fun, if you have time. I gave up on perfect and have accepted that a wall full of not bad photos in Ikea frames is way better than a naked wall.

Part of your response to Robert Newcomb's question to you about why supposedly a printed version of an image isn't necessary anymore, you said "...and it's not necessary to make prints as part of the process of seeing and sharing them. That's all I meant."

I have two thoughts about that, one maybe much more obvious than the other:

1) I agree completely with the "seeing" part (Yes, let's not get into stuff like calibrated monitors, blah, blah) and often look long and hard at an image I've created on screen, enjoying it, critiquing it, etc. Then I reduce it from the monster photoshop file it usually is to a small jpeg and email and message it off to "share" with a few friends. But it leaves me "empty" and doesn't have the affirmative experience for me of being with a friend(s) and saying,"hey, look at my new image I've been working on...." and then show them my enlargement. The follow up conversation in-person just doesn't have its equivalent in on-line communication. I've hopped in my car and driven many miles to show a print to someone in person rather than email it for those reasons.

2) The other aspect of "seeing" is that often an image, projected by a "translucent" device, just doesn't seem right. And it doesn't get "right" until a print made from it looks the way I envisioned the scene was (or abstractly want it to be). That process of rendering a favorable print is sometimes very time consuming and costly. But for me, all those many process "decisions" I made to realize the final print is what I must do before I'm ready to "share".

Perhaps it's true that my satisfaction about achieving a "keeper" print stems from my earliest years in photography when they were essential in many instances, as you have often pointed out. If I were to give this a grade-school perspective, all my time & efforts toward achieving a finished image would garner no better than a C+ without that print!

The day before your post, my new Epson SC-P800 (I think that's right) arrived (from the friendly folk at Image Science in North Melbourne for those in Oz). Your point is made good by the cost of a full set of ink (to use when the miserly stuff Epson provides you to start off with) together with a whole bunch of paper for sampling that I ordered, which equalled the cost of the printer. But then I've set up and started experimenting. Oh my [insert your favourite exclamation/expletive here]! Fantastic. Fabulous. Bloody amazing. How did I ever go without? In my old darkroom days, I would sweat for days over one 16 x 20 print. Then I would sweat uploading files and wait days for the snail mail. Now I just process appropriately from raw, the work of minutes not hours, and point and click. Ta da! A perfect A2 print. Of course, NOW I want to print at A1. But a 24 megapixel is not going to be enough - let alone 12 megapixels from the D3 - medium format here I come...

I own an Epson 3880 and I try to make at least one print a week to keep the print heads from clogging. I really believe in printing your best photographs. I also remember an old blog entry from either Mike or one of the guest posters, that recommended making a box with your absolute favorite prints and label it: "Keep this if when I die."
What I have started doing lately that is very satisfying is to make books after I go on trips. I shoot film and digital, and import all my files into Lightroom. I use the Book Module to lay out the book and send it of to Blurb directly out of Lightroom to have it printed. I try to get everything done within a few weeks of returning from a trip and I don't obsess over details. It keeps me from procrastinating and rewards me and my family with a wonderful tangible treasure trove of memories.

When I first bought my printer, I found I was thinking more about the ridiculously expensive inks, than about the prints. After a while I came to realise that the prints were really important to me, especially the ones I made for friends and family, and which I wanted to take pride in. I still resent the outrageous costs involved,but I'm prepared to pay for the pleasure it gives me and the people who are important to me. The capitalist market economy doesn't show any serious signs of flagging, so I suppose we'll just have to put up with being exploited for the time being.

I don't do film any more, but for forty years I printed most weeks in the darkroom, and now I find that unless I make prints I lose my "feel" for photography, if you know what I mean. The screen just isn't the same for me (but then I'm a dinosaur who doesn't whip out my phone 50 times a day in the hope of finding something meaningful there.)

Don't know if this is helpful - I hope so.



Hi Mike

I print using dye based inks on the printer manufacturer's premium-but-not-archival matte paper. 8x10 or smaller images on 8.5x11 (~a4) paper. All because I'm as uncomfortable with the costs as you. I tell myself that it's okay to use non-archival media because it's more economical to learn to print on it.

The letter sized prints are just the right size to give to people - everyone knows how to find folders, binders, albums, and frames for them.

I also economize by printing proof sheets, just like the old days. Three columns of 1.5" wide images, with different tone curves applied to the same image, or to the same sheet. After I whittle down a set, I'll print them a little bigger, and then maybe a little bigger again. My kids love playing with the cut-out contact print sized images.

My long term strategy is to buy a the largest roll printer I can afford, settle on precisely one archival matte paper, and buy the biggest ink tanks I can afford. How will that work? You can get special empty cartridges and refill them with the ink from the big tanks. Supposedly.

Doing the contact-print-sized proofs on a roll of paper would do nicely for keeping it used regularly to keep clogs at bay. Slicing off a 2" strip once or twice a week would be perfectly feasible, and definitely part of my current workflow.

My ultimate goal is to produce a number of portfolios of prints on letter paper, in nicely labeled archival boxes, with enough margin that if they want to be bound into books that it would be feasible. If I ever get this project through a first sample, I'll send you one, if you like.

In any case, best of luck, and apologies for generating yet another comment to moderate.

I have been printing for the last couple of years on a refurbished Epson 1430 that has all B/W inks from inksupply.com that are taken from Paul Roark formulas. the very reasonable cost to set up ($200) and prints very well with standard Epson drivers on Epson Ultra Prem Matte paper this is also very cheap as papers go at $49 for 50 sheets of 13x19 paper...I have been a professional photojournalist for over 40+ years and spent many all-nighters in the darkroom....these prints hold up very well to a #3 paper print

Why use InkJet Prints? I've always used LightJet prints https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LightJet LightJet Prints are digital C-prints that are continuous tone (up to 16,777,216 colors).

The labs that do this type of printing have downloadable profiles. You do the PShop work, and they do the printing. BTW prints are available on both color and B&W photo paper.

No ink to replace, no fading, no metamerism and no banding—whats not to like.

The first work group I worked with had a bunch of young guys trying to out do each other spending their paycheques on expensive racing bicycles and stereo equipment. I had the opportunity to go listen to one of the stereos a colleague had spent a great deal (and I mean a great deal) of money assembling. The sound was out of this world -- in fact I had never heard anything so "almost live" before or since. The following day I was mentioning this to another, older work colleague. They noted that indeed the sound was incredible, but questioned whether the owner was in fact really just interested in listening to their stereo and not really interested in the actual music. It was an interesting question that has stayed with me and I often find myself asking in many different contexts. Say, for example...

@Brian Stewart
yes, what to do with prints.
If I could not print, at least the best of my images, I probably would no longer do photography. And if nobody (except me) could ever see the prints, I would probably also stop. In the past, I had a few exhibitions, but I am not good at networking and acquisions. So now I have parallel magnetic bands on the walls in two rooms at home and in my office, so visitors have a chance to see frequently changing selections of my most recent and older work in unmounted A2 and A3 prints. Very gratifying.

Mike, you've come up with an excellent and thought-provoking roundtable discussion, and I'll respond to a couple points you raise. First, fascinating observation that physical prints were called for as part of the process of making a wet darkroom photograph, but are superfluous in digital photography where the picture is brought into being first on a camera's LCD screen, then on a computer - great opening salvo-insight Mike, you are hitting on all cylinders here.

By contrast though, to me those two beginning iterations of a digital photograph are both works in progress, if you are really working for the best image you can get, and it may be more than that. I have the sense that crafting the best physical photograph is the ideal outcome of photography, even though that last step is not taken by many who take pictures today. For me, this is why I am so pleased to have invested in an Epson P-800 printer, so I can work through many workprints to reach my more or less final, here's a print I really, really like print. The photographs on my computer screen just aren't the same, they're ephemeral, though I can call them up time and time again - I guess that means they're permanently ephemeral. The printed photo that I've worked out in its physical form is fundamentally different and for me, fundamentally more interesting, beautiful and real. Might be my old-school bias but I truly believe this in any case.

Secondly, on the question of what to do with all these prints, I keep mine in archival sleeves inside big boxes, a few extra long banker's boxes that happened to be a nice fit for the larger print size I tend to prefer, namely 11 x 17. There they sit and who knows why. I have thoughts of getting a nice embossing stamp to mark them as workprints with my name, justifying a mostly notional two-tier pricing strategy: $5 or less for workprints, and a higher price for "final" or "finished" prints. This I haven't done yet, but if it eventually works out it would be pleasing to share what are actually pretty good prints with people for almost nothing, to get my work out there in the community without quite giving it away for nothing. Anyhow, just wanted to take note of another fine discussion you've seemingly pulled out of nowhere, this time on an Open Mike posting. Starting with a completely normal thought about the high cost of ink being discouraging sometimes, you move to the heart of what photography is - or isn't - in today's world. Computer screen repeatedly recallable ephemera, at least for now, or archival digital print from a great printer that the photographer owns himself or herself. Good job, and the musing continues well after physically reading this stuff is done with.

Jeff Clevenger

I find it humorous that people often insist on native lenses but use third party inks that compromise print quality. Weakest link. I’m fortunate to have a home with picture molding so I frame and un-frame prints whenever I wish. Great system.

I love my printer.

I’ve just passed my 10 year old 24” Epsom 7800 on to my kids for use in my business, and replaced it with the latest 24” Epson. One paper type, only as a 24” roll, printing 16x24” or 24x36” every time. It’s pretty rare that I don’t get the print right first time. I seldom print anything but BW.

Standardise everything, really look at the screen, and measure shadows and highlights. So much easier than the darkroom was.

Nobody has really needed a new DSLR or new lenses since the original Canon 5D came out ten years ago, yet we happily waste thousands on new gear (me included), and complain about the cost of printing.

Printing pictures and putting them on the wall is what differentiates us from the other billions snapping away on their phones and sharing on Facebook.

Bill Tyler’s comment seems worth pursuing. You already have a Patreon account so why not offer prints (of your selection) for a certain level of Patreon support — I guess this may only work for US supporters due to postage costs.

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