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Cost Effective Printing?

One of the biggest costs to photographers aside from the initial purchase of your camera and associated equipment is printing costs. Should you purchase a large format printer? at what point does it become cost effective? How will it compare to commercial prints?

All these are very good questions, currently I own an Epson A3+ printer, as well as an A4. Both print fantastically. However the A3 does not use individual ink tanks, and subsequently costs me a lot of money to run. Should I upgrade to a new A3 printer at the cost of over a thousand dollars, or should I just take advantage of fairly cheap commercial printing?

In my quest to find out I decided to check commercial quality and price. The simplest solution seemed to be a quick trip into my local Harvey Norman (HN) store. HN were able to print quite a number of my shots at 12″x18″ with excellent results from their commercial printer for only $9.95 each. I also had an A2 print done on their Epson large format ink jet printer, again with excellent results for only $39.95 (I got a discount, only $30).

Results: sharp, accurate color, very high contract compared to my home printer, in fact some prints I had bumped the contrast up for home printing came out too contrasty. Cost effective? Taking into account the ink and initial printer costs I should have to print hundreds of prints at A3 or larger to get ahead. Until I’m printing very large quantities of A3+ prints it seems the best solution is local commercial printing.

Commercial printing also offers me other benifits as well, like A1 or A0 printing, A wide variety of papers and media, long life inks or traditional darkroom style prints, not to mention I don’t have to worry about ink or printing errors.