Tech Talk: Let’s see what develops

Home printers like this are convenient but expensive to run
Home printers like this are convenient but expensive to run
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David Behrens focuses on ways to print your digital snaps.

A DECADE ago, when digital cameras were new, the question on every photographer’s mind was how to get pictures off the memory card and on to a sheet of glossy paper. Even today, many users obsess over whether it’s cheaper to print a wallet full of snaps at home or pop down to the local chemist’s.

The short answer is neither, because online printing services are less expensive by far, and arguably more convenient. But the concept of printing photos at all is fading faster than an old Polaroid – today there are better ways to show off your pictures which cost little or nothing and won’t consign them to the bottom of a drawer after the first viewing.

Photo sharing websites allow you to show off dozens of pictures at once with hand-picked audiences or the world at large. Flickr and Google’s Picasa Albums are among the best known of these. Social networking sites like Facebook also allow you to quickly share entire albums of snaps with your friends – and for the home, digital photo frames are much more flexible than conventional ones.

But for those occasions when only a 6x4 glossy will do, several options remain.

By far the most expensive of these is printing at home. Photo printers are almost given away these days by big firms like Canon, HP and Epson, because they know they’ll recoup the money many times over from all the expensive ink cartridges you’ll have to buy. Which? magazine estimates that 50 wallet sized prints from one of these units will set you back £15.75 in ink and paper – that’s about two-and-a-half times as much as online services from the likes of Boots, Tesco, Snapfish and Photobox.

Occupying the middle ground are traditional high street developers like Boots – again – and Snappy Snaps. These average around £11.50 for 50 prints.

Ordering prints online is easy and of course you can specify a wide range of sizes and finishes. But you are at the mercy of the post office, with turnaround times of up to a week. Snappy Snaps offer a hybrid service in which you order on the web 
and collect later the same day from a 
local branch.

If you insist on printing at home, you can at least expect near-lab quality from most of today’s models. If the cost is still a deal-breaker for you, plump for the cheapskates’ option of emailing your best pictures to your relatives. If they like them as much as you think, they can print their own.