Little Things: Photo Printing

It has been a while since I made a ‘little things’ post, but here we go. Since I have a 5-month old that I can’t stop taking pictures of, I thought it pertinent to talk about photo printing.

I’d guess that most parents my age either: send photos off to be printed, or have a photo printer. I don’t know much about sending photos out to be printed (other than you get what you pay for) but I do know quite a bit more about printing at home.

Specifically: you get what you pay for. Wait, I just said that.

There are two things that you need to accept about printing photos at home: good equipment is expensive to buy, and good equipment is expensive to own.

An inexpensive photo printer is actually just a printer that can print photos — a true photo printer is one that makes you cringe every time you print anything that’s not a photo on it. Personally, I have the Canon Pro9500 Mark II, which at the time was $800+. It has a series of ink cartridges that need replacing seemingly every time I go to print, they run about $120 for all of them.

This Canon printer is exceptionally good at color and black and white. It prints very large images and does so quickly. But it is only half the tale and printers actually aren’t the focus of this post (I don’t know enough about them, I defer to my grandfather of all people on photo printers).

The more I get into photo printing, the more I realize that only half of the quality is from the printer, the other half is from the paper. 1

Specifically: glossy paper is horrible 2 — please stop buying it.

Go look at all those photos your parents had developed, there will be a few that have a high gloss finish — they probably look like crap. The rest have a pebbled finish, yes this is a photo luster finish. You can buy that paper right now for your printer.

If all you have is a low-cost photo printer, you needn’t go any further down this rabbit hole, just get a pack of the decent Epson Photo Luster and move along.

However, if you have a serious printer, like mine, there are so many more options — you are about to go broke. Your very best bet is to go on Amazon and buy a bunch of sample packs of papers from different manufacturers — this way you get an idea of which ones you like, without committing to an expensive purchase.

Here are some sample packs I recommend testing:

If you don’t care about sample packs and you just want to know which paper I use — I can’t tell you, because it changes every time I buy new paper. I can tell you that I keep a stock of two paper types: pearl/luster and some matte paper. Depending on the photo, I oscillate between the two. Generally I like black and whites on matte paper, or metallic paper.

Here are some really good, cost effective, types of paper that I would consider to be standards for the pearl/luster category:

As for matte paper, I am still trying to find one that I really like. Moab certainly has some nice offerings that I have tried. I did get a Moab sampler and found this metallic paper — I love it for adding some flare to a B&W print.

I personally recommend that you go to the pro-level camera store near you and take a look at all the paper — there are tons of options and they usually have sample prints on the various papers. In Seattle, go to Glazer’s. In Tacoma/Lakewood, go to Robi’s. In Portland, OR, go to Pro Photo Supply. In New York, B&H or Adorama.

Some closing tips:

  • Buying a really great photo printer is a good investment. They last a long time. My grandfather has a couple that he still uses from more than 6 years ago. This is a printer, think about how many you have gone through in that time.
  • Print photos regularly. They are nice to have, but also this keeps the ink from drying up, and you from wasting your money on that ink. Print a couple a month.
  • Keep one extra ink cartridge of each color on hand. There will come a time when you are rushing to print a photo and cannot because you are out of photo cyan, or some other stupid color.
  • Don’t buy an expensive printer and cheap out on paper.
  • Don’t buy cheap paper just because your printer isn’t expensive. You’d be wasting your money.
  • Lightroom gives me the most reliably consistent prints. I always, always, have trouble printing from Aperture.
  • Another advantage of a good printer and good paper is that the print will last a lot longer than your standard inkjet photo print. If you have any photos you printed on crappy photo paper from a few years ago, you likely know what I mean.

Some of you may be surprised that I would want a printer in my home, and truthfully I don’t, but pictures can truly only be enjoyed when you display them and I can’t afford to hang iPads from all my walls.

(I’d also be interested in hearing your recommendations for photo paper.)

  1. This assumes you know how to properly edit an image for printing, use the drivers correctly, and yada yada. Yes, printing is still a black art.
  2. Ok, it has its uses, but yuck.
Originally posted for members on: September 4, 2012
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