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Low Cost or No Cost Print Media

So how about print media, what should we use and how do we get low cost photos out of our low cost printers. The answer to this has many options, but the most obvious one is what are you trying to do with the photograph once it's printed, is it for your own use are you trying to make something that will look like a normal photograph you could get from a photo lab, do you want it to last a very long time, are you trying to produce something to sell. Each one of these will have their own set of answers and different print media options. Here we are going to concentrate on low cost print media to go with our low cost or budget printer (see Printing on a Budget),   which is not going to be used for a saleable product, but more for our own use, to be able to show family, friends, or even to be used in a portfolio.

Determining which paper to print your photos on can be a daunting task. There are many manufacturers producing photographic paper as well as the printer manufacturers having their own brands. There are also many sizes, surfaces and weights to consider. But the most obvious, and probably most overlooked, is just plain paper. Inkjet printers today are of a quality and standard that even those at the budget end of the market will produce photographs on plain paper. Plain copier type paper (80gsm) at around 2 a ream (500 sheets) makes it the cheapest and most cost effective way to produce photos that are suitable for your own use. Or you have the all-in-one papers at 90 or 100gsm which are slightly heavier and can have a slight sheen on them so giving a better result for photos, and then you have the text and graphics papers at 160-190gsm which are promoted as being suitable for brochures, reports and presentations. With many in this range coming in packs of 500 sheets the cost per sheet is around 1p, and the quality of the photo print on the right profiled printer is good, you will be surprised.

Some people, when producing photos, want them to have the same look and feel of the photos they are used to getting from the photo lab, and there are papers available that can do this. Whether you are fond of the Glossy or Matte look there is a vast array available to suit all needs and budgets. But there are also low cost ways of getting this type of paper from buying in bulk, to buying cheaper less well known brands. One area to watch out for with less well known cheaper brands though is that any paper with a gloss finish on it will need to be suitable for the type of ink you are using, and this may not always be obvious on the lower cost brands. We once purchased a low cost pack of glossy paper, which it said was suitable for producing brochures, however when we printed on it with our inkjet printer the ink did not dry, it hadn't soaked into the paper as inkjets need to.

All the printer manufacturers have their own brands and their literature and websites will tell you that you should only use their inks and papers in their printers to guarantee quality and longevity. But of course they would, they are trying to sell you their products and in most cases will be making a lot of their money on these products, allowing them to offer the printers far cheaper, especially at the budget end of printing. It is true when looking at the specifications of printers they will give you some idea of longevity of their inks, for example the Epson 'Durabrite' Inks, found in their budget printers, when used with the Epson papers, according to tests carried out by independent testers, should last for more than 200 years in an album or 90 years in a photoframe with glass and if kept in the right conditions. But they will never guarantee this obviously. But when printing on a budget printer for albums, or just to remind us of that fantastic holiday we had and to be able to show off to our friends do we need them to last this long, and as long as we have the images backed up on our computers, CD/DVD or hard drives we can always print them again.

So here we are going to take a look at some of the other media options, and some of the ways we can get paper for little or no cost.

Manufacturers Brands - Manufacturers like Epson produce a number of different textured papers such as Glossy, Matte, Fine Art, etc, and these are branded depending on weight. For example in their Glossy range they have Epson Photo Paper (which is a glossy) weight 190g, Glossy Photo Paper is 225g, Premium Glossy is 255g and Ultra Glossy is 420g. The heavier the paper the thicker it is, also the 255g for instance feels more like the photo you would pick up from the photo lab. Paper also comes in different sizes from 100x150mm (6x4 print size), A4, A3, A3+, A2 and in rolls,  and the packs also come in varying quantities from 15 sheets up to bulk packs of 50-100 sheets. Buying a bulk pack cuts the cost per sheet. You can buy media direct from the printer manufacturer or you can search the internet and use some of the online stores who generally sell it for less. Not always, as the manufacturer may have special offers on like 2 packs for 1 etc - so it's always worth checking out the prices of a number of sources prior to purchase. You can also buy it locally from the local computer or stationery shop, but these are usually more expensive.

Shop Own Brands - Many suppliers, shops like PC World and Staples produce their own branded products and these can be cheaper, but be aware that their pack sizes may differ, so try and compare like with like. Remember if your printer can be profiled, the ink/paper combination you choose can be profiled to make sure the colours you get are accurate, so you are looking for texture, quality and thickness of paper.

Sample Packs - Paper manufacturers want to sell paper, and there are many doing so, a lot of these will have your normal standard paper, but they will also have specialty papers with different textures, weights, grades and prices. As anyone who has visited a Photo Show, like Focus, will know many of these companies have sample packs available for you to be able to try out their brands and styles. Some of these packs are all of one type, others may be a mixture of different ones. But getting access to these may be a way of getting to find out which of the papers you prefer your photographs to be printed on. Some have found that sample packs are a good way to get a customer to try out their brand and have put packs together which they then charge a fee for, it's usually only equivalent to what it would cost to post it out to you, others however don't charge. So if you have been searching the internet and have found paper that you are not sure what it is like and how your printer will perform on it, then consider asking for a sample pack. If they already have a system then this may be all you need to request, if not then ask, after all they want to sell you the paper. When asking for samples, make sure you ask for at least 5 sheets, but preferably 10. You will always need at least one sheet to carry out the profiling of your printer/ink and paper combination, if it doesn't give you the correct outcome the first time, you may need to do it again, but you also need enough sheets to be able to print out a few of your images to see if all types of photo works.

Another method of getting the price down is to buy in from Jersey. If you are an internet purchaser there are some companies who operate out of Jersey and the Channel Islands, and under current VAT legislation the Channel Islands has a special dispensation where for any individual item that is less than 18 in value it can be sent to a UK resident without having to charge VAT. Because of this you may find it can be cheaper, even with any postage added on, than buying it within the UK, but not always. As with any buying decision it is always a good idea to shop around first to find the best deal.

See also other articles:

Printing on a Budget

Buying Wisely

Colour Management


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