Printing on a Budget
Look through any of the photography magazines, or even when you are exploring the annual Focus on Imaging show at Birmingham, and you will find that the printers the manufacturers are plugging towards photographers tend to be those that will produce high quality prints for production printing. These are very fine printers and we would all aspire to want one, but when you only have the space at home for a much smaller printer, and you don't do the amount of printing that these larger printers need to keep them running smoothly, or you don't have the sort of budget to afford one, is there an option that will do what you want.
Technology in the printer marketplace is moving at the same sort of pace as the camera industry and as with cameras there are new models coming out all the time, with better inks and at lower cost. We have a full blown A3+ Epson printer which we use to do all our Limited Edition prints on and most of our photography printing requirements, but we also have other Epson inkjet printers and both black and white and colour Hewlett Packard laser printers, but generally these are not used to produce photos. Many people only want or need one printer, and only want to be able to print occasionally, so their need is different and rather than having a dedicated photo printer will be looking for an all round printer that can print out the occasional text document as well. So determining which one to get and at the budget they can afford is a challenge. Just as with cameras, a single printer manufacturer will have different ranges of products, ink variations, prices and print media (paper, canvas etc.) aimed at different customers, uses and budgets.
The 'printing on a budget' title is a bit of a misnomer in that we are talking about getting a printer at under £50 that can produce suitable quality photographs, however the inks are not always as cheap. There are many printer manufacturers all producing a wealth of products and most have at least some of their range at the lower end of the budget scale, including Epson, Canon, Hewlett Packard. Which one to go for will be based on a number of factors including quality, type, cost of supplies and more. For photo printing probably the best low cost option is an inkjet printer. As mentioned above we have a fully professional Epson printer, but at the lower end of the budget scale we also have an Epson D92 inkjet printer which cost us under £30 to buy, but it has 4 separate ink cartridges which are priced at £6-£7 each, depending on where you buy them from. Okay being 4 separate inks you don't have to replace them all at once in theory, but it does mean that one full set of inks costs the same amount as the printer cost.
There are many inkjet printers in the marketplace and available from many sources including local supermarkets such as Tesco, and some of these are at a really good value prices. In fact recently Tesco had an Epson D92 (RRP £39.99) on offer in store at a price of £29.95, and it came with a set of inks to get you going, looking around the internet today (September 2008), I found this printer on Amazon at £35.44 and on eBay there were a number available at Buy It Now prices ranging from £22.98-£57.94 including P&P. The Epson S20 also comes in at around £40.
So how do you go about choosing which one to get
There is one major consideration to take into account when choosing any photo printer and that is whether it can be colour profiled, which is the ability to control the colours so that what you see on the computer screen is also output exactly the same on the printer. We have an article on Colour Management for more on this. To get accurate colours from any printer you need to be able to profile it and to be able to control the printer to allow the commands to come from the software package you are using. Any printer can be profiled but the best and most accurate way is when the printer is able to have it's colour management switched off, this is usually done by putting a tick in a 'No Color Adjustment' box in the printer properties, sometimes listed under ICM. If the printer isn't able to do this then all is not lost you can still get some colour control by choosing a set of standard settings on the printers properties to carry out the profiling and then always use when printing your photos. To show that budget printers can be profiled our Epson D92 has the ability to turn off the colour management and has been profiled and it produces good enough quality printouts at A4 size, and borderless, to use in an album or display in a frame, and because we use the Epson original 'Durabrite' inks and Epson Premium Glossy paper, according to tests carried out by independent testers, these images should last for around 100 years.
Of course you want to produce good quality work like that you can get from a photo lab, that will last, not just any old printout, as well as keeping the costs down. So not every printer will do the job. For home printing at photo lab quality it is best to go for an inkjet printer and one that promotes it produces photographs, as these will generally be able to be profiled, and will usually have 4 or more ink colours, allowing a wider range of colour combinations to be printed. To get an idea of the type of printers available you could go along to your local PC World or local Staples stationery store and take a look at the models they have on their shelves, normally these demonstration models have a number of images attached to them showing the type of image you can get out on various types of paper. However you don't have to buy from them, just make a note of the make and model you are interested in and then when you get back home take a look on the manufacturers website and see if you can determine from instruction manuals (under the support area) if you can control what type of paper you can use (i.e.. plain paper, glossy, matte etc.), this will allow you to identify if it can be profiled, and then shop around for the best price. The internet is a good source for researching out good prices.
Once you have purchased your budget printer, what print media to use to print your photos on is another vast area with many variations, manufacturers, possibilities and costs. See this link to identify what budget media there may be available.