Printing vs. Developing Photos: The Pros and Cons

by Rich on June 18, 2009

Getting your photos printed used to be simple: you give your roll of film to a developer at a camera store or department store, wait an hour or a few days, return and pick up your developed shots. Today you can print your own photos from home, and the options are endless-in terms of papers, ink, and types of printers. So should you print your own photos from home, or go the more traditional route and take them in to be developed? Here’s a look at the pros and cons.

Printing Your Photos At Home

If you have a digital camera, printing your pictures at home is the obvious choice.  Inkjet printers are often easy to get: they’re low-cost, and sometimes they’re thrown in for free when you buy a computer.  Printing at home definitely has its advantages, but it has its drawbacks as well.

One of the biggest reasons why some people prefer to print at home is the convenience. There’s no traveling to the store to drop off film and pick up prints, and there’s no waiting-you get your prints immediately.  In addition, you can print only the pictures you want-you don’t have to print all the pictures on your digital card.  In addition, with photo manipulation software, you can experiment with your images on your own and create some interesting effects.

Printing isn’t perfect, however. The printers are typically inexpensive, but photo printer ink and paper can be costly.  Some people prefer to have professionals deal with removing red-eye and adjusting the lighting and contrast in the pictures; with digital printing, you have to do it yourself. While using printing software isn’t difficult, some people would rather not spend time learning how to use the software and printer to best effect.

The most frustrating thing about printing your own photos, however, is what happens when problems arise. When you send your pictures away to be developed, you never have to deal with printer jams or figure out why that strange line is appearing on your pictures.  If you don’t have the right combination of printer, ink and paper, the quality of your prints may be very low-and even the best printers and ink don’t produce quality as good as what you’ll get from a developer.

If you have a digital camera, printing at home isn’t your only option. Some development centers allow you to bring digital pictures in on a disc or thumb drive, and there are also online picture development companies that will print digital images and mail them back to you-no waiting involved.

Professional Picture Development

The first thing you’ll notice with professionally developed pictures is that the image quality is generally better than what you’ll get with home-printed shots. This is usually the case no matter what type of Inkjet printer you have. It tends to be less expensive per picture to get your pictures developed at a store-you don’t have to buy ink or paper, and you don’t need special printing equipment. For these reasons, some people have chosen to stick with the traditional route even if they have digital cameras.

The downside is the lack of convenience. You usually have to wait to get your photos, and you may have to travel to pick them up. If you want to print a larger sized photograph, you may have to pay considerably more-or the store may not be able to handle your request. With home printing, it’s just as easy to print a large photo as a small one, provided your software supports it. If you’re experimenting with different photography techniques, special requests can be expensive.

So which method is right for you? It depends. There are benefits and drawbacks to each. Printing at the developer’s is typically less expensive and higher quality, although you’ll have to wait for your photos and there’s not much room for flexibility. You have much more room for experimentation with a home printing system, and the convenience is a big reason to invest in a photo printer-you can print only the pictures you want without waiting. You will make some sacrifices, however, in terms of cost and quality.

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