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Online Digital Photo Developing

Developing with Local Pickup

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Digital Photo Printing at Home

Should You Print or Develop?

After buying a digital camera, the next question is how to put the photos into someone's hands. The easiest solution for digital photo printing seems to be the purchase of a printer, so that prints can be created at home, at the whim of the photographer.

A printer may indeed be the right answer, but don't forget to first consider the following: cost of the printer, cost of printing supplies, quality of the finished image, desk space for the printer, and your time at the computer.

Before we delve further into this topic, let's define what I mean by "printing" or "developing".

Printing
The process of placing the digital image on a medium by a printer such as laser, inkjet, etc. In other words, the computer instructs the printing device to simulate the photo by laying down colored dots on the paper.

Developing
The process of exposing traditional photo paper to light and developing the image on the paper using chemicals. This process is the same that is used for film photography.

Please be aware that the above are my own, simplified, definitions. The photo industry uses these terms in several ways, but I find the above definitions are helpful to make sure we understand each other, at least in this article.

In the spirit of being a helpful web site, let me give you my opinion of the absolute easiest and least expensive way of getting your digital photos on paper, without making you read the rest of the article.

EASIEST ANSWER FOR SNAPSHOTS
If you have no desire to buy a photo printer or fuss with inks and special paper, and you don't want to wait for your pictures from an online provider, then do the following:

  • Walk into your favorite local store that has a one-hour photo lab. Ask them if they develop digital photos. (This is not the same as the Kodak kiosk you find in many stores. The Kodak machine contains an inkjet printer.)
  • Remove the memory card from your digital camera and hand it to them. Most will have it ready for you in about an hour.
  • Two examples of stores that can generally develop your digital photos are Wal-Mart and Walgreens. They both have a machine that you can walk up to, insert your memory card, select the pictures you want developed, and even perform minor editing.
  • All of the Wal-Marts I have visited will finish your photos as matte. Walgreens has a gloss finish.
I have used the above solution on numerous occasions when I'm printing snapshots. Two down-sides to this solution:
  • Overall good results, but chemical composition can vary, giving different results between visits.
  • Limited control over your photos.

Now that the easiest answer is out of the way, keep on reading to learn more about digital photo printing and developing.

When you walk into a store that sells computers, the only answer for getting your digital photos on paper seems to be a color printer. The cost of a basic color printer is very low, even free, with the right deal. For instance, I have recently bought a laptop and the store gave me a free, albeit low end, Canon inkjet printer.

Let's look at a quick summary of pros and cons of the two methods we are discussing.

Printing with Inkjet Online Photo Developing
Pros
  • Instant gratification
  • Print only the quantity you need
  • Print any size photo supported by printer and media
  • Permits inexpensive experimentation
Pros
  • Image quality noticeably better than most inkjet printers
  • Less expensive than printing at home
  • No need for printing supplies
  • Most offer free online web albums
Cons
  • Cost of printing supplies
  • Time to learn how to use the software and the printer
  • Time required for printing photos, typically 1 minute per photo (more expensive printers nearing 30 seconds), plus preparation time
  • Can be frustrating when problems arise
  • Quality may be low if inappropriate printer or supplies are used
Cons
  • Have to wait to get your photos (unless local pickup is available, see Photo Developing with Local Pickup)
  • Larger photos may not be supported, or may be very expensive
  • If using online service, uploading photos can be time consuming over slow Internet connections
  • Can be expensive if experimenting with photo techniques
Average Cost per 4x6" Photo: $0.30

Cost includes photo-quality printing supplies only, not the cost of the printer.

Average Cost per 4x6" Photo: $0.25

Cost includes developing services and postage for 24 photos.

I hope the above summary helps you choose the best method for your needs. It is by no means comprehensive. If you are the kind who likes to thoroughly research your photography decisions, I suggest further searches on the Internet before you settle on an answer.

If this information is more than you ever wanted to know and want to plunge in, here are basic product and service recommendations for each choice:

Inexpensive Online Developing

Your idea of "easy" is to let someone else develop your digital photos? Then I recommend Snapfish.com. They produce great looking photos and allow you to share them online with your friends and family, for free. Click on the link to sign up for a free account and start uploading pictures into your web album.

Why I recommend it:

  • Inexpensive developing: 4x6" for $0.12 each
  • Pre-paid plans lower developing cost of 4x6" photos to $0.10 each
  • Large assortment of personalized photo gift s
Quality Online Developing

For those who examine photos with a critical eye, developing at a quality online lab should satisfy your needs. Among the labs I have tried, Kodak EasyShare Gallery has produced consistently brilliant colors on quality paper. Click on the link to sign up for a free account and start uploading pictures into your web album.

Why I recommend it:

  • High quality prints
  • Easy to use web album to share with your friends
Small 4x6" Photo Printer

For those who want the easiest 4x6" digital photo printing, and nothing else, consider the HP PhotoSmart 375 Compact Photo Printer. This small printer has received great reviews for ease of use and print quality. Keep in mind that you will get the best quality prints with the manufacturer-recommended ink and paper.

Why I recommend it:

  • Great reviews from users
  • Very small package, can take along on trips
  • Able to print directly from camera without using computer
  • Color LCD screen to preview images before printing
Full Size Photo Printer

For full-size digital photo printing up to 8.5x11", I recommend the Canon PIXMA iP4000 Photo Printer. This printer is also highly regarded in the user community for top quality prints at a very reasonable price.

Why I recommend it:

  • Great reviews from users
  • Prints borderless photos up to 8.5x11"
  • Prints 4x6" photos in about 36 seconds
  • Two-sided printing
  • Able to print directly from camera without using computer

I hope that the above information was helpful in choosing the best method of placing your photos on paper.