BOOT CAMP 400 (29/11/05)

Pictures on your PC, part 6


Even though digital cameras encourage us to process, store and display our images on PCs the traditional photographic print is far from dead. This week we’ll round off the series with a look at some of the ways digital images can be printed on paper, and other items…


You might well ask why prints are still necessary in the age of digital photography but when it comes to showing and sharing your pictures you still can’t beat a set of prints or a photo album. Prints are portable, you don’t need a computer screen to display them and they are not subject to the vagaries and uncertainties of technical standards, formats and computer crashes.


There are basically two ways to make a print from a digital image. You can either do it yourself at home on a photo printer or pay someone to do it for you. The latter can be through a high-street lab or camera shop, automated machines and kiosks, by post or through an Internet processing service but we’ll begin with the DIY option.


Photo quality inkjet printers are not expensive -- prices start at less than £50 -- and the results can be excellent. Although the low selling price of most printers is usually reflected in the cost of the manufacturer’s branded consumables, even so the actual cost per print can be comparable with and in some instances lower than commercial photo printing services. You have complete control over the final image, there’s no waiting and there’s the option to print on specialist media, like iron-on transfers, labels and business cards.


Many new photo printers are designed specifically for digital camera operation. Some models bypass the need for a PC altogether by connecting directly to the camera through a cable, purpose-designed cradle or they are equipped with memory card readers. Several recent models now support a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth wireless connections, though this facility has to be built into the camera.


The advantages of a PC-less setup are speed and convenience but the downside is there’s no usually provision to store the images and the editing options tend to be quite limited -- usually confined to cropping and basic picture adjustments. Dedicated camera printers are also more expensive to buy and run than normal PC printers, most compact models use the costlier dye sublimation process and employ extra circuitry and an LCD screen to display the image.


The cost of consumables for all types of printers varies significantly so check the prices. Bear in mind also that models that use an all-in-one colour cartridge can be dearer to run than models that use separate colour ink tanks as quite often one colour will run out before the other colours are exhausted. 


Generally speaking the best results are obtained using the manufacturer’s recommended photo paper and ink or film cartridges. On some models it is possible to save money using third-party ‘compatible’ cartridges or refilling kits and cheaper brands of paper, sometimes without sacrificing quality, but it can be a bit hit and miss. Compatible cartridges may use inferior inks that can clog the printer head and you run the risk of voiding the printer manufacturer’s warranty. Paper quality also varies tremendously, though price isn’t always a reliable guide and some inexpensive papers work really well so it is worth experimenting. Another point to bear in mind is that photo prints, like ordinary photographs fade over time and when exposed to strong sunlight. The speed at which they degrade can vary from a few months to several decades, so check manufacturer’s claims and specialist magazine reviews.


Commercial digital photo printing got off to a fairly slow start but now there’s a huge range of options and prices are really competitive, so shop around. Many camera shops have in-store facilities offering a while-you-wait service and there is usually staff on hand to help you with simple editing operations. The printers used are mostly professional types using advanced inkjet or dye sublimation processes and the results can be indistinguishable from photographic prints. Many camera shops and high-street photo processors also offer a range of extra services, from enlargements and tee shirt printing to recording your images on to disc.


Photo printing machines are popping up all over the place but they’re still quite pricey and if the machines are poorly maintained it may be difficult to seek redress. Nevertheless they are a quick and convenient way of getting a picture out of your camera or memory card onto paper.


Postal film processing companies have also moved into the digital printing market in a big way and they tend to be cheaper than the high street but in addition to the wait there is the risk of your memory card in the post. However, most of these companies now offer an Internet printing service, simply upload your images to a web site and the finished photos, produced on pro quality printers, are sent to you by post within a day or two. See also this week’s Top Tip.


NEXT WEEK -- Installing a new PC





Printer ink and toner cartridges, paper etc., which needs to be replaced when it runs out or exceed life expectancy



Thermal printing process, similar to a fax machine, using colour films bonded to specially coated paper



Specialist printing paper and inks for transferring images onto fabric and garments



On line processing web sites are mostly very easy to use, though uploading a large number of image files can be quite time-consuming, even on a fast broadband connection. As an added bonus your images will usually be stored indefinitely on the website, making it easier to order reprints and enlargements and novelty items like tee-shirts, photo mugs, jigsaws, greeting cards and so on.


See below for a selection of companies and don’t forget there’s plenty more hints and tips in the Archive at:


On-line Printing Services





© R. Maybury 2005, 2311

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