I had been debating the pros and cons of buying a good photographic printer for the last few years. From a cost perspective there is no question – it’s cheaper (when you factor in the capital cost of the printer) to get your prints produced in a laboratory. I’ve mainly used two UK labs – Photobox.co.uk and Loxley Colour – and both produce excellent results with Loxley marginally winning out in the quality stakes (I used them for my LRPS submission.) I’ve also used two Cork City labs – FD Photo Print in Ship Street and Right Brain in Wellington Road. The former’s prints are every bit as good as the UK labs while the latter’s is a very high quality service for those special prints deserving of fine-art paper such as Hannemuhle or Canson. On the other end of the scale I’ve also used Harvey Norman’s self service machines for 6×4 and 7×5 snapshots of birthday parties and the like. They’re perfectly acceptable when top quality isn’t a priority.
The reason I’ve mainly used the UK labs is convenience – it is a simple process to upload the files from the comfort of home whereas going into town involves the hassle of parking to deliver them and calling back in a day or so to collect the prints.
I could have gone on happily using the above labs – and saving money in the process – were it not for a hankering after full control of the photographic process from beginning to end: the picture taking and Photoshop steps plus the printing. In my film days I used to get great satisfaction from doing my own black and white processing and printing. It involved a lot of preparation and frustration – blacking out a spare room, setting up the enlarger, maintaining the developer, fixer and stop baths at the right temperatures, doing test prints and so forth. It was worth it though for the magic of the image coming to life in the developer tray. (I never did colour printing – the process just seemed too complicated and expensive. Besides, my colour work was almost exclusively transparency based – I only used colour print film for family snapshots. I got some excellent Cibachromes from some of those transparencies; I still have a few of them framed in my house and all are seemingly fade-free after all those years.)
And so, as a belated birthday present to myself I decided to buy a printer. I had done my homework and I had no doubt which printer it was going to be – an Epson R3000, an A3+ printer that has garnered universal praise since its release. It ain’t cheap. I could have imported it from the UK for about €720 or so but I got in Barker Photographic in Frankfield, Cork for €749. Well worth the extra few quid in case anything should go wrong with the machine. Besides, Barkers are such nice and helpful people to deal with.
Setting up the machine was very straightforward and it was ready to print after about 30 minutes or so. I chose a photo of my granddaughter Caoimhe for the first print (on Permajet Oyster A4 paper). I tweaked the print settings (paper size and type, colour, borderless) and pressed print. I fully expected the finished product to be disappointing and assumed there would be a sharp learning curve before I’d be able to produce a good result. I presumed the print would be either too dark or too light. To my surprise the print was just right and looked great. I was delighted.
A few of my initial prints
I take care to calibrate my monitor on a regular basis using the Spyder3 Express device and I have no doubt that has helped in producing prints that are as near as possible to what they look like on screen.
So, so far so very satisfactory. I am delighted with the Epson. It’s a great printer and very simple to use. I’ve used Permajet Qyster paper to date but I’m going to experiment with fine-art papers such as Canson and Hahnemühle this year.
Having a home printer means producing more prints – the convenience of just pressing a button to see what a photograph will look like in print will guarantee that. Previously, I chose with care the photos I wanted to print and thus only picked my best work. Now I can print anything I want whenever I want. Sure it will cost me money in paper and ink but so what? I met a photographer with very expensive gear on the Great Saltee last year. He had a Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon 300mm f/2.8 and Canon 500mm f/4 lenses, and a Gitzo tripod with a Wimberley head. Not much change (if any) out of €20,000 for that kit. Was he a professional? “Nope”, he said, “this is my golf”. Exactly. If you love doing something – be it golf, photography or whatever – and you can afford it, spend money enjoying it. Don’t scrimp. You can’t take it with you.
And of course printing one’s own work means total control over the process. If a print doesn’t turn out right you simply tweak it until it is. You can’t easily do that with a lab – if the finished product isn’t up to scratch the usual reaction is just to forget it. (I’ve never sent a photo back to a lab for re-work.)
Is it important to produce a steady stream of prints so as to avoid the printer’s ink-jets clogging up? Not in my experience. Weeks have elapsed without my printing anything and the printer happily worked away when I switched it back on. I can’t vouch for more irregular use but if you don’t plan to use one very often you are probably better off not getting one.
What to do with all those prints? I belong to a camera club –the Cork Camera Group – and so prints are required on an ongoing basis for monthly competitions and the like. No more worrying if prints will arrive back from the lab in time for the closing date. Apart from that, there is great satisfaction in producing high quality family photos that will last a lifetime or more. Put them in an album for visitors to browse; frame photos; hang them on the walls of your house and change them around every six months or so; give some to friends as gifts. Leave a legacy of print that your children’s children’s children will look at some day. Photographs look so much better when they are printed. And they will endure. All the images you may have on hard-drives and/or web pages will disappear with advances in technology and the march of time. It probably won’t matter much for most of your work but for family photos in particular it is important that they be printed.