Print yourself or go in-store: what's the best way to print your digital photos?

Strips of negatives and shoeboxes full of photos may be a relic of the recent past, but sometimes we still need to print digital photos. Here are your options.

Long gone are the days when you had to wait a few weeks to see your holiday snaps. High-street and mail-order photo developers are all but defunct now that digital cameras mean we can preview our photos as soon as we’ve taken them, and it’s much more convenient to store thousands of snaps on a hard drive than in bulky photo albums.

Even so, there are still times when holding a physical photo is preferable to looking at one on a screen, whether you want to hang a picture on a wall or share one with someone who doesn’t have a computer.

[Read more: Digital cameras for all budgets]

If you have an inkjet printer of your own, then you can probably handle this printing yourself. But will you get the best results? Or will you be better off giving the job to a commercial photo printer?

Tips for printing at home

First things first. Unless you have a photo inkjet printer, don’t bother trying to print a colour photo at home.

As their name suggests, photo inkjet printers are designed for printing photos and usually have four - or even six - separate ink cartridges to give the best image reproduction on special photo paper. A low-end inkjet with a single three-colour cartridge simply can’t compare in terms of quality.

Canon inkjet

Photo inkjet printers aren’t that expensive, however, so buying one just to print photos can make sense. We can’t recommend a particular model here since there are just too many to choose from, so read the reviews at online retailers to see which ones owners recommend.

Don’t be misled by the low cost of a photo inkjet printer, though - look at the cost of the consumables, too. That means ink refills and special photo paper. A replacement pack of both can cost more than the price of a new printer.

[Read more: Printer ink - What to buy and how to save money]

Calculating cost per page

Most manufacturers state a ‘page yield’ for their inkjet printers, which means you can work out a cost per page for photo prints for comparison purposes — in theory.

In practice, however, two things complicate this. First, manufacturers don’t tend to state page yields for A4 photo prints, only pages of text and mixed graphics. Second, all new printers are supplied with ink cartridges, so your first batch of prints will be included in the cost of the printer.

Here are the page yield information pages for three leading printer makes: Canon, Epson, and HP.

Alternatives to inkjets

Inkjets aren’t the only option for printing photos at home. A popular alternative is a dedicated photo printer like the Canon Selphy CP1300 which costs around £90.

Rather than ink cartridges, these use a printing ribbon and a printing process called ‘dye sublimation’. On the plus side, these printers are very compact and photo quality is very impressive. Most are limited to prints no larger than 6x4 inches, however, and can’t be used for anything other than photos, so they’re not terribly versatile.

Refills include both paper and printing ribbon, which makes working out the cost per page much easier. A refill pack for the Canon Selphy CP1300, for example, costs £29 and prints 108 photos — that’s about 25p per postcard-size print.


Canon Selphy CP1300

Pay someone else to do your printing

If you don’t want the hassle or expense of printing photos at home, then paying someone else to do it is the other option. There is no shortage of online photo printing companies — you just upload your photos, select your print options and wait for the prints to be delivered.

[Read more: Don’t lose your photos to a digital dark age - 6 steps to perfect photo prints]


Again, we can’t make any recommendations here, so reading reviews from customers is the best way to get an idea of who to use. Be sure to compare cost per print across companies, too.

Generally speaking, photo prints should be very high quality and you can usually choose between a range of finishes and sizes. Prices are also typically less than 10p per postcard-size print, which compares favourably with printing on an inkjet at home.

Rather than printing photos individually, it’s also worth considering printing a photo album. These hard- or soft-bound books are much nicer to look at than an album full of individual prints and they can also include text, so they’re ideal for themed collections of photos for a holiday, for example, and make perfect gifts.

Quality in, quality out

Whichever option you choose, always remember that the quality of the prints you get is dependent on the quality of photos you start with. Always take photos at the highest resolution your camera is capable of and take advantage of any photo-editing options offered by your camera’s supplied software or that of an online photo printing service to remove red-eye, adjust colours and so on.

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