With high-quality inkjet printers being cheaper than ever, families and individuals are finding it worthwhile to keep a printer at home. In the early 2000s, even basic documents sometimes printed with black streaks on them, and at-home photo printers produced low-quality prints that faded easily. Printing services became popular for everything from family photos to resumes.
Now that professional printing technology has made it into consumer printers, high-quality printing is more accessible than ever. Although print shops can be convenient, you can cut costs by printing at home. Printing pictures at home versus in a store can be surprisingly cheap, especially if you print regularly. Even special products like business cards and wedding invitations can often be made at home.
For most families, typical print jobs are just a few pages and don’t use very much ink. School assignments, resumes, forms and applications and other everyday needs are not cost-effective to do through a copy store or other printing service. With budget printers available for under $100, in-house printing will quickly pay for itself for most families.
The only major considerations are space and ink. Although budget printers are often very compact, they still may be a waste of space in tiny urban apartments. Since ink can expire within a few years of purchase, it may not make sense to buy a printer if you use it extremely rarely.
Singles and young couples who do most paperwork and applications online will want to examine their budget to see if an occasional run to the copy store is better than buying a printer. However, even these groups will usually find that an inexpensive printer is worthwhile. Finding time to go to the copy store and deal with printing can be difficult during a busy workweek, and if you find a mistake in the printed copy, having to go back and reprint it can be even more of a hassle.
Printing Small Photos
There are a range of basic photo-printing services available for basic 4”x6” or 5”x7” photos. Some stores even let you walk in, order them from a kiosk and have them printed within minutes. While online printing services are often even more convenient and easy to use, they take several days to arrive and may include a hefty shipping fee. Depending on fees and the quantity of photos ordered, you could end up paying upwards of $0.20 per photograph.
If you’re printing just a few photos per year for a small project, online printing services may be your best option. However, photo enthusiasts and growing families should consider getting their own printer. Having photo albums on social media is nice, but friends and relatives who don’t use social media will appreciate receiving printed photos.
Buying a Basic Printer
There are a variety of printer models available to meet any family’s needs. Budget-friendly printers for under $200 can often print high-quality photos up to 8”x10”. Slightly higher-end models may include a scanner that can process 8.5”x11” scans. While local office supply stores carry popular models, you can usually find a better selection online.
Of course, you’ll need to account for ink as well. While you can buy ink in bulk to cut down on costs, printer ink can actually expire if left unused for too long. Buy moderate amounts in bulk to cut down on costs.
Printing Larger Photos
Some families prefer to have larger photos printed to hang on walls around the house. Getting a photo printer that can handle 13”x19” or larger photo prints can be a little more expensive. Plus, the ink costs can add up quickly.
However, a larger printer will often be worth the investment, especially since many larger photo printers also double as scanners or copiers. Large families find these printers are great for school projects, summer arts and crafts and other purposes. Online printing services also charge more for printing larger photographs and sometimes may charge more for shipping. Since some high-end multifunction printers now retail for around $500, families with frequent printing needs should consider getting one of these better models to save money in the long run.
Managing Ink Costs
High-end inkjet printers often have six or more ink colors to provide the best photo quality possible. While these printers provide stunning results, they also often require more expensive ink cartridges than the budget printers. If you’re trying to keep long-term costs as low as possible, try to go for a smaller printer model, even if it means not having the quality or range of sizes you would like.
Kids may be a little too excited about their new photo printer and may run the ink supply dry in just a few days if left unattended. Set rules for photo printing and try to have the adults in the family abide by them as well. If necessary, disconnect the photo printer from the computer between uses so it’s harder for kids to print things without permission. Make sure you have extra ink cartridges on hand, especially if you sometimes need the printer for urgent documents.
For Photographers and Artists
If you sell photography or art prints as a hobby, your customers will be looking for archival-quality prints that won’t fade quickly. You may also be interested in creating longer-lasting photographs if you plan on making a family photo album as an heirloom that can be kept and passed down. While many home printers use high-quality ink, not all of them use ink that is suitable for art printing or creating a lasting heirloom.
In some cases, online services can be a better option, especially if you don’t sell prints very often and won’t recoup the costs of a high-quality printer and ink. Some services may be able to assist you with color calibration and other detailed aspects of the printing process. Depending on shipping costs, online services can even be less expensive per print than a home printer.
However, for small prints, a good-quality home printer can be just as good as an online printing service. Nothing beats the speed and convenience of a home printer, especially if it can print in a range of sizes. High-end photo printers often double as scanners and copiers, making them a solid investment for anyone running a small side business.
Dealing with Color Differences
Even if you have a top-of-the-line monitor, there may be differences in how a photo looks on your screen versus how it looks when it’s printed. Sometimes these differences are due to low ink or other problems. Often, though, it’s a simple matter of your monitor being calibrated incorrectly.
This can result in photos appearing washed out, too dark or heavily tinted. While this color difference may not matter for some photographs, it can be glaringly obvious in pictures of people. If you’re going to go to the trouble of having precious family events photographed, you want everyone to look as good as possible!
It may take multiple tries to get your photos to print correctly. Online printing services don’t always help you with the color correction process and may ship you photographs that are washed out or tinted strangely. If you plan on printing a lot of photographs of people, it’s worth it to get an at-home printer so you can tweak your printer and monitor settings as needed to get the desired results.
Invitations for Special Events
Embossed wedding and graduation invitations are popular among people seeking a traditional look for their event. However, specially printed custom cards and envelopes are shockingly expensive. Online print services usually charge a minimum of $1 each for cards–and this doesn’t even include the cost to ship them to you or mail them to your loved ones.
Printing these invitations at home can be a much better option. Though your home printer can’t put as many frills on the invitations, you can use ribbon and other embellishments to customize the design yourself. This also allows you to print extra invitations at the last minute if needed.
If you have a large wedding planned, it may be worth it to buy invitations, since your time will be at a premium in the months leading up to a wedding. However, for parties with less than 100 guests, printing cards at home is almost certainly a better option. Inexpensive cardstock and a good quality home printer can make your cards as perfect as the rest of your event.
Cardstock and Labels
Professional print services offer a range of papers, including cardstock, colored paper and other types that you may not need to use regularly. If you only need a few copies on this type of paper, it may be worth it to use a copy shop or online service to print these. Most of these papers are sold in packs of 500 sheets, and it may not be worth it to buy the whole pack if you don’t know if you’ll ever use the rest.
Since most home printers can now handle cardstock and other specialty papers, there’s no reason to use a print shop if you’re going to be printing on specialty papers regularly. This is especially true for labels and stickers since sticker and label paper are often sold in smaller packs of eight to 10 sheets.
Printing posters and décor for special events may sometimes require a larger printer than you have at home. For graduations, birthdays, anniversaries and other special events, it may still be worth it to go to a print shop and have a large poster made. You can often make a high-quality poster at home by printing photos and attaching them to store-bought poster board.
Some customers turn to print shops for extra help with graphic design tasks for their print project. Flyers and business cards sometimes need a professional eye on them to look polished. Everything from fonts to colors must be reasonably well-coordinated to entice potential clients or guests.
However, online software and smartphone applications are making it easier than ever to design your own materials. For invitations, flyers and other informal materials, you can use free graphic design websites with easy-to-use templates. Business cards can be designed using Microsoft Word’s built-in templates.
Many government offices that require your Social Security Number or other sensitive information allow you to submit forms securely online. However, some agencies require these forms to be printed. Some agencies or future employers may also require copies of your driver’s license or other ID cards.
In these cases, using a copy shop or another business can be a huge security risk. Even if you’re careful to take all printed documents and originals with you, it’s easy to drop or misplace something and allow a scammer to grab your information. Having an at-home printer is much better for handling these kinds of documents. If you’ve had identity theft problems in the past or regularly have to deal with sensitive contracts or forms, invest in an at-home printer–even if the upfront costs are higher than you would like.
The Verdict: Home Printing Usually Wins
Although print shops can be convenient and produce high-quality results, improvements in technology mean that home printers have caught up with the professional equipment used by copy stores and online printing services. In some cases, a basic home printer may be unable to print quickly enough for your needs or may not be able to print on highly specialized paper.
However, most families and individuals will find that for personal projects and paperwork, in-house printing is much better for their budget. Students of all ages need printer access for school assignments, and summer boredom can quickly disappear if kids can print out fun activities. Buying your own printer will soon pay for itself if it means no longer having to utilize a copy shop or online service.
The overall convenience of home printing is also excellent. In addition to sometimes having ink expire, printers may require light maintenance from time to time. Luckily, modern software can help users troubleshoot most problems. Paper jams, poor print quality and other issues are usually avoidable. Replacing ink cartridges is also easier than ever, so even older adults with little tech experience can manage a home printer.