Photography studio, gallery and training complex

PIY (Print It Yourself) SOS!

Another of those questions I’m often asked is: “What sort of printer do you have?” or “Which printer do you recommend?”.
Well, the truth is, I own only a very cheap (£45) combined printer/scanner/copier that’s used exclusively for printing letters, invoices, course materials etc. And it drives me nuts! Constant pop-ups about ordering more cartridges, aligning my current cartridge (even though I did it the last time I switched on), paper jams, and endless, pointless un-requested ink-guzzling test prints…

I NEVER print my own photographs. I’m no PIY (Print It Yourself) enthusiast. Well, not digital photos anyway. Let’s face it, digital printing is a fairly soul-less activity anyway – you press a button and out pops a print – so not likely to ever be as much fun as seeing your print emerge from a chemical soup in the darkroom. 

The darkroom - the only PIY I'm happy to do.

Of course, I know lots of professional photographers who do. Most of these have invested at the very least a thousand pounds on their printers. Often, they’re photographers who print large quantities of smaller prints where, let’s say, maximum quality isn’t the primary consideration.

Similarly, I know semi-pro and amateur photographers who PIY but they don’t print in any great quantity and arguably can devote more time per image to ensure they get the best quality their machines can deliver. And I can’t deny that some of the images produced are comparable with pro printing houses in terms of quality.

Some years ago, I won some funding with which I could easily have bought a decent printer. I bought a medium format camera. And a camera bag. And a laptop… anything other than a printer, although I did consider it – for about three minutes.

My Fotofilia colleague Lisa has a “dye-sub” printer (that weighs roughly the same as a Ford Fiesta) that she regularly uses for her event work, for which it is an invaluable bit of kit, quickly and cheaply churning out large numbers of prints for her clients. But even this can’t print very large prints. The quality’s actually pretty good but she wouldn’t produce her exhibition prints with it.

Let’s be honest, the kind of machine that will consistently produce large, high-quality prints to the standard that I’d require for exhibition or my clients is going to cost me at least a couple of grand, probably more – and then there’s the inks, which need to be used fairly regularly, and the ongoing issue of trying to maintain colour consistency. Constantly (or even occasionally) having to calibrate the colours on both monitor and finished prints is frankly one more tedious task I could do without.

My philosophy is simply this: I can’t afford a £20,000 (for instance) printer so I’ll send my pictures to someone who has one.

I never run out of ink. I never run out of paper.

Instead, I send my images to the place I’ve entrusted with my photographs for over 20 years ( I upload the files (or take them in) and they’re printed in a few short days. Cost-wise, I can’t imagine that doing them PIY would work out much cheaper. Quality and convenience – and I can spend the capital I didn’t spend buying a printer on something I really want… like setting up a new darkroom perhaps.

Please note: Not all printing houses are the same! More about this in a future post.


4 responses

  1. The plus point is that lugging around a ford fiesta helps with the fittness routine ;O)
    Great blog post David

    January 20, 2011 at 1:16 pm

  2. XK50

    To encourage debate:

    The silver processes still have much to commend them (especially at capture) and since top quality secondhand kit is going for peanuts, give it a go. With a knowledge of levels, contrast, and dodging and burning in Photoshop, you’ll have a head start in the darkroom. Don’t do it for business, only do it for curiosity and relaxation. However, I reckon you will soon find that printing colour, making time, and over-all repeatability issues will be your problem. Nostalgia is a great thing but having bought a dishwasher, you’ll never be happy doing it the old way!

    In recent years, it is said (see and that pigment ink digital printers, with clogging issues now diminished, can produce better quality prints (both colour and black & white), more easily, than the darkroom route. However, skill is still required for that last 20%; and there’s the cost of the materials, but a good second hand A2 printer (say, an Epson 3800) can be found for around £500. Check the ink levels, as a set of inks is going to set you back £400 (!) but they will contain around 10 times more ink than catridges for cheaper, consumer printers (but not forgetting you’re also printing at least 4 times larger). With a large sheet of “arty” paper around £5 or more, you might be talking a tenner a print, compared with £15-£45 from a printing house.

    However, are you doing this for your business or as a hobby? For a busy working pro, surely, apart from finding the up-front cash, these cost issues could be irrelevant.

    Maybe you don’t need a darkroom or a printing house? Maybe you first need to talk to your accountant?

    Best wishes,

    John M

    January 23, 2011 at 11:53 am

  3. XK50

    Ah! A “grin” 😎 at the end of my last remark has got lost in the uploading!

    January 23, 2011 at 11:58 am

  4. Jeff Boston

    You’re right David, nothing beats the magic or satisfaction of watching an image appear in the chemical dish in the darkroom, been there, done it.

    However, in these days of digital saturation, my pleasure is firstly in creating the best image possible in camera, then tweaking it in PP to achieve, if desired, effects unimaginable in those film days gone by. After which a simple click or two of the mouse produces a print almost instantly or else transmit the information via cyberspace to a printing lab for them to do the work, and at a very reasonable cost.

    Nowadays my only use for a darkened room is to either protect or restore my sanity when all the digital technology conspires against me driving me ever closer to self mutilation or madness. Similar to the feeling I used to get when reviewing my darkroom work after burning the midnight oil in our converted bathroom, only to find it needed a little more dodging or burning or I had missed the air bubbles residing on the paper during developing.

    As Lisa suggests, I think I will stick with the new dishwasher.


    January 26, 2011 at 3:18 pm

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