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Does home photo printing save money?

Here's a cost comparison between printing high-quality photos at home and paying for the service.

By Karen Datko Feb 10, 2011 1:35PM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


During the fall of 2010, I posted a series of articles on homemade Christmas gifts. Among these were personalized photo cards and stationery and photo cubes, both of which required a solid supply of photographs.

Thus, I had the opportunity to print off quite a few photos at home in order to make these projects happen. I purchased a couple boxes of blank 4-by-6-inch prints at Sam's Club, along with some fresh printer cartridges, and had a great deal of fun printing off photos for these projects -- complementing some prints ordered from stores. We used a lot of prints.


This seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to do a cost comparison between buying prints from a store or printing them yourself at home.


Most of the costs were clear and straightforward.

  • I purchased a Canon PG-210XL/CL211 combo pack for $59.88. Since I used only one of the three ink cartridges in the pack (the other two were black and white), my cartridge cost was $19.96.
  • I purchased two packages of HP 4-by-6-inch photo paper, which included 200 blanks each, for $19.88 each. This makes for a cost-per-sheet of about 10 cents. 
  • After searching around, I was able to get 4-by-6-inch photo prints from Target for 15 cents each.

The one piece of information still needed was how many prints I could get out of a single cartridge.

Obviously, I wanted the prints to have a high degree of quality, so I turned the quality settings up pretty high for these prints. Having done that, I got 116 prints out of the cartridge before I began to notice color problems.


Thus, the cost per sheet for the ink was $19.96 divided by 116, or 17 cents per sheet. Add that to the cost of 10 cents for the paper and you have a cost of 27 cents per print. This was substantially more expensive than the store print offer I had in hand.


So, clearly, in this case, price-hunting for a service to handle the job is much less expensive than printing them at home.


Of course, as with anything, it pays to shop around. Some printers are going to have a lower cost per sheet. You may also be able to find prints for less than 15 cents, particularly if you have introductory coupons for sites like Shutterfly.

What role does home printing have?

For us, home printing works for things like snapshots needed for home art projects. For instance, home printing is useful when my son needs a picture for a preschool show-and-tell about his family.


In short, it's a good option when convenience is at a premium. If you simply need a print or two for some immediate purpose, home printing works well. It's far less expensive and time-consuming than going somewhere to make an instant print.


Otherwise, use a service. Home printing is a great convenience, but it's a costly one that quickly adds up.


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