Printing Photos

I decided to invest a little money and time, and try to figure out with whom I would print my photos.  The contestants?  Creve Coeur Camera, Wolf Camera, and mPix.  I sent/delivered the same image files to all three.  I preferred to print 10″x15″, and only Creve Coeur couldn’t do that, so 8″x12″ was the best I could do there.  Also, I decided to have mPix apply their pearlescent finish to their prints.

To my eye, Creve Coeur was the truest to my original images’ color.  I’m throwing them out of the sharpness decision, as their print was smaller, and artificially sharper as compared to Wolf and mPix.

Frankly, mPix munged the details of the images, almost like they were shot overexposed, and they really trended one photo way toward toward the green.  Given that, I eliminated them.

That left Creve Coeur and Wolf.  I’m finding that folks preferred the Wolf images over the Creve Coeur images, primarily due to the color saturation that Wolf produced with these images.

Pricewise, they’re roughly a wash (extrapolating a 10×15 print size cost from Creve Coeur since they don’t print that size).

Sharpness is tough to judge given that Creve Coeur’s image was smaller, and therefore (theoretically) sharper.

Overall, I’d say it’s a push between Creve Coeur and Wolf.  A slight nod goes to Creve Coeur due to color accuracy and ease of use (web uploads).  A slight nod goes to Wolf due to printing at a size (10″x15″) that makes sense to me.

So now, let’s throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing.

I couldn’t find that any of these guys offers anything but “matte” and “glossy” finishes.  Lustre coating is really the stuff I love — it’s right between the two, and gives my images the look I prefer, at least based on what I printed at Yosemite.  And, there’s an ICC profile for the Epson lustre paper, so in a managed color workflow, I should be able to take my calibrated monitor, along with profiles for the printer and paper, and produce prints that are spot-on the right color with what I see on the screen.  Also, the ink/paper combination is a tested and known quantity, allegedly providing over 100 years of colorfastness.  (Is that a word?)

So in the scenario with me rolling my own, the Epson printer I would prefer to run is the R2400, which allows me to run up to 13×19.  However, for this discussion, we’ll stick with 10×15 since that’s what I printed.  The closest fit in Epson lustre coat paper I could find is the 11.7×16.5, which is just under $2/sheet, and would allow for plenty of border for handling and mounting.  Print cartridges are about $15 each, and it takes seven of them to make an image.  Yield from the cartridges at 5% coverage is 450pgs for black, and 520pgs for color.  Realistically, I would assume much higher coverage, probably approaching an average of 50% per color/black, which takes the yields down to about 40-50pgs for a cartridge — that might even be a little high.  Assuming that across the cartridge set cost ($105), that works out to about $2-$3 for ink, and now you’re at $5/print on the high end.

That’s half the cost of Creve Coeur or Wolf per print, and about 2/3rds of the cost of mPix at the 10×15 size.

Now the Epson R2400 is a pricey printer, but with the savings per sheet (let’s say $4), you’d recover the cost of the hardware after a little over 200 prints.  And that’s assuming you print a lot of stuff, would print 200 big prints anyway (whether or not you owned a printer), and never sold anything.  Obviously, not selling anything wouldn’t be the preferred path!  🙂

I’m not convinced that this would be an ideal combination for running off 100 prints of the same image.  It’d take a long time to get it done, and managing that size of print job would be challenging.  Of course, I’m not likely to go to a photoprocessor and run off 100 prints of the same image at these sizes — that’d be $1k per image, and I’d rather have a few copies of a lot of images than a whole lot of copies of one or two images.

So what did I prove?  Well, I proved that there are vast differences in print producers when you say “don’t mess with my color”.  And I think mathematically, there’s at least a decent argument for a home printer for print sizes up to 13×19 in low quantity runs.

Not much of a decision on who/what the winner is, eh?