Online photo printing vs home printing: which is right for you?

Want to print your photos but don't know where to start? We're here to help you decide…

Online photo printing vs home printing
(Image credit: Getty)

In the digital age we not only have a plethora of options and devices for the taking and sharing of photographs – but also more convenient choices than ever for getting them printed.  

Should we want to attempt to do so, there are several avenues open to us: printing at home via a desktop printer; uploading files to an online portal who then process and mail the prints to us; or popping into our local camera store or high street mini lab with our smartphone or memory card and choosing instant or next day prints, depending on how many images we are looking to have printed at once. 

A further option is downloading an app that allows us to place an order online and then ‘click and collect’ at our local shop – thereby enjoying the convenience of online ordering while supporting the beleaguered high street at the same time. In practice, we might like to mix it up and use a combination of all of the above, depending on how fast we want our prints, or how many pictures we’re looking to print.

Here, however, we’re keeping it simple with just two choices, and examining whether the option of printing at home, or ordering prints online, will be the best option for you. Below we’re outlining the advantages – and highlighting any possible disadvantages – of each. 

Best photo printing services

(Image credit: Future)

Online photo printing

Online photo printing would seem, in most cases, to be the most convenient option. We simply open an account with the relevant supplier, upload a batch of photos, choose the print size we want, submit our order, pay, and then wait for the hard copy results to show up in the post. This can be as soon as the next day, several days or a week later, depending on the delivery option chosen – a faster turnaround typically being priced at a premium, unless a special promotion is being run at the time by the supplier.

Online printing also tends to be the more sensible option when we want a whole batch or large group of images printed at one.  Nobody wants to enlist their desktop printer to print 100 images at once – especially not given the high price of home printer ink, which is what allows the printer to be sold relatively inexpensively in the first place. Conversely though, printing just one or two images with an online supplier tends to be proportionately more expensive per shot than printing a whole load at once. Especially when adding postage on top.

So online printing works out both more convenient and more cost-effective when we have a lot of images to print at once – or, alternatively, when we want to create a photo book involving multiple images. Online is also a good option if we want to do anything more than the standard 6x4-inch or A4 print at home – for example, have our images blown up into a wall canvas, printed on a T-shirt, made into a key-ring or printed onto a mug – the so-called personalised ‘photo gift’ market.

How can I print high-quality photos at home?

(Image credit: Getty)

Home printing

For when photographers want to maintain hands-on control over the look, feel, colours, detail and overall quality of their photo prints, there is nothing like home or self-printing. Typically most of us will be doing this at 6x4inch or A4 sizes. However, this can also make for the most expensive, not to mention labour intensive route to achieving a print.

When home printing comes up trumps, however, is on those occasions when we may just want to print one or two images – for a college or homework project perhaps, or as a keepsake for a visiting friend – and won’t want to wait. That’s when it’s time to place our home printing option back on the table.

Enthusiast and pro photographers wanting to produce larger sized prints and maintain hands-on control throughout the process will also favour the home, or studio, printing route. However, pros will also be able to offset the added time and expense with what they are charging their clients for said prints – whereas the typical home printer amongst us won’t.

Harder to recreate at home are a photobook or personalised photo gifts such as a canvas, a T-shirt or even a coffee mug emblazoned with our image. Yes, there are some media kits that will allow us to produce an iron-on transfer ourselves on our home printer, but for more ambitious reproductions, we’ll require outside help from a service provider with the necessary machinery to produce and deliver the goods. In this instance, online photo printing and suppliers who offer a very wide range of personalised photo printing options and services.

In short though, home printing is great when we want a print quickly and in low volume.

A family sat around a photo album, looking at prints from one of the best photo printing services

(Image credit: Getty)

Online photo printing vs home printing: Verdict

As we’ve outlined above, and as we hope has become clear, it’s very much a case of horses for courses and we shouldn’t be asking for a binary choice to be made between home printing and online printing, when both have their unique advantages. There are inevitably occasions when home printing is the quicker, more practical solution. At other times, especially for bulk orders, the online printing option makes for a cheaper and more convenient alternative. 

So, do like we do, and utilise both these convenient avenues to achieve high-quality photo prints that will preserve our memories for a lifetime.

Liked this? If you're also thinking about upgrading your camera then we'd suggest you take a look at our guide to the best mirrorless camera, best DSLR and best compact camera.

Gavin Stoker has been writing about photography and technology for the past 20 years. He currently edits the trade magazine British Photographic Industry News - BPI News for short - which is a member of TIPA, the international Technical Imaging Press Association.