Which is Cheaper: Printing Your Own Photos or Using a Printing Service?

photo of a cat coming out of an inkjet printer
PS_2 / Shutterstock

With the rise of inexpensive online photo printing services, inkjet printers have fallen out of favor. But, as with any DIY project, some people argue that it is cheaper to print photos at home. Is this really true?

A quick cost comparison

Let's break down the price difference between home photo printing and online printing services. We will do this by comparing the price of online printing services and home printing. For the sake of convenience, we will only look at the cost of 4 × 6 prints.

There are many photo printing services online, but we will stick to the big four. Some of these services offer occasional discounts, but we will pretend that they do not exist. Shutterfly, one of the most popular photo printing services, charges $ 0.12 for each 4 × 6 print. Not bad, but Amazon, Snapfish, and Walmart will print your 4 × 6 photos for $ 0.09 each.

Okay, online printing services charge between $ 0.09 and $ 0.12 per 4 × 6 photo. We now need to compare these prices to a home photo printing setup. So let's build a modest home printing setup. We need a solid inkjet printer, 4 × 6 photo paper and ink.

nostalgic photos of a toddler at the beach
Iryna Tiumentseva_Shutterstock

Let's start with the printer. the Canon Pixma IP8720 is one of the most popular home inkjet photo printers, and for good reason. It produces images with a DPI of 9600 colors and costs only $ 180. It's affordable for a pretty decent printer.

The Canon Pixma IP8720 comes with ink, but we're going to buy a full set of ink cartridges for reasons of price comparison. This packet of ink will cost us $ 55. Canon claims that these ink cartridges will produce up to 780 photos (yeah right), which means that at best we pay $ 0.07 ink for each 4 × 6 print.

Well, $ 0.07 per impression looks pretty good. But we still have to buy photo paper. Let's buy a lot to get our money's worth. We will take a pack of 400 CanonInk & # 39; s 4 × 6 glossy photo paper for $ 20, or $ 0.05 per sheet.

So if we ignore the fact that our printer cost us $ 180, we pay $ 0.12 for each 4 × 6 photo we print at home. It is the same price as Shutterfly, and a little more expensive than some of the other online printing services.

If you don't use your printer, things get more expensive

Of course, this calculation is quite idealistic. It depends on the idea that we are using all of the ink and photo paper that we purchased. If we only use $ 75 of paper and ink to produce 20 photos, we lose $ 3.75 per photo, not $ 0.12.

Speaking of our printer, how much does the Canon Pixma IP8720 add to the cost of each 4 × 6 photo we print? Well, it depends on how we use the printer. Our Canon Pixma IP8720 costs $ 180. If we only print 1,000 photos on this printer, that adds $ 0.18 to each of our prints. If we use it 5,000 times, it always adds $ 0.03 to each impression. If we wanted the printer to contribute less than $ 0.01 to each photo we print, we had to use it more than 18,000 times.

Definitely, printing at home can get quite expensive. But if printing photos at home is more expensive than printing photos online, why buy an inkjet printer?

Home printing gives you control and speed

a man at his laptop holding a DSLR camera
Dustin Petkovic / Shutterstock

There is one aspect of home photo printing that printing services cannot match. When you print at home, you control everything. You can use matte paper or glossy paper, you can use special ink and you can use a printer that produces amazing images. You also have the option to delete or edit photos on the fly if you are not satisfied with a print, and you don't have to wait for the photos to be mailed.

In addition, some printers make it much easier to print photos directly from your phone or laptop. The Canon Pixma IP8720, for example, can connect to your phone or computer wirelessly, and it even has a mobile app. The ability to print photos directly from your phone is not unique to services like Shutterfly; you can do it at home.

Of course, most people do not need this control over the photos they print, and a few days of waiting by the mailbox are not a big deal. Not to mention that if you don't use all of your home printing supplies, you will end up spending a lot more than $ 0.12 per print.

Printing services are easy and inexpensive

Besides being ridiculously cheap, online photo printing services are also super easy to use. You don't have to deal with a frustrating printer and you don't have to search for the perfect ink cartridges or photo paper to get the job done. With most online printing services, all you have to do is upload photos to a website or mobile app and choose the size of your prints.

Not to mention that you can print your photos via an online service at any time. You do not need to be at home and you certainly do not need to be near a printer.

The only real downside to printing photos online is the waiting time. Shipping may take a few days, although some services like Walmart allow you to retrieve photos from the store within hours of submitting your order.

RELATED: The best photo printing service for every situation


A few quick calculations reveal that unless you buy discount printing supplies and use them frequently, printing photos at home will always cost more than printing. printing photos via an online service. But home printing offers a level of speed and control that online services will never achieve.

Photographers and scrapbookers have every reason to print their photos at home. If you print a lot of photos, the additional costs are justifiable. That being said, if you only need to print a few dozen photos a year, you should probably sign up for an online printing service.

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