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Carter Ward
Carter Ward

Best Buy Photo Printing Services

Seasoned photographers often opt for a home inkjet photo printer. The best models, like our current photo printer pick, produce noticeably sharper images than the high-volume chemical process that online photo labs use. And of course, having a printer in-house means you can generate prints any time you desire. But inkjet printers optimized for pro-level photo output start at around $800 and take up a lot of desk space. They make the most sense for folks who print on a regular basis and demand gallery-quality results with unerring consistency. If you need prints only occasionally, an online photo service saves you the up-front hardware cost and the hassle of ink and paper replacement.

best buy photo printing services

An Internet connection and access to your digital image files are all you need to place an order. Turnaround times are usually just a day or two (excluding shipping), and the best shops pack your photos securely to avoid damage in transit. And with print prices for the shops we looked at ranging from 9 to 30 for a 4-by-6, online printing is very economical.

Mpix is one of the most popular photo services, with a mobile app that lets you order photos directly from your smartphone. In our tests, however, we were disappointed by its inability to print smartphone photos without significant cropping. Smartphones, along with point-and-shoot and Micro Four Thirds cameras, have sensors that produce images in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and Mpix offers no small print sizes that match that ratio. Sending Mpix a smartphone photo to make a 4-by-6 print, which has a 3:2 aspect ratio, means your image will be enlarged to fill the extra width of the paper, with portions of the image cropped off along the sides as a result.

SmugMug is a platform for creating a website that showcases your photography (for a monthly subscription) with photo printing offered as a service to anyone who wants to buy prints of your work. This feature is of limited use to most people, and the actual print services are handled through partnerships with labs like Bay Photo, EZprints, and WHCC, companies you can order directly from instead.

As its under-$200 price suggests, Canon's Pixma TR8620 is a low-volume inkjet printer/copier/scanner aimed at families and home offices instead of busy business workgroups. Its 20-sheet automatic document feeder lacks auto-duplexing, so you'll have to flip and reinsert double-sided documents. Its ink-cartridge costs make printing more than a few hundred pages per month (especially black text pages) prohibitive. But its output is worth waiting for, with five inks (including pigment black) that produce brighter, more vibrant, and more accurate photos than four-ink office models, with less graininess and greater detail. The Canon also offers versatile PC and mobile connectivity and a friendly touch-screen control panel.

Though its connectivity and text output quality are faultless, the ET-8550 isn't your best pick for office productivity, since it has a flatbed scanner with no ADF for copying multipage documents. But semi-pro photographers, enthusiastic hobbyists, and small businesses making their own marketing materials will find it a perfect partner.

Canon's Selphy CP1500 comes from a venerable line of dye-sublimation printers that deliver snapshot-size output using "print packs" that bundle the paper and dye-ribbon cartridges in one box, good for a fixed number of prints. This model stands out for its support for up to four different print sizes, some with adhesive backing and some without. (Supporting smaller than the default 4-by-6-inch size requires a cheap adapter tray.) It's relatively fast and produces high-quality prints at very competitive running costs. You'll find the software geared more toward printing from mobile devices than PCs, but it will do a creditable job whatever the photo source.

HP's Sprocket Select finds a happy medium among the company's Zink (zero-ink) smartphone photo printers, making larger prints than the base Sprocket's tiny snapshots but coming in under the Sprocket Studio's 4-by-6-inch scrapbook photos. The Select's 2.3-by-3.4-inch pics have a peel-off sticky backing and cost 65 cents apiece if you buy HP's two-pack of 10 sheets. Print quality is the best we've seen from a Zink printer, if still short of inkjet and dye-sublimation devices, but then the Sprocket Select is only 0.7 by 3.5 by 5.7 inches and weighs just six ounces.

The Kodak Mini 3 Retro combines high-quality dye-sub printing with an Instagram-style square (3-by-3-inch) picture format. The "Retro" part of its name refers to its choice of borderless photos or pics with a white border around all four edges (equal at top and sides, and wider at bottom), which may appeal to nostalgia buffs or bulletin-board thumbtackers. Available in white, yellow, or black and measuring a pocket-friendly 1 by 5 by 4 inches, the one-pound printer makes four passes to lay down cyan, magenta, and yellow ink plus a protective clear coat. Kodak says its largest (90-print) paper and ink pack translates to 40 cents per photo, but we've found sale prices that cut that to 30 cents.

By contrast, near-dedicated photo printers are aimed at serious amateur and semipro photographers. They offer professional-level output quality, can typically print at sizes up to 13 by 19 inches (sometimes, even more), and often demand a reasonable level of sophistication to get the best results.

Near-dedicated photo printers and snapshot models both are made for printing photos, but that's where the similarities end between the two. By definition, near-dedicated photo printers are also capable of printing ordinary business documents, but it's a waste of their talents, like using a Lamborghini for a trip to the supermarket. You'll have to swap out paper stock or even ink cartridges when you switch from printing photos to everyday documents, only to get results that an office inkjet or laser printer could give you for a fraction of the cost.

Snapshot printers are a whole different animal. At one time, these printers often had LCD screens with menus and basic editing features that let you crop an image, remove red-eye, and so on; a few were practically home photo kiosks with touch-screen controls. Nowadays, however, snapshot printers tend to work with mobile devices like smartphones, over a wireless connection, with your phone or tablet serving as both the image source and the control screen. If you're mostly interested in printing quick, small snaps from your phone, these are more your speed.

The most common flaw in monochrome image printing is a color tint, or multiple tints, that show up in different shades of gray. If you intend to print lots of black-and-white photos, you'll need to check out monochrome photo quality separately from the printer's color photo quality. This is more often a problem for dedicated rather than near-dedicated photo printers, but you should be aware of it in either case. (In our reviews, we note such tints and their severity when we encounter them, but we don't use black-and-white images to test small-format snapshot printers, most of which aren't designed to print any.)

Most near-dedicated photo printers are larger than standard desktop-style inkjets, because they're designed for printing on cut-paper sheets as large as 11 by 17 or even 13 by 19 inches, plus banners and roll paper for some models. Beyond the size of the printer itself, some machines in this class need additional space behind them to feed large paper stock or accommodate a roll feeder.

To print on large paper with some near-dedicated photo printers, you have to feed a single sheet from the front, which the printer then feeds all the way out of a rear slot and then prints while moving the paper forward again. If you don't have enough free space for this approach to printing, look for a printer that can handle roll paper or feed large sheets from a standard tray (or both).

Connectivity options for near-dedicated photo printers are much the same as for standard office models. Some offer just a single USB connector; others add an Ethernet jack for easy sharing on an office network. Most now offer Wi-Fi connectivity, as well, and a few offer all three (USB, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi). Few models at this level offer PictBridge connectors or USB flash drive ports or SD card slots, because the assumption is that serious photographers will want to tweak their images before printing from photo-editing programs on their PCs or Macs.

A third technology seen in small snapshot printers is zero-ink, or Zink. As you'd guess, it uses no ink cartridges; instead, special Zink paper impregnated with chemicals generates the image when heated precisely by the printer. Zink doesn't support large prints, and its output quality doesn't quite stack up to dye-sub or inkjet. It's best described as good enough for photos that will wind up in a wallet or behind a refrigerator magnet.

Speed is a crucial measure for office printers, but print speed is almost a nonissue for these devices. Output quality matters much more, and even today's slowest photo printers offer tolerable speeds of two minutes or less for a 4-by-6-inch print in our tests. Of course, advertised or rated speeds are typically slower than real-world speeds, and (as we note in our reviews where applicable) wireless printing tends to be slower than USB or Ethernet.

Similarly, enterprises and workgroups worry about a printer's monthly and recommended duty cycles or maximum number of pages it can crank out in a given time frame. Unfortunately, manufacturers almost never rate duty cycles for snapshot and near-dedicated photo printers. About the best you can do is, if you know you'll be printing a lot of photos, shop for printers aimed at professional photographers and retail stores.

Whether you're a casual photographer or a pro, one of the photo printers below is sure to fit your needs. Whichever you choose, you're guaranteed to hold evidence of that great moment in your hand almost as soon as you capture it with a click. We've listed our favorite near-dedicated photo printers and snapshot models, as well as a few inkjet all-in-ones that do an especially good job with photos but can also serve general printing needs in a home or small office. 041b061a72


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