Printing Photos: When Should I Start Printing My Own Work?

In-house inkjet printingDo you remember the first time you jumped off the high dive as a kid? I do, and boy was I scared. But that anxiety was soon replaced by exhilaration once I came out of the water. After taking the plunge, all my fears washed away, and I said to myself, “Gee, I had myself all worked up over nothing; I wish I would have done that sooner!”

In 21 years of running my own portrait studio I have had similar moments of clarity. Like the time I began to learn Photoshop, or when I switched from film to digital. Each time there has been a great deal of worry, questioning, and research that eventually led me into taking the plunge. And, once committed, I later wondered why it took me so long to do it!

For almost two years we have been printing our portrait work in-house, and I have to say it really is not that hard, especially with LexJet’s awesome support team led by my personal customer specialist, Justin Craft. After buying the Epson 4800 and the ImagePrint RIP it took me just a few phone calls and I was up and running (now I have an Epson 9900). And, except for ordering more rolls of Sunset Photo eSatin Paper, which I love, I haven’t made a single call for more technical help. 

Yet when I speak to photographers at seminars and conventions, many of them have a hard time climbing up the proverbial ladder to take the in-house printing plunge. Here are their concerns and my responses to those concerns:

Concern: You don’t really save that much money going in-house.
Response: In one year we printed about 11,000 units with only $6,000 in ink, paper, and shipping costs. That’s only 55 cents per unit and $2.20 for a 16×20. With my old lab, printing costs would have been over $22,000. Plus, there are more opportunities when you can print for yourself. We were able to say yes to a job that needed 20 16×20 prints in four days. That alone added an extra $2,000 to our bottom line.

Concern: It will take too much time or manpower to do it myself.
Response: With the ImagePrint RIP it takes the same amount of time to send it to my printer as it does using the Web-based software most labs use. Yes, it takes time to trim prints, but not much more than it does to unwrap boxes and sort through things sent back from your supplier. We use a part-time high school student to help as needed. At $8 per hour she loves it more than a fast food job and we are still way ahead financially. Plus, she helps with other tasks as needed.

Concern: Inkjet photo papers have issues with curling, scratching, and gloss differential.
Response: The older Epson printers had those issues, but scratching and gloss differential is just not a problem with the new stuff. For me, paper curl is much less a factor with Sunset Photo eSatin. Even at the end of the roll, where it’s wound tight, the paper is so heavy and thick it only takes laying it out overnight before gravity flattens it out, eliminating any curl.

Concern: Inkjet is just not as good a product.
Response: I want to be able to look my customers straight in the eye and tell them this is the very best I can offer. Once I saw test prints from a homemade direct light test, I knew the only way I could maintain my integrity was to go in-house. Epson’s new ink technology lasts about four times longer, and Canon and HP are now producing similar results with their printers. Inkjet is just plain better.

Concern: Color management is too difficult.
Response: When it comes to color, I’m not the most focused lens on the camera, so to speak. I know good and bad color when I see it, but I could not tell you how to mix things correctly to achieve it. So, at the risk of sounding like a commercial for ImagePrint and LexJet, I will tell you that those are the names and products which ensure I get awesome color every time. They just set me up and the rest takes care of itself. I run a few simple head alignment tests every so often, and that’s it. ImagePrint seems to take the “governor” off the printer, creating delicious color. I like to use the phrase High Definition Color because my in-house printing provides a larger color gamut than anything else I have seen.

I hope this article helps some studio owners to consider taking the in-house printing plunge. If I can do it, you can do it. It’s really not that hard.