- The Washington Times - Monday, December 19, 2005

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Point. Shoot. Print. Getting a hard copy of your memories has never been easier.

About two-thirds of the estimated 17 billion prints from digital cameras made this year were created from the comfort of snap-happy American homes.

Another 27 percent came from the photofinishing services of retailers, where people either use the self-serve computer terminals at the counter or place their orders online for pick up later at the store.

The remainder, according to market researcher IDC, were delivered straight to consumers via online services that nowadays charge as low as a dime a print, not counting shipping costs.

In fact, while prices vary, market researchers say the retail route is generally cheaper than do-it-yourself inkjet printing.

Beyond these main options for getting pictures are countless variations.

In Pennsylvania, proud parents can order pictures of their newborns from a photo kiosk before they leave the hospital. In Maine, customers can go to Cafe Click, one of the growing number of digital printing lounges that offer gourmet coffee and a play area for children.

With so many printing choices today — not to mention price cuts and promotions — amateur photographers often find choosing how to get a print in hand is the hardest part of the process.

The method of printing will usually depend on how quickly you want to see the results, how many you want, how far you are willing to travel to get them and how much you want to pay.

But this much is clear: “You have a lot more flexibility now than what you used to have with film where you always had to just drop it off,” said Chris Chute, digital imaging analyst at IDC.

What’s less obvious is what each of these options really costs.

The average price of printing a 4-by-6 photo at home is 27 cents, if you include the costs of photo paper and ink, but not the printer, according to IDC. Special value bundles, such as the purchase of an ink cartridge and 100 sheets of photo paper, could bring the price down as low as 22 cents per print.

By comparison, the retail segment, which includes stores such as Walgreen Co. or Costco Wholesale Corp., has an average price of 21 cents a print, said IDC.

For online photo services such as Kodakgallery.com, Shutterfly.com or Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Snapfish.com, the average price is 30 cents, including shipping.

Yet cost isn’t always the deciding factor.

Alexander Dyer of Bethlehem, Pa., likes the relaxing atmosphere, friendly service, free coffee and easy-to-use software at the DigiPrint Lounge inside Dan’s Camera City store in nearby Allentown.

The 73-year-old retired executive goes there almost weekly, paying 29 cents apiece for standard-sized photos of his grandchildren, latest vacation or beloved pet.

In fact, every worker there knows his West Highland terrier’s name, Quincy.

Mr. Dyer spent part of a recent morning at the lounge ordering prints of his Thanksgiving family weekend and choosing a photo Christmas card starring Quincy.

Mr. Dyer has a computer at home, but never bothered to try printing there, even though it’s been three years since he got his first digital camera.

“Going to Dan’s is just easier for me,” he said. “And I find it’s cheaper and faster to go to a place like that.”

Still, printing at home has a key advantage: Get prints anytime you want as long as you are willing to wait roughly 30 seconds to a minute for each print.

Inkjet printers that can produce decent photos can be found for as little as $99 nowadays, said Ed Lee, digital photography analyst at InfoTrends/CAP Ventures.

Common models that have more features sell for between $149 and $199.

Most newer printers will produce image quality comparable to what you would find at most retailers. And if you are willing to spend more on high-end archival photo paper, your prints from home might even technically outperform the ones from retailers, Mr. Lee said.

But if you want to make a lot of prints, say, more than a dozen, then sitting at home — waiting for the printing to complete, sometimes having to feed the paper by hand each time — isn’t ideal.

Retailers can do big jobs quickly, and will do it in under an hour if you pay a bit more.

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