Printing at Home
Printing at Retail
Outputting Digital Images Is All About
by Theano Nikitas
Printing digital images is all about choices: choices for the
retailer and choices for the consumer.
But let's face it, the digital imaging workflow has been a bit lopsided.
Sure, getting a digital image is easy. Digital camera sales have soared; film and prints can be scanned either at retail or at home. Card readers and USB connections make it easier and faster than ever to transfer images to computers. Apple's new iPhoto and Microsoft's Windows XP are designed to make digital imaging a walk in the park. The ability to retouch or edit images is in place with digital camera software bundles and an abundance of shrink-wrapped applications. When it comes to output, however, the workflow just doesn't flow quite as smoothly.
Although the majority (63.2% according to the 2001 PMA U.S. Consumer Photo Buying Report) of digital camera owners feel it is important to produce paper prints, only 57% did so in 2000. Of that 57%, only 7% of prints were made at retail. Given the scarcity of retail options, that low number is hardly surprising.
The Home Solution
IDC reports that in 2001, 19 million scanner and digital camera owners in the U.S. generated prints. Of those 19 million users, 90% of them printed images at home. No surprise since the availability of high quality, affordable inkjet printers-and the lack of other choices-makes printing at home the most desirable and the most readily accessible existing output option.
Photo printer sales that number in the millions and the sale of large quantities of high quality inkjet media, says Keith Kratzberg, Epson's director of Photo Imaging, is also clear evidence that consumers are printing their photos at home.
Printing at home meets a number of needs. It's convenient and immediate. Consumers can make prints anytime they want and in any size they desire. There's no delay waiting for prints to come back from the lab or be shipped from an online photo service.
If they choose, consumers can correct, retouch or otherwise manipulate their images. The quality and longevity of inkjet output has been raised and while output is dependent upon the printer and paper used, high quality image inkjet output is a reality. If consumers don't have a computer, they can purchase a standalone printer with a built-in media card slot.
Standalone printers aside, home printing requires time, effort and a reasonable working knowledge of computers, software and printers. For avid photographers who want control over their output, the extra effort is no problem. For other digital imagers, however, this can present an obstacle. But, as we mentioned earlier, and Epson's Kratzberg emphasizes, "...Microsoft and Apple have taken tremendous leaps forward with XP and iPhoto that have really streamlined the process of loading images into a computer and printing them out."
Cost is another important issue for consumers. Depending on size, ink coverage and type of paper, cost per print can vary but Kratzberg estimates a 4x6 print generated at home runs towards the low end of 50 cents. Snapshot-sized prints from an online photo service (excluding shipping costs), a lab or a photo kiosk are often less expensive. Kratzberg points out, however, that home output of larger sizes like 8x10's are less expensive than the alternatives-$1.50 vs. a minimum of $4 and up.
All practical matters aside, Kratzberg adds, and we concur, that printing images at home still gives people a thrill. Yes, printing digital images at home can be magic.
Internet Photo Sites
The dot com boom has come and gone, but Chris Chute, Sr. Research Analyst for IDC, believes that there is still a space for online print fulfillment. Between 2000 and 2005, Chute says, IDC sees the share of images that are printed via online services grow from about 2% at the height of dot coms to about 7-8%.
Sites like Shutterfly and Ofoto are still standing, even though the dot com boom went bust, but consumer usage continues to be comparatively low. People are storing and sharing photos online, although only about a quarter of them, according to PMA, have also ordered prints online. The driving forces behind those orders appear to be just to "try it" and/or to take advantage of promotional free prints.
The procedure of ordering prints online is easy and relatively convenient, with step-by-step instructions and round-the-clock access. Basic image editing functions can be performed online and consumers are offered a wide variety of specialty output, including greeting cards and albums.