Is It Cheaper to Print Photos at Home or at the Store?

pictures in printer under ink nozzles

Digital images are cool, but there's just something about printed images that can't be beaten. So how should you get your hard copy memories? Is it cheaper to print photos at home or at the store? Or should you use an online printing service?

The math is pretty clear. If you're looking for the absolute cheapest way to print individual photos, you should use an online photo printing service.

However, if you print a lot of photos, the cost of each photo you print at home begins to go down. So if you're printing photos all the time, it may be more cost-effective in the long term for you to print all your photos at home.

If you don't print a ton of pictures, an inexpensive photo printing service online is probably the best option for you. As long as you don’t mind waiting a few days for your photos, this is the best option, and it’s one where you have to do the least amount of work.

Printing Photos

There are some memories that you want to put in frames, photo albums, and scrapbooks. Maybe you want to put them on the fridge.

There are lots of art projects you can create using your own photos and many ways to have fun displaying your favorite pictures. But before you can get there, you’ve got to print out your photos.

And if you’re printing them out, don’t you need to know the most cost-effective way to do it?

Nothing really replaces printed photos, but it is a lot cheaper to simply keep them as digital files. Knowing how to get the cheapest photos makes it easier to get all the prints you want of the photos you love best without worrying about the cost.

The Cost of Printing Photos at Home

Printing photos at home is probably the easiest option. You're already at home, after all, and you can pretty quickly select the photos you like and get a printed copy of them within moments using your own phone, mobile device, or PC.

But is this the most cost-effective option? To get an idea of what it costs to print out photos at home, you have to start with the cost of the equipment and materials you'll need and compare the comfort of printing at home to the ultimate price you’ll pay.

The Printer

For true photo-quality photos, you will need a photo-quality printer that prints in full color. There are many options out there when you're looking for a photo printer.

Photo printers are relatively easy to find, with most major electronics retailers offering various models. Prices range from about $25 for small, compact printers to $200 or more for full-sized printers.

Depending on the bells and whistles you want and what you need the printer to do, along with the size and style of it, you’ll pay a lot less or a lot more to print out your photos. Choose a printer that will perform solidly and print out photos with the high-quality coloring and sharpness you want to have.

Considering the size and style of the printer should come as a secondary consideration to the quality of the print you’ll get.

If you don't already own a printer, this is a large upfront expense. Even if you go with a more affordable option, you still have to pay more than the price of having photos printed by someone else.

The Paper

You don't want to print your photos out on regular typing paper. To get gorgeous photos, you need photo paper.

Photo paper is designed to be glossy and thick and it’s available in different grades and qualities, though it isn’t at all difficult to find photo paper that’s comparable to the paper used by professional photographers and companies providing photo printing services.

Photo paper costs less than 10 cents per sheet for standard 4 x 6 and 3.5 x 5-inch photos, on average.

The Ink Cartridges

There's another cost associated with printing out photos at home: the ink cartridges. After you print many photos, you will need to replace the cartridges in your printer to continue getting full-color photos.

Printer cartridges cost, on average, $15 to $35 each. The price depends on the brand name and size of the cartridge you purchase.

You will be able to print dozens of photos before the cartridges need to be replaced, at least a couple dozen and possibly more.

The Imperfections

It's easy to print photos out at home because you can do it at home without leaving the house. This makes things not just easy and convenient, but quite quick as well.

However, one aspect of this is more difficult when you print at home: you have to trim your own photos.

Because the photos are being printed out on paper, you will usually need to trim the photos to remove excess paper. This is fine if you're handy with scissors and a bit anxiety-inducing if you are not.

When you have someone else print the photos, they will be perfectly sized and trimmed and look completely professional. If you do it yourself, you may end up with some minor imperfections.

For some people, however, this makes the photos even more personal and endearing so this is not always a mark in the negative column when it comes to home-printed photos and professional photos.

What's the Cost?

When you add the cost of the printer cartridges and the cost of paper, the materials that are needed for every single photo you print, what's the total cost of printing your photos...and how does it compare to going to the store to have your photos printed instead?

Depending on how much use you get out of every ink cartridge, you will pay $0.12 at minimum to print photos, though in reality you will pay closer to $1.00 per photo. That's not including the cost of the printer itself.

Printing Photos Online

You know how you can do pretty much everything online now? It’s no different when it comes to printing photos.

There are several companies that specialize in printing photos and some that offer these services in addition to lots of other stuff. Sites like Shutterfly offer photo printing services, as does Amazon.

On average, online photo printing services costs $0.09 to $0.12 per photo. You have lots of them to choose from if you want to find an online company that will provide this service.

Once you upload your photos, choose the size and number of photos you want, the photos will be printed and sent to our home or to wherever you set the shipping address.

The entire process takes just a few minutes. You’ll spend the most amount of time trying to choose which photos you want to have printed.

Printing Photos at the Store

You don’t have to print at home or order online. There are several well-known chain retailers that offer in-store photo printing that’s very easy to use and highly affordable, too.

Many pharmacies, for example, offer photo printing services. The process is very easy, as you can upload your photos online and get the pictures about an hour later.

You can also get photos printed in-store using your phone, a USB drive, or even your social media account, so you don’t even have to go online to get your prints ordered. It’s extremely user-friendly to use the in-store photo kiosk, and this can be a great option if you’re already shopping in a store that has a photo kiosk.

These photos cost, on average, $0.20 to $0.30 per picture, whether you shop online or do everything using the kiosk. Depending on the printer paper and cartridges you use, this cost is comparable or cheaper than the price of printing photos at home.

Unless you’re spending a lot of time, money, and gas to go to the store to pick up the photos, this is often a cheaper option than printing at home. However, it is not cheaper than ordering photos online.

Printing Photos FAQ

How long does it take to have photos printed and delivered through an online service?

Online services are pretty quick but of all our options for getting printed photos, this is the slowest. Printing them at home takes mere moments, picking them up from a store takes about an hour, and online services will generally take three business days at the absolute quickest.

Every order is a custom order, naturally, so it does take a little bit of time for the order to be processed, to be printed, and then to be shipped to you. Even with express shipping options, don’t expect to see photos in your mailbox for two business days.

Can you have photos printed in larger or unusual sizes?

Stores, online printing services, and the photo paper you can purchase for home use typically come in standard photo sizes, with 8 x 10 often being the largest size you can print at home. If you need a poster-sized photo or a more unusual size, however, online photo services often provide this as well.

Unless you use a full-sized sheet of photo paper and cut it yourself, you cannot get unusual photo sizes from a home printer, and it's not easy to find this option with in-store printing services, either. However, some stores do offer to print large-scale photos, such as posters.

A paper cutter or a straight razor cutter is an easier way to cut out photos, as opposed to scissors which can be difficult to hold straight while you’re cutting. But if you need precision cutting for unusual photos, it might be best to have them professionally printed.

How many photos will an ink cartridge print before it has to be changed?

The number of photos you can print without changing your cartridge varies on the printer you're using and on the cartridge. You can get as few as 25 photos or as many as 200 before the cartridge must be changed, depending on these variables.

Both cartridges don’t always need to be switched out at the same time, though this is usually the case. It’s a good rule to buy both cartridges, black and color, because they often need to be replaced close to the same time anyway.

What’s the absolute most inexpensive way to get photo prints?

If you’re looking for the best way to save money on printing photos and you’re not a professional or a person who is printing out photos on a very regular basis, using an online service is going to be your most cost-effective option.

You will have to wait a little longer to get your photos, but even with the cost of shipping, you’ll ultimately be saving money on every photo you have printed. Plus, online sites offer special deals and offers so you can sometimes get free shipping, extra prints, and incentives that make it possible for you to save even more money on your photos.

Websites that specialize in printing photos tend to offer the cheapest and best deals on photo printing, even above stores that provide the service and huge online retailers like Amazon.

If you prefer the convenience and you don’t mind paying more, or better yet, you don’t plan to print out photos often, and you already own a full-color photo printer, photos printed out at home will give you the photos you want with the smallest amount of trouble possible.

Further Reading

5 Tips for Taking Your Own Family Photos

How to Add Hooks to Standing Picture Frames

How to Frame a Photo Mounted on Foam Core

How to Style a Gallery Wall

How To Take Professional Pictures of Your DIY Project

Make Your Own Lovely Photo Frame