Let's say that you one day aspire to taking pictures and printing them at home without having to deal with online printers and the associated shipping costs.
While it definitely sounds like a nice idea, there are several things to consider before you dive in.
First, it's not the printer that will cost you money: it's the ink.
While you can pick up an exceptional photo printer for less than $300 USD, a full ink refill for that printer will run you about $100 USD per refill. Depending on your print volume, this can add up over time.
If you do decide to start making prints of your images to sell to clients, you'll have to make sure that your per-print charge covers the cost of the ink.
A second major consideration is that you'll need to calibrate your computer monitor so that the color on the monitor matches the color in your prints.
Without calibration, what you see as bright red on your computer monitor might print as a shade of pink. Simply put: without a way for both the monitor AND the printer to know what "red" is, they will both decide on their own how to render the color.
Also, there's no point in calibrating a cheap LCD monitor. They simply don't have the discreet brightness and color controls for calibration to have an impact.
For best results, consider upgrading to an IPS LCD like the Viewsonic VP2365-LED (approximately $300 USD). IPS screens have better color fidelity than regular LCDs. Most importantly, the colors don't change when you adjust your viewing angle, a common issue with entry-level LCDs.
Once you've got a decent monitor, then you need to calibrate it. I use the Spyder from datacolor to ensure that all my monitors are displaying colors correctly.
Calibration not only improves the colors displayed by your monitor, it also provides a standard color reference for both the monitor and printer. This ensures that the bright blue you see on your screen is just as vibrant when it prints.
Once you've got the proper monitor and have ensured that it is calibrated, then you can go looking for a high-quality photo printer. Two relatively economical options are the Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II ($150 USD after $200 mail-in rebate) or the Epson Artisan 50 ($150 USD).
To wrap up, let's have a quick review of the tools and associated costs of making pro prints at home:
- IPS LCD - $300 USD
- Color Calibrator - $150 - $200 USD
- Printer - $150 USD
- Replacement Ink Set - $100 USD
Grand total: approximately $700 USD. Maybe paying for shipping from online printers isn't so bad after all...