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Four reasons to ditch your photo printer

Single-function mini photo printers are a waste. Here are four other options for printing and viewing your photos.

This woman is clearly thrilled with her decision to use a kiosk instead of a tiny photo printer. Kodak

If you look at our 2009 holiday gift guide, neither the camera nor the printers sections have recommendations for little, standalone photo printers. This probably wasn't intentional, but the fact is, they've become sort of niche products that I'd be hard-pressed to recommend these days. With so many other ways to get prints and enjoy and consume digital photos, it seems like these single-function printers, regardless of size, are just more tech clutter. I say this because I own two that have done nothing but collect dust this year.

This doesn't mean I don't make individual prints (though lately I've been making more photo books) or regularly view my pictures, because I do. There's just much better ways of freeing the photos trapped online or on a hard drive.

  1. Online printing
    The Web has roughly a gazillion ways to view and share digital photos as well as order prints or various other products. So, the first step is to find one you like and will use, and sign up. It's been, um, awhile since CNET examined the topic of online printing services, but DigitalPhotos101 and TopTenReviews have current reviews on the subject. According to both sites, HP-owned Snapfish comes out on top. Snapfish does mail-order, but its retail partnerships allow you to do in-store pickup. It, too, is where you can get my favorite photo gift, the giant $50 wall clock (there's a smaller $20 version as well). Also, while it's going to seem like I'm a rep for Kodak by the end of this post, I've been a longtime user of its printing services. Its new professional print options yield particularly nice results.
  2. Kiosks
    When I do want or need prints quickly, I head to a photo kiosk. I think people tend to forget it's an option available to them, which could be why I've never had to wait more than a couple minutes to use one. I'm surrounded by CVS pharmacies loaded up with Kodak kiosks like the one pictured, but I have used Fujifilm's GetPix systems, too. Both are very good and reasonably straightforward to use.
  3. TV
    If you're done with prints altogether, looking at pictures on a TV is much better than having your friends and family huddle around a computer screen. When I stopped to think about it, I have multiple options for viewing digital photos through my TV, not including directly connecting the camera. Most frequently I use my DVD player that has a USB port on front for viewing JPEGs from external drives, as does the side of my HDTV. I also create DVDs of photos and play them back, which has the side effect of creating backup copies. Just about any networked component can reach out and connect to photo collections on home computers and/or sharing sites. Favorites around our office included PS3, Xbox 360, TiVo, and Panasonic Blu-ray players and TVs with Viera Cast. Basically, take a look at your home entertainment devices and there's bound to be at least one way to view photos on your TV.
  4. Digital photo frames
    This one is hard for me to include here for two reasons. One, it requires you to go out and buy something, while my other suggestions are about using what's already accessible. Two, the cheaper models are pretty much single-function devices--they display photos. In my experience, these lower-end frames are the equivalent to a standalone photo printer, loaded up once and never touched again (feel free to comment otherwise). If you're open to it, the way to go is with the more expensive Web-connected models like the Toshiba 8-inch Digital Media Frame, which offer you more viewing options. Content can be pulled in from Flickr, Picasa, and Facebook accounts and most come with e-mail addresses that can be used to send photos directly to the frame. They can be used for checking sports scores, RSS feeds, and weather forecasts, too. Another option is to get one of the new frame/printer combos from Sony or Epson. I'm not as sold on these, because they take up more space than just a frame and, well, they're still single-function printers that now have 7-inch LCDs attached.

  5. Hopefully something here will spark you to start viewing or printing your photos in new ways. And if you think I'm missing something, please put it in the comments. I'm always curious about how people are using their pictures other than on Facebook. Do you print your digital photos or is that method of enjoying pictures dead, dead, dead?

    Update: Just to clarify, I'm not entirely against printing photos at home. I'm just not a fan of compact consumer photo printers like these, when there are better, cheaper ways to print or view your photos--unless you have a specific need for mobile photo printing. A nice multifunction, such as the HP Photosmart Premium, Kodak ESP 5250, Canon Pixma MP560, and Epson Artisan 810, is a better purchase for the occasional print. For regularly making photo prints, though, see the first two options above.