Pros and Cons of Physical Albums
The traditional paper photo album has existed for nearly as long as cameras, and just about every family has at least one. While they are a nice place to put a few hundred photos, albums aren’t good for showing off lots of pictures, and are static representations.
Photo albums are perfect for stashing up to a couple hundred paper pictures in a small space, but it can take hours to arrange and affix them to the pages. Once they’re mounted, it’s hard to change the layout of the photos, and I’ve found that over the years, regardless of whether you use tape, glue or corners, eventually some will fall out.
An album with 50 large pages can hold roughly 275 assorted photos from 3- by 5- and 4- by 6-inch snapshots to 5- by 7- and 8- by 10-inch enlargements. It can be fun to arrange and place the photos, but it takes a lot of time. We figure that after you’ve selected which pictures you want to use, a 50-page album will take as much as four hours of work.
The good news is that unlike a digital picture frame, it takes no extra time to orient the photos so that they’re facing the right way up. A digital frame requires that the images be individually rotated and resaved in an image editing program so you don’t end up with a picture of Uncle Ralph laying on his side alongside the Statue of Liberty.
Like any other book, you can take the paper album wherever you go. Obviously, it doesn’t need electricity, unless you want to look at it at night. A good album with acid-free paper should preserve the prints for decades, if not centuries. I have a tattered album from the late 19th century of long-gone family members and the photos are usually in much better shape than the paper on which they’re mounted.
I’m in the midst of scanning several boxes of family photos that I recently inherited. Along with my own digital photos, my total paper photo collection adds up to more than 13,000 images that could go in paper albums. But even if I’m ruthless in my editing, the collection will end up filling up a dozen albums at about 6 pounds each, on a bookshelf with sagging shelves.
I want, new, properly edited, clean-looking photos for my albums, so of course I have to print them out. That can get very expensive, very fast. Kodak’s Web site charges 30 cents to print a 4- by 6-inch photo, $1.59 for a 5- by 7-inch and $4.25 for an 8- by 10-inch. My mix of 275 images might come to nearly $350 if I used this service. The attractive gift album itself will cost about $50 from Kodak, coming to a total of $400.
Doing this requires no energy input on my part other than sorting and mounting the pictures, but there are costs to the environment from the processing and shipping of the prints. Traditional photo processing is very water intensive, uses caustic chemicals, and can release silver into the environment.
There’s a less expensive way, however: printing the photos myself. With a color laser printer, like the OKI C6050n, the cost drops dramatically. The printer has a resolution of 1,200 dots per inch and an excellent color enhancement mode for printing photos. They’re not as sharp and rich as professionally printed images but with special glossy photo paper they look quite good.
Inkjet printers do a pretty good job of printing photos as well. They typically use less power but are slower and often have ink that costs five- to ten-times more than laser printers per print.
Rather than using 275 sheets of photo paper, I can cut the price and effect on the environment of this project by combining some of the smaller images I want to print onto these larger sheets, using POS’s Multiple Image Printing Wizard (link to mini review). Then, I’ll cut them up and mount them in the album later. I’ll need a package of 100 sheets, which costs $21, to fill my 50-page album.
According to Gary Peterson, principal analyst at Gap Intelligence, a research firm that covers the consumer photo printing business, the Oki C6050n costs between 20- and 47 cents per page to produce photo-quality prints. His company looks at the costs, from acquisition to consumable items, including toner and replacement drums and fusers.
The Gap analysis leaves out one key thing: electricity. Using a Kill-A-Watt power meter, I found that printing 10 individual photos uses 0.2 kilowatt hour of electricity, so 100 sheets would consume 2 kilowatt hours of juice. That means printing my photos should cost 22 cents at the current national average of 11 cents per kilowatt hour.
That adds up to 3.2 pounds of extra carbon dioxide released into the air from a power plant to print my photos, based on the EPA’s carbon calculator . This carbon dioxide contributes to global warming, but is a tiny fraction of the 19.1 metric tons a year that the typical American is responsible for each year, according to the United Nations.
Using an average of 32 cents per page to print the photos myself, along with $21 for the paper and $50 for the album, my total cost comes to $103.22 for the entire project. That’s a lot less than the $400 it would cost to use professional prints. Either way, it’s a lot of money, but let’s see how the power cost and carbon footprint of paper prints compares to a digital album.
Pros of Albums—
They are portable, require no technology to view and can make an impressive gift.
Cons of Albums—
Photo albums are expensive to print, bulky in large quantities, and are essentially static.