Imagine you just paid to have some great photographer :) take your family pictures. You purchased your 15-20 digital images on a disk and now it's in your hot little hand. You can't wait to go print them out somewhere, but where? Not all photo labs are created equal. I noticed a while ago that some of them gave me different results so I wanted to share that with you.
I decided to print out one picture at six different labs, some in town and some online, some in town BUT with online access too. Confused? I hope not.
The labs I tested this time were:
Walgreens ( nationwide in-store/online 1 hour lab)
Sam's Club ( nationwide in-store/ online 1 hour lab-Does every state have them? )
Creve Coeur Camera ( in town/online access STL camera store/lab)
MPix ( online only consumer division of Millers Pro Lab)
Shutterfly ( online only)
Diversified Lab ( professional photo lab here in the STL)
I used the picture of Louie above to check for color, clarity, and lightness/darkness in my prints. I sent the same exact file that I had corrected to six different photo labs. I wanted all of them to print as is but as you will see, that didn't always happen. To be fair, I also think my monitor needs to be calibrated. That just means that you buy a little contraption that helps you to make your screen as neutral as you can so your prints don't have too much of any one color at any time. But I digress, that's a whole other blog post.
You deserve to get the most consistent results from your digital files that you can. You should see the same color and quality in your prints as you do when you view them on your computer screen. That being said...the pro labs will always give you the best color and quality. Getting prints through your photographer is always the best way to go.
I understand the need to save some moola so that is why I did this test. I know most the folks I take photos of now ( here in the STL) want the digital files and want to go get prints out and about.
Here are some of the things you should be looking for when you print your images:
Type of paper
Do you want your picture to be glossy or not glossy? It really does change the look/feel of most images. Some photo places give you a choice, some don't. Don't be surprised. If you don't know or can't tell from their site, throw them an email and ask.
Cropping preview ( again... a whole other blog post)
When you print anything above the size of 4x6, there is going to be some cropping that happens. If you are ordering a vertical picture, the cropping will be on the top and bottom. If you are ordering a horizontal image, the cropping will be on the left and right. You may lose some of the image that you don't necessarily want to . That's why previewing your crop is so important. Look for a place that let's YOU decide where you want to crop and then let's you preview it.
Too Dark or too light or weird color
You don't want your images to be way darker than you intended or way lighter. Like I said , they should look very close to what you see on your computer screen ( for the most part). Test out a few places yourself, you might be surprised like I was. Some you will definitely notice a color whether it's yellow, red, or blue.
Here are all of the prints laying together so you can see the differences with them close up.
The only option you have as far as paper goes for a one hour print in any size is glossy. Now, I'm not knocking glossy but sometimes you want it and sometimes you don't. My image came out dark and I lost alot of detail in anything that was even sort of shaded. I usually only use them in situations where I need something asap like a school poster for K. You do get the option on how you want to crop your picture so make sure you use it. ( see image below)
This one was pretty good. It was a little on the warm (orangey) side compared to my screen but all of the details were in the shadows. And it was in a matte (non-glossy) paper which I wanted. They offer the cropping tool as well. ( see image below)
3) Diversified Lab
They offered me some test prints to test the color between my monitor and their printers. It was still off , a little too yellow/orange compared to my screen. Over all the lightness and details of the picture were good. They also got it to me very quickly. They offered many different types of paper: matte, glossy, metallic, etc. Lots to choose from based on the kid of image you would have. As I chose any given size , they had a very easy to use cropping tool that left nothing to the imagination. What I saw, was what I got. They also have the option to not( see image below)
4) Creve Coeur Camera
This one was one of the top three for me. It was probably the best as far as looking like my screen. It was the right lightness and the details were all there. They have the crop tool along with a setting that says " no color correction" . That is important when you receive digital files from your photographer as they have taken the time to edit and enhance all of the images they have given you. They also give you a choice of paper.
5) Sams Club
Again, just like Walgreens, very dark and I lost all details in the shadows. yuck. That being said I have used them for 4x6 album prints in the past but know I'm wondering how good my prints would have looked from somewhere else. I would only use them in pinch if I really had to. Someone told me Costco was really good but I don't have a membership there so I don't know.( see image below)
This one was again very close to my screen....good lightness, good details and decent color. I got the glossy here and I don't know whay I chose that. You only have the choice of matte in prints bigger than 11x14 here in case you like the gloss.I would definitely order other images from them. And as they seem to always be running some kind of special, it would be good for your wallet as well.( see image below)
I think I would rate my favs as Creve Coeur and with a tie between Mpix and Shutterfly. I hope this helps you decide on where to take your pictures. I know there are so many other photo labs you can go to and this is all just my opinion. There might even be some better than these. I just know that I do my best to take awesome pictures and when they don't turn out awesome being printed. I get kinda mad.
So where do you go for pictures and do you love them? Tell me so I can go try them out and report back to you. Happy photo taking!