One of the most common questions I get asked as a professional photographer is, “Where should I print my photos?”
As a Seattle newborn photographer, I set out to answer that very question by ordering prints from numerous labs to compare and contrast everything from quality, price, feel, durability, ease, and overall look. The end result is something that may shock you, as I was surprised myself with my findings.
Before I dive in, I want to preface this with a few things:
- I ordered from several labs. I paid for every print out of my own pocket. None were gifted to me, nor did any company ask for me to write a review of them.
- Next, it is important to note what matters most to you. Knowing your goals for your prints will help you determine the best lab to use.
- Since there are several factors why people purchase prints I decided to split “awards” based on categories to help you make the best choice for your family and needs.
- Whenever printing photos on your own, please ensure you have printing rights from your photographer. Each family who has had a session with me has personal use right for printing and sharing their photos. However, that is not the case with all photographers.
The Print Labs:
For this text I ordered prints of various sizes, including color and black and white images, images taken indoors and out, with different skin tones and type of lighting. The labs are my professional lab, Artifact Uprising, MPIX, Shutterfly, and Target Photo. I wanted to ensure you’d have a variety of labs to help answer where to print your photos.
Best overall place to print photos: Professional Lab
I know this isn’t a huge surprise. You might even be rolling your eyes, of course the photographer recommends her own lab. However, when it came to quality, colors, tone, value, and look, the professional lab won out. The prints arrived safely packaged, with beautiful tones, thick photo paper, and exactly as I expected them to look based on the image sent to the printer.
Across all sizes, the look and feel were consistently beautiful, with archival quality papers I know will last.
It should also be pointed out when considering where to print your photos, that professional photographers are typically calibrated to certain professional labs. This means that my monitor and editing are “in sync” with specific print labs, ensuring the highest level of quality and color matching. In other words, you get what you would expect from looking at the digital version of the photo.
Best place to print inexpensive small sized prints: Target Photo
If your goal is to get some smaller (4×6 or 5×7 prints) at an inexpensive price, Target Photo won out. Although their ordering process was a bit of a pain, the quality was actually the closest to my professional lab and had a decent look overall. However, the paper felt flimsier and they are not likely a long lasting print compared with my lab.
This is not a lab to print at if you’re hoping for archival quality prints, one that will hold up with time and light exposure.
Best place to print your photos for boutique prints: Artifact Uprising
The colors and tones in the prints from Artifact Uprising were gorgeous. The paper on their everyday prints were a bit more like a very nice holiday card paper. Even the 8×10 print I ordered was more like thick card-stock, not the traditional photo paper. With that, the print was gorgeous. They are a bit pricer though, as the 8×10 was more expensive than I personally charge clients for an 8×10 print.
Best Place to Print Your Photos for Large Prints or Archival Quality: Professional Lab
The biggest different in prints came when you got to the larger sized prints (anything 8×10 and larger). On the 12×18 prints I ordered (or 11×14 as Target did not have a 12×18 option), the colors started varying a ton. Also, the larger prints arrived rolled from both Target Photo and Shutterfly.
The cost difference was surprisingly not that different across all labs, while the quality was.
Since the larger prints are ones that will be more prominently displayed in your home (and for longer periods of time), the best choice is to go with quality over trying to save a few dollars. Larger prints make a larger statement, so you want to ensure the best lab choice. You will also want your larger print to last when framed. As the sun hits the image, fading can occur when you order from less expensive print labs.
My Print Lab Conclusion:
In the end, I was happy to find that my print labs quality won out. However, in understanding family’s needs vary, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Target Photo’s quality was decent on the 4×6 sized prints. If you’re looking for a few inexpensive prints to use for projects or to just have around the house, Target is a fine option.
However, if you’re looking for best overall quality, your photographer’s lab is the best option.
Looking for ideas and inspiration on ways to use your professional photos? I have you covered. Follow the link below.