Over the years, I have printed photographs a variety of ways and for many uses. When it comes to the images I have carefully created for my photography clients, I believe the pro lab I use it is the best option. But for every day snapshots, and especially photos I print and use for my Project Life albums, consumer labs are just fine. Below are some examples of the prints I have received back from print labs. To make the differences more apparent, I used all black and white images. These were all completely desaturated images when they were sent to the lab, but some of these prints are clearly not completely black and white. This happens when a printer isn't properly calibrated.
So here is a run down of the photo labs I have tried and why I do or do not use them for printing my personal snapshots.
Pro labs calibrate their printers regularly. By using them, I can guarantee that the colors on my computer screen will be the same as what comes back on my prints. This is very important when it comes to providing artwork for my photography clients, and it would be a huge bummer to me if the image I spent time perfecting came back looking different that how I had planned.
Unfortunately they are only for business owners and require a high minimum with each order placed, which means that it isn't worth it to order a handful of 4x6 prints.
Their photo paper's thickness is another reason I wouldn't use them for Project Life albums. For a professional print, the thickness is perfect, especially for a photo than a 5x7 photo that could become wavy inside a frame. But when creating a photo album, like Project Life, a full album using thicker photo paper actually causes the album to be heavier, and for that reason, I prefer the thinner photo paper for personal snapshots.
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum is Walmart. Unfortunately, I have not had good luck with their printing. I prefer matte prints, but their matte prints are different than any other I've seen. I have also had issues with the contrast and coloration. While they tout that their matte finish produces brighter colors than other matte finishes, I actually have noticed that my images have less contrast. While they are super convenient, just a few miles from my house, the quality has completely turned me away.
Persnickety Prints specializes in printing 12x12 digital scrapbook layouts, but as such, they know their customers value color and quality. Their paper is thinner than my Pro Lab, but still of good quality. And my favorite part of Persnickety is the ability to print on cardstock - which I do when I use digital designs like One Little Bird. And if I'm completely honest, the only reason this company isn't my primary personal lab is because of the cost and time of having the prints shipped to me.
Edit: I should correct myself here, in that PP *is* a ProLab. What I refer as a ProLab above are labs specifically meant for professional photographers.
Mpix is another reliable consumer lab. Similar quality to Persnickety. I haven't used them in a few years because, if I'm going to wait pay and wait for shipping, I usually am going to have a few images printed on cardstock, and that means I'm going to use Persnickety Prints. However, I would absolutely recommend them.
I've had my ups and downs with Costco, but they remain my go-to printing lab. Their printers are usually well calibrated, though occasionally I'll pick up an image with calibration (some of those are shown above). But when I weigh the occasional discoloration with the cost and convenience, they still win out. I'm sure I could mention the discoloration to them and they'd (hopefully) correct the issue, but I can usually reprint a day later and have better results, after someone has better calibrated the printers.
Tip: Before printing with Costco, make sure to turn off the Auto-Correct print preference in your account. If you like the way your images look prior to uploading, this feature is not for you.
Printing At Home
Some of my favorite fellow scrapbookers print their photos at home. I really envy them, but I cannot seem to figure out how to print a quality image from home. Perhaps it is my printer, or my lack of knowledge on calibrating my printer, but either way, I haven't spent the time figuring it out and probably won't until Costco closes up shop.
All this talk of prints has inspired me to go take some! So how are you getting those snapshots printed?