Where Should I Get My Photos Printed?

It used to be that when you got photos taken by a professional photographer, you would order your prints directly through them and never have the actual printing responsibility. Now, many photographers, like myself, are including the option to get the digital copies of the images. The next step for many is asking, "Where should I get my photos printed? **Cough, cough** Through me! **Cough, cough** But seriously, I get this question all the time. The cost of getting photos printed can range from super cheap to very expensive, and from what I've learned, you get what you pay for. This is why I decided to conduct my own little experiment. Here's what I did. I took an original digital files from Ardis & Jay's engagement session and uploaded it directly to Walmart, Mpix, Shutterfly, Walgreens, and SAP (Stacy Anderson Photography - the professional printing company that we use for the best quality prints). Important notes:

  1. They were all ordered in size 4x6
  2. I took the picture of each of the prints all in the same day, near the same time of day, with the same camera settings, and in the same lighting conditions. I literally just took one right after another in the same exact spot.
  3. I did not edit or alter the photos in any way afterward.
  4. I also didn't think it was fair to only show you one photo, so I have included 4 different photos with the different photo labs' comparison for each.

Pay particular attention to:

Colors. Do they appear the same as the original? Are the colors muted or enhanced compared to the original? Do the colors that are supposed to be white and black actually appear white and black?

Skin Tone. Is the subject's skin color the same as it appears in the original? If not, is it too warm (does the subject have too much red/orange/brown in their skin) or too cool (too much blue or green in their skin)?

Clarity. How crisp versus how blurry is it?

  Original

  • Denotes what the original digital file looked like

SAP

  • Cost: $10
  • Time: Received the photos within 3 days Mpix.com
  • Cost: $.19 each (economy option with no color correction)
  • Time: It took about 7 days to receive the photos in the mail

Shutterfly

  • Cost: $.15 each
  • Time: Received the photos within 6 days

Walgreens

  • Cost: $.29 each
  • Time: Received the photos within 3 hours

Walmart

  • Cost: $.09 each (1 Hour option).
  • photo 1 comparisonphoto 2 comparisonphoto 3 comparisonphoto 4 comparison
  • Time: While I selected the 1 hour option, the photos were not ready in an hour. They were actually not ready until 27 hours later. Photo Comparison #1Photo Comparison #2Photo Comparison #3Photo Comparison #4 Here's a few notes I have from the comparisons above:
  • SAP: General good quality, tended to be the closest to the original file.
  • mPix: The photos were a little too cool (or bluish in color).
  • Shutterfly: The photos had a pinkish tint to them in all of the photos. Skin tones look washed out. The highlights (brighter colors) are blown out and have no detail to them.
  • Walgreens: WAY too dark. Photos have an orange cast to them and the clarity is lost in them.
  • Walmart: Inconsistent. The photos are darker than the original. They also have a pinkish tint to them.

I hope this shed some light on the importance of print quality for you. You certainly don't have to order your prints through a photographer, but usually the best quality photos come from professional printing labs. Yes, it is more expensive this way, but at the end of the day, why would you spend hundreds of dollars to get your photos taken to only have them ruined by not get quality prints to match?