Home Printing Vs Photo Lab Prints

By | 03/07/2022

I’ve covered camera and printer gear here at Wirecutter since 2013 and accept worked every bit a professional photographer and digital-imaging consultant for 15 years. I also ran my own digital-printmaking store for a near a decade, producing exhibition-quality photographs on wide-format inkjet printers. I’thou on the faculty of New York City’south International Center of Photography, and I lead photography workshops effectually the country.

In preparing this guide I researched pricing and features for 24 US-based online print shops. I sent an identical selection of digital files to the 10 well-nigh promising contenders and asked a panel of photo novices and hobbyists to weigh in on the results.

With the ubiquity of images shared online, at that place’s something special and inherently pleasing about holding a physical print. Whether yous’re into scrapbooking, creating a 1-of-a-kind photo album, hanging prints on the wall, or sending your loved ones keepsakes of special moments, photograph prints tin be cherished for years to come.

Seasoned photographers often opt for a home inkjet photo printer. The best models, like our current photo printer pick, produce noticeably sharper images than the high-volume chemical process that online photograph labs use. And of course, having a printer in-house means you tin generate prints whatsoever time you desire. Merely inkjet printers optimized for pro-level photo output kickoff at around $800 and take up a lot of desk space. They make the most sense for folks who print on a regular basis and demand gallery-quality results with unerring consistency. If you need prints simply occasionally, an online photo service saves you the upward-front hardware cost and the hassle of ink and paper replacement.

An Net connexion and admission to your digital prototype files are all you demand to place an lodge. Turnaround times are usually but a solar day or two (excluding aircraft), and the best shops pack your photos securely to avoid damage in transit. And with print prices for the shops we looked at ranging from 9¢ to 30¢ for a four-past-six, online printing is very economical.


We ordered prints from x online services to discover out which ones offered the best combination of price, service, and features.

Photo: Michael Hession

We kept our initial criteria uncomplicated, opting for services that let you upload multiple paradigm files, select individual print sizes, and transport them to your domicile. We began with 24 services and apace realized how hard it would be to make recommendations based on price. Shutterfly, for example, charges less for iv-by-vi prints than many of its rivals but significantly more for an 8-by-10. Impress shops frequently offer discounts and promotions throughout the twelvemonth, making price-per-print comparisons fifty-fifty less reliable. Shipping costs and options also vary, then although we do provide the guild totals for our terminal picks here, nosotros tin rarely say with any certainty that one service volition ever be cheaper than another. And of course, a low price ways piffling if the photos don’t look good.

In the interest of choosing services relevant to as many readers every bit possible, we were able to dismiss those of Costco and Sam’s Club, because they require an annual membership. Nosotros also eliminated services requiring in-shop pickup, considering the quality of the prints you receive tin can vary greatly from store to store. Afterward creating logins for twenty services in order to evaluate the user interface, impress choices, and shipping options, nosotros narrowed the list to 10 contenders. (For a more detailed expect at what nosotros dismissed and why, run across the Competition section.)

Nosotros found precious few editorial sources that had conducted real-world comparisons of impress services, and none that had included all of our contenders. So nosotros conducted our own test, uploading an identical set of paradigm files to each service.

A person holding various prints created from online photo printing.

We uploaded a multifariousness of images, shot on a range of digital cameras, to our acme x contenders and so compared the results side past side.

Photo: Amadou Diallo

Nosotros uploaded 20 images—shot with mirrorless cameras, DSLRs, and smartphones—to each of our finalists. Nosotros included landscapes, a range of pare tones, neutral and tinted black-and-whites, low-lite images, and photos with heavily saturated colors. When given the choice, we had the images printed on luster paper and requested that the lab make no boosted color adjustments. For each service we ordered 4-by-6 prints (or like), a 5-by-5 square prototype, an 8-by-x black-and-white portrait, and an 11-past-xiv color landscape. As a reference we used the Epson SureColor P600 inkjet printer (our pick for the all-time photo inkjet printer) to make our own identically sized prints from these aforementioned files. The P600 produced notably sharp prints that matched the colors nosotros saw on our properly calibrated iMac 27-inch monitor, providing a baseline past which we could evaluate results from the online print services.

After comparison the prints from each lab not just in image quality but also in how well they were packed for shipment, I whittled our list of contenders downwards to five finalists. I and then ready up a blind examination with several colleagues in the Wirecutter role; some of the panelists were photo novices, and others owned DSLRs and took photographs on a regular basis. The testers made side-by-side comparisons of six sets of identical image files printed past Printique (then chosen AdoramaPix), Aspen Creek Photograph, Bay Photo, Mpix, and Nations Photograph Lab, along with the reference prints I fabricated using the Epson SureColor P600. For each set of prints, I asked the testers to charge per unit their first and second choices, as well as their to the lowest degree favorite prints.

Our option

Nations Photograph Lab is the best choice for most people looking to lodge photo prints online. Its service is like shooting fish in a barrel to use, with pricing and printing options clearly displayed on a single Web page. In our tests, turnaround was impressively fast: Our prints shipped out the aforementioned day we placed our order. The prints had pleasing contrast and detail, and they ranked among the most color-accurate across the services nosotros tested. And unlike some of the other shops we ordered from, Nations Photograph Lab packed our prints very securely, ensuring that they wouldn’t have damage in transit.

Nearly all of the services we tested delivered prints good enough to frame and put on the mantel. To exist honest, the differences in print quality that did exist were as well subtle for us to show you lot via the Web. And all of the services we used had our orders ready to send within three business days or less. Some shops are less expensive than Nations Photo Lab (prices vary with impress size and quantity). Simply each service nosotros tested brings compromises of some sort. Nations Photo Lab gets the most of import things right: color-authentic prints, packaging that avoids harm in transit, and a hassle-gratuitous ordering procedure.

Every bit with other services, you lot brainstorm the order process with Nations Photo Lab by creating an online business relationship. In one case that’s complete, you lot tin social club images in one of 2 ways. The Spider web browser interface lets you drag and drop images to upload them from your computer. At this betoken you can select an epitome to specify print size and select a newspaper type earlier manually cropping the epitome to gustatory modality, if necessary. You tin too choose to accept your epitome mounted on foamcore for an additional fee or converted to black-and-white or a sepia tone.

online photo service nations photo web interface

In Nations Photo Lab’south Web interface, you can cull from a range of paper options and impress sizes, and then manually adjust the image’s ingather if yous desire.

Photograph: Amadou Diallo

If you lot plan to order a lot of images at the same print size, y’all’re meliorate off downloading the ROES (Remote Order Entry System) app from Nations Photo Lab and using that instead. ROES is a third-party app that many photograph labs license to apply for their customer orders. Though designed with the high-volume needs of wedding and portrait photographers in mind, the app is uncomplicated enough for just virtually anyone to use. To begin, yous betoken the app to a folder on your calculator containing the images you want to print (the images don’t really upload to Nations Photo Lab until you lot place your club). Selecting a print size calls up a blank page onto which you simply drag an image. Add together the image to your shopping cart, and then just elevate the next prototype in its place. For large orders of multiple prints at unlike sizes, this process tin be faster than using Nations Photo Lab’south Web interface.

online photo service nations photo lab roes software

You can likewise identify orders by downloading the pro-oriented ROES software, which is more efficient for large orders of multiple prints at dissimilar sizes.

Photo: Amadou Diallo

The biggest advantage to using the ROES software, still, is that y’all tin avert having your photos cropped when there’s a mismatch betwixt the aspect ratio of your image file and the paper size yous’ve called. I’ll explain.

The standard 4-by-6 print has an aspect ratio of iii:2. It became a standard print size precisely because information technology’s the same ratio that analog cameras produced using 35mm picture. DSLRs and most mirrorless cameras still use that attribute ratio today. But the image sensors in smartphone, point-and-shoot, and Micro 4 Thirds cameras take a 4:iii aspect ratio instead.

An uncropped photo of a woman standing on a rock.

An uncropped iPhone photo has a 4:iii aspect ratio, a mismatch for the traditional 4-by-6 print, which has a 3:2 aspect ratio.

Photograph: Amadou Diallo

Faced with this mismatch, y’all accept 2 options. Offset, you can ingather the digital file and then that it fills the frame of a iv-past-six print. But as you can encounter below, this tactic risks cropping out important areas of your prototype.

online print services aspect ratio cropping

When you’re forced to print in a three:2 attribute ratio (indicated here by the red lines), you have to ingather the image on two sides, potentially losing important image area (shaded in white).

Photo: Amadou Diallo

The 2d—and in this example preferable—selection is to print the image at its native aspect ratio and exit a newspaper border on 2 sides of the print. The ROES app offers a Fit Entire Impress icon that does just that, resulting in a print like the i beneath. You’ll have to manually trim the borders if y’all find them distracting, only you avoid an unwanted image crop.

online print services roes aspect ratio cropping border

Using the ROES app y’all tin can instruct Nations Photo Lab to print your image uncropped, leaving a white paper border (shown in a higher place) on two sides instead.

Photo: Amadou Diallo

Although I’ve used the example of an iPhone photograph on a four-past-6 print, the thought applies equally to any photo from any photographic camera in which the attribute ratio of your last image doesn’t match that of the print size you want to make.

Our order of 17 small prints, plus an 8-by-10 and an 11-by-17, came out to $18.09 with shipping. The average order toll of the 10 services we tested was $20.lxx, placing Nations Photograph Lab roughly in the heart in cost. Inside hours of placing the club, we received an email saying the job was complete and ready to send. Nations Photo Lab is based in Maryland, and we received the prints at our New York Urban center address the very side by side solar day. Nosotros demand to stress, still, that ours was a very low-volume order placed well exterior of the holiday-rush flavour. Your mileage may vary.

Our prints arrived in perfect condition, which came as no surprise in one case we inspected the packaging. The prints were in transparent sleeves and taped downward to an oversize sheet of thick cardboard with another laid on summit then they were sandwiched in between. This bundle then went into a shallow simply sturdy shipping box for maximum protection. I ran a digital-printmaking service for nearly ten years, and we shipped high-end prints on a daily basis. In that location’s simply no better way to pack photos of this size. This package could have taken a severe chirapsia without any damage done to the prints.

online print services Nations Photo Lab

Nations Photo Lab places your prints in transparent sleeves and sandwiches them betwixt thick, oversize cardboard sheets, taping them downwards to ensure they don’t movement in transit.

Photograph: Amadou Diallo

We think most folks will be very pleased with the image quality of prints from Nations Photo Lab. In our tests, the print contrast was pleasingly punchy without sacrificing prototype detail, and colors were reasonably accurate compared with the digital files. If you’re serious about color fidelity and yous take your monitor calibrated and profiled for accurateness, Nations Photo Lab offers a “color-corrected” add-on for a nominal fee that makes adjustments to your paradigm earlier press to produce a closer match to what you see on screen. The deviation can be subtle for coincidental photographers who send just 4-by-6 holiday photos once a twelvemonth, only is a worthwhile option for anyone making larger prints to hang on their wall.

Over a wide range of images including various skin tones, foliage, and saturated colors, our console of testers consistently ranked prints from Nations Photograph Lab near the top amid our contenders. Nations Photo Lab tied with Aspen Creek Photo for the number of times selected as either a first or second choice, and it had amid the fewest designations as a least favorite pick. Though no print service scored every bit high overall with our testers as the Epson SureColor P600 inkjet printer, we want to emphasize that image quality is not a dealbreaker with the majority of services we tested. Prints from one lab don’t necessarily appear identical to those from another shop, just the differences are very subtle and largely come down to personal preference. Viewing the images in isolation, we retrieve that outside of imaging professionals, most folks will find footling to complain about.

Though gift wrapping is not an essential feature, Nations Photo Lab’s bazaar packaging addition should hold corking appeal for anyone wanting a special gift for family or friends, or for clients if you’re a pro photographer: For an additional $6, Nations can deliver the photos in a sleek box tied with a silk ribbon in ane of three color options, a swish touch.

As we described above, the prototype sensors on smartphone cameras take a 4:iii aspect ratio, then we’d appreciate accordingly proportioned print sizes like the four-by-5.3 offering that Snapfish and York Photo offer. Again, Nations Photo Lab does requite yous a full-print option in which your uncropped image prints on a 4-by-half dozen sheet, just that leaves you lot with white borders on the left and correct that you’ll need to trim manually.

Finally, we’d like to come across an additional verso-printing pick in which the filename and capture engagement are automatically pulled from the files’ metadata and printed on the back of each photo. This stamp would prevent confusion over when an image was taken (assuming y’all’ve fix your camera’south time and date correctly) and brand it easier to locate the original digital file past searching for its filename. Once more, this isn’t a new feature; two of the shops we tested, Printique and Shutterfly, already provide this as an option.

Miller’s Professional Imaging, ProDPI, and WHCC all take reputations for high quality and splendid service, but they’re geared toward working photographers, with services such equally custom portfolios and drib-shipping directly to clients. Using these services finer requires a caste of input that’s beyond what we await virtually amateurs would feel comfortable with.

According to its website, Miller’s is “reserved for professional photographers.” It points all other photographers toward Mpix, the online lab that Miller’s created specifically for consumers and hobbyists. We spoke with representatives of ProDPI, who told us the company individually vets all new clients and requires prospective customers to submit a link to a site featuring their photography to gain approval to identify orders.

Before you tin can place an order with WHCC, the lab requires you to submit up to 5 examination images, which the company prints (free of charge) as 8-by-10s for you to ostend that your monitor is properly calibrated. Only after this procedure may you place your initial club. Though committed photographers can appreciate this dedication to print accuracy, we retrieve that folks looking to get occasional 4-by-half dozen prints of the family vacation will discover this extra pace backbreaking.

Costco and Sam’s Club each offer photo printing services, only you must exist a member to use them, greatly limiting their appeal. Nosotros as well eliminated shops with in-store pickup options, similar CVS, Office Depot, Target, and Walgreens. Although picking upwardly your print from a local retailer within a couple of hours of placing the order is a great convenience, the results nosotros’ve seen in the past accept been very disappointing. The quality of the prints you get with in-store pickup depends on the maintenance of that location’s equipment as well as on the expertise of whoever happens to exist behind the counter when your online order arrives. We’ve seen dreadful output from our local Walgreens, for example. Your results may vary, of form, only the inherent lack of consistency means we can’t recommend such services as an pick for well-nigh people. In addition, these shops offering a very limited range of print sizes, and none of them can impress a smartphone photo at its native four:3 aspect ratio without cropping the image’s edges. Walmart does offering a smartphone-friendly 4½-by-half dozen impress size that avoids any cropping, merely its overall choice of impress sizes is far more limited than those of our main picks, and we have the same concerns almost using its in-store pickup option.

Printique had been our runner-up choice for this guide, but that was almost entirely because it offered an app that lets you upload images from your mobile devices, even though that app doesn’t let you identify an club. You have to go to the website on a computer to practice that. Now that Nations has an app, nosotros didn’t experience the need to continue this recommendation.

Aspen Creek Photo was our top pick in a previous version of this guide. In our testing, we ranked the color accuracy of its images to a higher place that of whatever other service we tested, and we loved its intuitive ordering interface. Unfortunately, after hearing from some readers about delays in fulfillment of their orders from Aspen Creek, changes in the company’s pricing for smaller prints, and conflicting communications regarding the company’due south future, nosotros take dropped our recommendation.

Mpix is one of the most popular photo services, with a mobile app that lets you lot club photos direct from your smartphone. In our tests, nonetheless, we were disappointed by its inability to print smartphone photos without meaning cropping. Smartphones, forth with betoken-and-shoot and Micro Four Thirds cameras, have sensors that produce images in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and Mpix offers no small impress sizes that match that ratio. Sending Mpix a smartphone photo to brand a four-by-6 print, which has a 3:ii aspect ratio, means your image will be enlarged to fill the extra width of the paper, with portions of the paradigm cropped off along the sides as a consequence.

If you create images with careful attention to limerick, this forced cropping is likely a dealbreaker. EZprints, RitzPix, and York Photo, for example, offer a smartphone-friendly print size at a 4:3 aspect ratio, and Printique, Aspen Creek Photo, and Nations Photograph Lab give you the option to print your paradigm uncropped, no affair the aspect-ratio mismatch. As of this writing Mpix provides neither of those options.

In our blind print tests, though no company was a delinquent winner, Mpix’s photos ranked every bit a least-favorite choice more than any other contender. With image quality that fell below the contest’s, plus its lack of back up for smartphone-format images and its middle-of-the-road prices, Mpix but didn’t make a compelling choice confronting our principal picks.

Bay Photo offers pocket-size print sizes optimized for smartphone photos, along with sturdy packaging of your order, but in our tests its impress output was decidedly middling. In our blind print exam, participants rarely made it a beginning or last choice in side-by-side comparisons with our other contenders, usually slotting information technology equally a reasonable 2d option. On their own, we suspect the prints would look fine to most people, just we had many contenders that elicited favorable responses more oftentimes.

No other service we tested offers lower prices than Snapfish, but this service yielded some of the about disappointing results. The 8-past-10 and iv-by-6 prints suffered from harsh contrast (pregnant fewer details in shadows and highlights), and our portrait pics had noticeably orangish skin tones. A close look also revealed sharpening artifacts along detail edges. Nosotros weren’t pleased with the packaging, either: Smaller prints shipped in a thin cardboard mailing envelope with no additional padding to protect against rough handling. The 11-by-xiv print shipped in a sufficiently thick tube, but no padding was placed within to protect the impress’southward edges from the tube’s end caps, resulting in a aptitude print, shown below.


Snapfish shipped our 11-by-14 print in a tube for protection, but with no internal padding supplied, the print suffered a crease along the meridian edge afterward jamming into the terminate cap during shipping.

Photograph: Amadou Diallo

A print from RitzPix arrived damaged, too. The company shipped our 11-by-14 print in a flat envelope sandwiched betwixt thin sheets of backing board (the kind you lot see in the back of inexpensive photo frames). Because the aircraft envelope was but marginally larger than the 11-by-14 photo, the print was dinged in the corner when the package was crushed on its border during shipping. RitzPix could have prevented the damage by just using a larger envelope, or better yet, a box, as several other shops did. The inadequate packaging was peculiarly disappointing given that the company billed us a whopping $14.95 for aircraft, more than twice the average shipping cost of the other shops we ordered from.

online print services ritzpix damage

This 11-by-xiv print from RitzPix took impairment when its too-small-scale envelope was crushed on the corner during shipping.

Photo: Amadou Diallo

EZprints, similar Snapfish, was ane of the few services whose prints stood out as exceptionally poor. Every print had a hazy, washed-out appearance, as if covered by a veil. These were the to the lowest degree sharp photos of the agglomeration, and clear areas of tone had a somewhat mottled appearance. Like all of the other services nosotros tested, EZprints uses a moisture chemical printing process. The photos were printed on Fujicolor Crystal Archive paper. Other services used this paper with much more pleasing results, then we can accredit EZprints’due south poor results only to quality control rather than the equipment or the development process.

Our guild from Shutterfly was the 2nd nigh expensive in our tests, and the print quality was average at best. Our biggest complaint was about the packaging. The small prints came in a sparse, apartment envelope, and the eleven-by-14 came in a tube, resulting in a curled print that would need flattening before display. (Note: The quickest way to uncurl a print is to wrap it around a wide-diameter tube in the opposite direction of the original curl and roll it upward. Information technology can take some practise to do this without accidentally creasing or creating ripple marks in the impress, however. A much safer approach is to lay the prints flat under some weight for a solar day or ii.)

Though a tube is a necessity for very large prints, other competitors were able to transport our eleven-by-fourteen print flat and notwithstanding provide plenty of protection. Given the choice, we’d rather avoid having to flatten a print.

online print services shipping tube curl

Although a shipping tube tin can offer substantial protection, the print you receive will have a lot of whorl.

Photo: Amadou Diallo

York Photo sent united states prints that consistently had a warmer, less authentic color bandage than those from the best-performing shops. Our xi-past-14 print shipped in a tube, and though York Photo did put end padding inside to prevent the sort of damage we saw with Snapfish’s print, we still prefer a flat-shipping selection at this size to avoid having to uncurl the impress. Also worth noting is that York Photo’s 11-past-14 print shipped from Commune Photo Inc., the aforementioned photograph finisher that owns Snapfish.

online print services uncurling a photo

The safest—though non the quickest—way to uncurl a impress is to sandwich information technology between sheets of cardboard and exit information technology under some weight (coffee-table books are perfect) for 24 to 48 hours.

Photo: Amadou Diallo

Zazzle lets you make photo prints just has a user interface designed for single-order-at-a-time jobs. Yous can’t upload more than than x images at a fourth dimension, and the process of choosing a impress size involves dragging each image individually on its own order folio over a print-size template. That’south far too dull to make fifty-fifty a handful of split up prints.

Winkflash has a steady stream of very negative reviews. Apparently the company was sold to new ownership recently, and during the transition many customers lost access to their photos hosted on the company’south servers. That, coupled with the fact that the simply customer back up available is via a Web form—there’south no telephone number or even an email option—made Winkflash an like shooting fish in a barrel dismissal.

FreePrints, every bit its name suggests, lets y’all get upwards to 1,000 4-by-half-dozen prints per twelvemonth without charge, though y’all do pay for shipping. Judging from the limited information on its single-page website, you must do everything via a phone app. With virtually no data provided online about the company, the prints, or the social club process, we fall back on the maxim, “If it sounds besides good to exist true, information technology usually is.”

SmugMug is a platform for creating a website that showcases your photography (for a monthly subscription) with photo printing offered equally a service to anyone who wants to buy prints of your piece of work. This feature is of express use to most people, and the actual impress services are handled through partnerships with labs like Bay Photo, EZprints, and WHCC, companies you can lodge direct from instead.

Amazon Prints offers 4-by-6 prints at 9¢ each, matching low-price rivals similar Snapfish and providing free shipping. Amazon Prime members already using the company’south Prime number Photos service to store their pics can order prints of those images directly. Nosotros placed an order using the aforementioned examination files we submitted to our other contenders. Amazon’s order procedure was dead unproblematic. Print quality vicious toward the middle of the pack—certainly not the best that we saw (skin tones skewed toward orange), but non the worst. The photos arrived inside vi business concern days. Nosotros were disappointed in the packaging, which consisted of a apartment mailer with ii sheets of thin paper-thin inside; the entire package bent easily in the hand, and so non surprisingly one of the prints arrived with a corner ding.

As of this writing, Amazon’s service has significant limitations. Anyone shooting with a smartphone should know that unlike every other service we tested, Amazon won’t let you lot print those 4:three-aspect-ratio smartphone images full size (with borders) on a 4-by-6 sheet. Instead those images volition have to be cropped, then you may lose bits of heads or limbs if you’ve shot tightly framed portraits.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-online-photo-printing/