How to Print: Print Lab Tests

I am soooo excited to bring this series to a close! I really hope you found it informative and helps you not only save money but bring home the best prints for your home. I wanted to give my disclaimer one more time that this is all based on small prints as pretty much all labs use the same for large scale printing. This information is most valuable to those who are printing for photo albums for small photos that get hung up on a wall. Enjoy!!

I also did the default on all of these pictures. So if you were to go to the machine, upload your images and push print, this is what comes out.

(All Images are in order of the labs listed: Walmart, Costco, Target, Walgreens, CVS, Shutterfly. Left to Right and Top to Bottom)

PrintTest-1PrintTest-5PrintTest-2

WALMART
Paper: Fuji Quality Dry,  Thicker paper. Default, Matte finish. Color Temperature is a bit Magenta.

Price: $0.33/per photo

Over all, Walmart prints seem to be one of the darker prints of the test group.  Dark colors in images really become muddy looking and bright colors just don’t have the same brightness you may see on your screen. All colors seem to be just a tad bid darker all across the spectrum. The one color it really seems to grab and keep are reds. I’ve noticed Riley’s pants are really bright compared to other colors in the image but with this I feel like it brings more notice to skin tones, specially ones who may be a little sunburned to appear a little bit more pink than in other prints. I’m also noticing that my Walmart prints seem to loose a little bit more of of any sharpening that may be in your original image.

PrintTest-8

COSTCO
Paper : Fuji Crystal Archival. Good feeling paper. Default is a Glossy Finish. Color temperature is very blue.

Price: $0.17/ per photo

Very Dark! All of the images I printed came out so much darker than the others. You can easily pick out the costco print as the darkest in the stack when you put them all together. While I don’t mind how the greens get a nice overtone of them, the darkening of the prints really don’t help the skin tones. All of the skin tones seem to have just a layer of black over them. Photography is a process of light, and having this light taken out of them really seems to take away from an image. This also really hurts anyone who may be wearing white as it becomes a almost purple-ish gray overlay.

PrintTest-10

TARGET
Paper: Kodak Xtralife Paper. Pretty Thin. Matte Finish. Color temperature is more on the yellow side.

Price: $0.29/ per photo

Now if you need a very quick print that you are just going to cut up for collage or school project, or even if you just want to have them and not really care how long they last, Target is the place for you. For a quick print, it is my favorite. The machine was easy to use and it prints on the spot right in front of you which is kind of cool. I just wish they had something to put the pictures in after it prints. Target prints are bright and the colors stay pretty true to the screen (minus greens and yellows have some problems as it almost looks like a paint by number in one of my photos), and a slight added bonus is that it appears they throw on a little extra sharpening to the pictures that make them seem just a little bit more crisp. Downside to it is the paper is really bad. I haven’t had a single time yet where I haven’t gotten prints that don’t either have scratches going through the image or some banding problems. Now if you won’t really notice this unless you are looking for it. But in this case my prints this round had 1 on the left, 2 in the middle, and 4 lines going up and down the print edge to edge.

WALGREENS
The back of this paper is blank which is really weird. This paper feels really thick, almost like card stock which is a little surprising but a glossy finish Color temp is much warmer.

Price: $0.19/per photo

This set of prints I am really surprised with and makes me wonder if they switched papers or printers recently cause when I got prints from them last year, their banding was worse than Targets and everything was a bit blue. This time around everything is a little more magenta which is most noticeable in the sand and white of Tony’s shirt. In general it looks like this paper has problems with highlights as our picnic basket gets a bit more washed out along with really any highlight. Anything that is red/pink in tone really seems to get that extra kick of magenta. Something about these prints still feel a little blocky which makes me think it may be the unknown paper where the ink may be a little thicker than normal.

PrintTest-6

CVS
Paper: Kodak Xtralife II paper. Matte Finish. Color temp: Blue.

Price $0.19/photo

Taking pictures by the water or if you’re wearing blue, this is your paper! My blues look amazing. In fact there’s parts in the photo where it’s almost too punchy of a blue. The kind of nice thing this paper does though is it also seems to have warmer/yellower highlights which can be noticed in the sand and on the skin. It also appears that they may use some extra sharpening as well. Bad things about these prints is we have a problem with banding again. I have multiple bands going across the image once again. You don’t notice it unless you are really looking for them, but once you see them, you can’t unsee them. Sad thing is, even if you ask for a new set of prints, they likely will come out the exact same way.

PrintTest-9PrintTest-4

SHUTTERFLY
Paper Fuji Crystal Archival.

Price: $0.15/ per photo

This is where you will see the biggest difference between the quality of two labs. Did you notice something similar about Shutterfly’s paper? It is the same as Costco’s! What was one of the worst things about Costco prints? How dark they are and how much color seems to be drained by them. Clearly by this example you can see that more care is taken in a professional lab vs. a 1 hour lab. Looking at their website, Shutterfly does some automatic color matching using an ICC profile that help make sure that your pictures come out looking the same as on your computer. You can take this option off and download the ICC profile yourself, but I have yet to have a problem where I would want to do this option. So far, the colors have stayed true, and the over all print is just beautiful.  There is plenty of detail in your shadows, and detail in your highlights.

One of the things I like to do with Shutterfly and Snapfish is to wait for their print sales where they do 101 print or something like that for free, just pay shipping. They also do many days where they give out $20 on them, or everything is half off. Definitely a great way to get your prints!

Last little add here, Shutterfly and Snapfish are still technically one of the lower tier pro labs. You can still get more professional labs just know that the higher you go the more you pay. This to me is the best place to print when you are still at a consumer rate.

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Few extra tips. If you are looking at other labs you want to test out, the way you can check for a color temperature shift is by looking at your neutral colors. Your black, grays, and whites should be the color they’re supposed to be. If any of those colors seem to shift towards one color or another, you can see your color shift.

Other labs I really like include Snapfish, Adorama, Bay Photo,  and if you happen to be in NYC, check out Color House! It’s where I used to work and I can tell you they do great stuff. They also do in house film processing which is a huge plus! I’m sure there are many other fantastic labs out there. Pretty much, if they take more than an hour, you are likely at a better place! You can always look these places up and try find their printing process to see how they work.

All in all, your pictures can look very different depending on where you choose to print. This can also come to notice if you hired a professional photographer, make some prints and they just don’t look the same as you saw online. You may want to blame the photographer but it’s always good to know where you are printing and wonder if it could be the reason. And of course, if there are still problems with the quality, then contact your professional for help

I hope these series of how to print your photos really helped you save some time and money!

Do you have a favorite place to print? Let me know below!

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