CONSUMER PHOTO LAB COMPARISON

I did my own professional photo lab comparison whenever I decided to begin offering prints and was surprised at the variation between them.  The quality of paper was all great but the difference in colors really surprised me.  White House Custom Colour (WHCC) was my favorite and you are sure to get a great print when you order through me!

As a professional photographer I sometimes cringe when handing over digital files.  Why?  One reason is that I don’t want the images to sit on a flash drive or computer and not get printed for my client to enjoy.  The other reason is I worry about where they will be printed.  One of the main reasons customers order digital files is because they want to save money on prints.  ALL PHOTO LABS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL!  I know how much variation there is between professional printers and I suspected the same or worse between consumer labs.  Now, I realize my eyes are much more sensitive to photographic imperfections and variations but some of the consumer photo labs are REALLY bad but professional photographers want our ART represented accurately like what we see on our computer monitors.  I wouldn’t go into an art museum and brush a layer of paint over a painting and sometimes that is what I feel when clients order low quality prints.   If you are going to invest in custom photography I highly encourage you to invest in high quality prints!  Your prints and products should look amazing to cherish for a lifetime.

THE CONSUMER PHOTO LAB COMPARISON

For the comparison, the same high resolution files were sent to the following printers and compared to my professional lab, White House Custom Colour: CVS, Costco, Mpix, Shutterfly, Snapfish & Wal-Mart. In all cases an 8×10 matte print was ordered.

 

print lab comparison

 

consumer photo lab comparison

CVS:

Where do I start?  I opened up the envelop and really couldn’t believe they actually charged me for such poor quality.  The print wasn’t lined up creating a white line across the top and it is out of focus (blurry)

Paper Quality- HORRIBLE!  Cheap photo paper with no texture at all

Color- HORRIBLE!  The print is very overexposed (too bright) and the overall color has a weird color cast over it

Bang for the Buck- CVS was tied for the most expensive 8×10 print price.  I would have expected much more for the price.  Very disappointing!!

Overall Grade- F

cvs

whcccvs

SNAPFISH:

I was not impressed with my print from Snapfish

Paper Quality-Good quality lustre paper

Color- The print was too warm and overexposed

Bang for the Buck- Ran on the higher end from the labs compared

Overall Grade- C-

snapfish

whccsnapfish

WAL-MART:

I thought Wal-Mart compared well to other print labs I tested.

Paper Quality- They use a good quality matte lustre paper.

Color Quality- Overexposed quite a bit on the face.

Bang for the Buck- Good bang for the buck and you can avoid shipping by picking up in the store

Overall Grade- C

walmart-2

whccwalmart

SHUTTERFLY:

I really wanted to like shutterfly because of all the charity work they do.  It was a ‘good’ print but was slightly out of focus (blurry)

Paper Quality- They use a good quality matte lustre paper

Color Quality- Slightly overexposed (too bright) especially on the face and color was slightly off with too much pink

Bang for the Buck-  Tied for the most expensive 8×10 print and with shipping was the most expensive of labs compared

Overall Grade-B-

shutterfly

whccshutterfly

COSTCO:

I’ve heard over the years about how great Costco prints are but never ordered myself.  I was pleasantly surprised that it was a good print.

Paper Quality- I was surprised at the quality of the matte/lustre paper.  It was very comparable to my professional print.

Color Quality- The colors were very good but it was slightly overexposed (too bright)

Bang for the Buck- You can’t beat it!  $1.49 for an 8×10 and you can pick them up the next day for free.  There is a very low cost shipping option too.

Overall Grade- B+

costco

whcccostco

MPIX:

Before I became a professional photographer I ordered all my prints from Mpix.  Mpix is a division of Millers which is one of the most respected professional printers around so I wasn’t surprised that they scored high on my comparison.  It has been the lab I’ve recommended for years to my clients who order digital images and want a quality consumer lab.

Paper Quality- They use a true lustre paper and was a beautiful print

Color Quality- Colors were very close to my test print

Bang for the Buck- MPix is extremely competitive with their print prices.  Shipping is a little on the high side but if you save up for a larger order it is more cost effective.  MPix has sales frequently which is also another great time to stock up!

Overall Grade- A

mpix

whccmpix

CONCLUSION:

I can see how easy it is to ‘think’ you are getting a good print from many of these labs.  Unless you are trained on what to look for, it isn’t until you compare it to the control from WHCC that you can really see the difference.  Mpix remains the only consumer lab that I would recommend and they aren’t expensive!!  They are easy to order from and have crazy fast shipping from their facility in Pittsburg, KS.

I  continue to recommend ordering any enlargements through me even if you buy digital prints.  Most professional photographers will ‘prepare’ your image for printing.  To prepare them, I go back to the image and apply final touches such as sharpening and cropping the image to the particular size you ordered.    All prints size 11×14 and above come mounted on styrene for durability.  This allows you more flexibility to display your print on an easel, lean it on the mantle or have it framed.

It was challenging taking a ‘picture of a picture’  but I hope the commentary helps you select your next printer!

If you found this article helpful, please leave a comment and/or sign up HERE to be included on my e-mail list and be the first to find out about special promotions, educational articles and other exciting news from Kaye Ness Photography.

E Lou Bjorgaard Probasco -

Thanks. Interesting.

Kirk Nystrom -

Emily Nystrom, FYI

Marissa Mankin Morgan -

Another one to avoid is walgreens. Every Walgreens photo I’ve ever seen is very pink…we always beg our clients not to print there.

Rhonda Puckett -

I recently shot pictures for a company who claimed their prints were from a professional lab to their customers but actually had them printed at Sams Club upon my knowledge of this i addressed the owner because the consumer was mislead to believe they were receiving prints thru a professional lab. Thankyou for educating me on the difference in quality. rpuckett@gmail.com

Sandra Aguirre -

This was very useful! I usually print at Sam’s for my everyday pictures. Senior picture or anything that is very special , I would highly recommend for a professional photographer to order for me.

Siobhan Grady Sparks -

Very well organized and helpful post! I’ve been working on my sales method of pro vs. consumer. Thank you!

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[…] To see comparisons of the photo labs that are readily available to consumers, please visit this link. […]

Mel Lim -

It would be interesting to do another Costco vs WHCC after using the color profile for Costco’s printer.

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Artimus Lancaster -

What is the difference between a professional photographer and and an artist? It seems to me like it’s whether or not you have a tax ID number. This is going to offend the OP and probably some others who read this, but the people you are taking these photographs for would not be able to tell the difference between your samples, esp. if they only saw one print. It’s the sad truth is that 99.9% of the general public cannot appreciate or tell the difference between true color balance is, nor do they care. That’s why they just want to get their prints done as cheaply as possible at Walgreen’s or wherever. And, not to me mention that these print tests that people are doing on the interwebs are being printed at different locations and each one is going to yield various results. Do you think all Costco, Walgreens, Wal Mart, etc. prints come from one place? The online “professional” print lab industry is somewhat of a scam in my opinion.

Amelia Janson -

This was very informative! I have been working on photos and was discouraged with someone would say it didn’t turn out well. The colors were off. When I asked where they printed it was from walgreens or walmart mainly. Glad to see a variety and the best places to order!

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[…] a professional lab. Trust me, there are lots of lab comparisons on the web these days. This one (http://www.kayenessphotography.com/consumer-photo-lab-comparison/)  is […]

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