Corey Talks | Print Comparisons (Consumer)

I posted the other day my results from my print off from professional photography labs, today I’m going to blog about the results of the same test from consumer labs.

I polled my friends on Facebook to find out where they most often order from and ordered prints from all of those companies.  I ordered 15 different prints – landscapes, portraits, engagement and a wedding.  I used images that were in a wide variety of lighting conditions and were edited differently (black and white as well as color).  I then ordered the same set of images from every lab that was feasible for me.  Note that near me, we do not have a Costco whom I hear has really excellent results with consumer printing.

Here’s my results.  They may surprise you!  NONE of these images were color corrected by the labs I ordered from but a few I used the “fast” upload since the software shoved me into it.  I wanted to order these like a client would NOT how I would so if I was shoved into the faster upload I didn’t chose full.

I think that when comparing these results to the professional lab results it’s really easy to see why prints cost more when ordered through a professional lab.  Simply put, the extra money is well spent for preserving priceless memories.  15¢ prints are fine for that softball game but when you invest in a photography session with a professional you really should invest in the best way to preserve those moments captured.  I guarantee you that these prints from the consumer labs won’t last as long or stay as true to the original image as the professional labs.  I may do a wear test to see what happens down the line for kicks…

Photo Print Comparisons from Consumer Photo Labs

 

In depth reviews of each printer 

Here’s some insight into the lingo.  Exposure = the light/dark of the image.  Color = matching the colors as are true to my original image.  This includes color casts (more of one color vs another) as well as saturation (how bright a color is).  Shadows = amount of detail in the darker parts of the picture.  If they are clipped, this means that you lose detail in the darker parts of the images which is often dark eyes and hair.  Cropping = are the images cut how they were uploaded, is the whole image there or are parts missing.  Sharpness = how in focus the picture is vs. how it was originally.

CVS
Cost:  19¢ prints
Paper:  Kodak e-surface paper
Ordering:  Ordered online with in store pick up in one hour.  Software forced me into “fast” upload.
Results:
•  Exposure: Pretty close to being spot on.
•  Color:  Slight yellow/magenta cast, a bit over saturated.
•  Shadows: No clipping.
•  Cropping:  Crop is correct.
•  Sharpness:  Images are as sharp as the original file.
•  Overall feeling:  The ordering system forced me into a fast upload which promises that there is no difference in most images.  The image quality is TERRIBLE and I am hoping this is due in part to the fast upload.  The images are VERY grainy and in the highlights of the image, the colors are “blocked” much like in 8 bit video games.  It’s truly awful.  The paper is also quite awful, it sticks to itself and every time I try to flip through the images they stick, which is quite frustrating.  The colors are good but the rest of it was terrible!

Kodak Gallery
Cost:  15¢ prints
Paper:  Kodak e-surface paper
Ordering:  Ordered online.  Delivery took the longest of all the labs with 1 week turnaround.
Results:
•  Exposure: Pretty close to being spot on.
•  Color:  Slight magenta cast.
•  Shadows: No clipping.
•  Cropping:  Crop was a bit tighter than on original file.
•  Sharpness:  Image is a slight bit softer than original file.
•  Overall feeling:  Before MPix came out, I was a champion of Kodak Gallery as I really believed in their lab.  Out of all of the labs, I really think I did OK as this was by far my favorite of all the consumer labs BUT the delivery time is terrible.  I also think the paper is thin and I don’t like the feeling of it (they do offer a pro paper option for 35¢ a print).  So it’s really a toss up between Kodak and MPix as the true winner but both are decent labs for the price.

MPix
Cost:  29¢ prints
Paper:  Kodak e-surface paper
Ordering:  Ordered online. Delivered in 3 days.
Results:
•  Exposure: Spot on.
•  Color:  VERY slight red/yellow cast making image a hint warmer. A bit over saturated.
•  Shadows: Very slight clipping.
•  Cropping:  Crop is correct.
•  Sharpness:  Images are as sharp as the original file.
•  Overall feeling:  I was very impressed with MPix but I was expecting to be.  This is whom I tell my clients to order through if they are not going to use me, I’m glad that I was not disappointed.

Shutterfly
Cost:  9¢ prints
Paper: Fuji e-surface paper
Ordering:  Ordered online.  Delivered in 3 days.
Results:
•  Exposure: Slightly overexposed.
•  Color:  Prominent yellow/green cast.
•  Shadows: Slight clipping.
•  Cropping:  Crop is correct.
•  Sharpness:  Images are very soft.
•  Overall feeling:  When I opened up this envelope I actually let out a yipe.  These are absolutely, positively TERRIBLE.  These images definitely fit the old adage, “you get what you pay for.”  Holy crap these are atrocious.  The color is so bad it makes the baby look sick.  The images are so soft they appear to be out of focus.  BAD.

Snapfish
Cost:  15¢ prints
Paper: Fuji e-surface paper
Ordering:  Ordered online.  Delivered in 3 days.
Results:
•  Exposure: Pretty close to being spot on.
•  Color:  Blue/green color cast.
•  Shadows: Slight clipping.
•  Cropping:  Crop is correct.
•  Sharpness:  Images are as sharp as the original file.
•  Overall feeling:  The images look okay but if I’m going to have a color cast, I much prefer to have a slightly warm cast vs. a cool cast because cool casts (blues/greens) makes skin look sallow and people look sick.  A warm cast (when not excessive) makes for a glow which is definitely preferable to sick!  The images would be OK for landscapes but definitely not ideal for portraits.

Walgreens

Cost:  19¢ prints
Paper:  Fuji glossy paper
Ordering:  Ordered online with in store pick up in one hour.  Used full resolution upload.  Glossy is the only paper option for in store pick up.
Results:
•  Exposure: Underexposed.
•  Color:  Red and a slight yellow cast.  A bit over saturated compared to the original.
•  Shadows: Clipped.
•  Cropping: Crop is correct.
•  Sharpness:  Images are as sharp as the original file, possibly a tinge more sharp.
•  Overall feeling:  This was the first set of pictures I picked up and I immediately saw they were much darker than my originals.  The color cast isn’t terrible but makes an impression.  I also dislike glossy paper (fingerprints!) so I was bummed I had no option but to get glossy in the store.

Wal Mart
Cost:  15¢ prints
Paper:  Fuji matte paper
Ordering:  Ordered online with in store pick up in one hour.  Used full resolution upload.
Results:  Shadows have no detail and images are over saturated compared to original print.  White lines along bottom of prints with an odd notch.  Very very slight red cast, barely noticeable.
Results:
•  Exposure:  Slightly underexposed.
•  Color:  Red cast, over saturated.
•  Shadows:  Clipped.
•  Cropping:  Slightly miscut image, took a bit off o the top and the bottom of each image has white lines.
•  Sharpness:  Images are as sharp as the original file.
•  Overall feeling:  The redness of the image is noticeable but other than that the images are OK.

 

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Comments

  1. Alyssa Clow says:

    This is the best review I've ever seen! Very good analysis, and I can't wait to read the pro lab version of this.

    1. Corey Doyle Balazowich says:

      It was already posted the other day :) Thank you!

    2. Alyssa Clow says:

      Yeah, sometimes I like to read backwards…LOL

  2. Amber says:

    I’ve never really paid attention to the difference between the various labs for photos I have ordered over the years. {Usually I’m just ordering pictures I’ve taken from different functions and not fancy pictures} but it’s amazing to see the difference in all of the labs.

    And it’s okay, you can smack me next time you see me, but I did order our wedding pictures from MPix and think they turned out very well. Makes me want to order them from you to see the difference.

    1. Corey Ann says:

      At least it wasn’t Shutterfly! LOL

  3. Alyssa Clow says:

    This is the best review I’ve ever seen! Very good analysis, and I can’t wait to read the pro lab version of this.

  4. [...] photographer friend of a friend in Cleveland, Corey Ann Photography, took the time to put together this well detailed comparison of several consumer print labs.  In the end, she also recommends [...]

  5. Cindy Anderson says:

    Love this. Great job!

  6. Very nice in-depth comparison. I have wanted to do this but have not taken the time. I have been a high-end photographer for years, producing lots of wall portraits and only use pro labs. I am in the process of transferring out a lot of my old client files, and have wanted to show them the variances in consumer printing. This convinces me I need to do something to educate those taking their digital files and scanned film files home. I will still print for them from these files at a discount, but I know many will not ask me. At least they can be informed.
    Thank you for sharing this, Corey. Nice work.

  7. [...] stores and a professional lab so you can see the difference.  Corey Ann Photography also did a print comparison with several consumer grade labs and posted the image results, its a really good visual and [...]

  8. Vasee Seeva says:

    Great review, thanks. I have used Shutterfly and their print color never comes correct.

  9. Lacey Taylor says:

    This is great and so sad at the same time! I print at Costco and I have always been pleased with the quality! I agree, when it comes to preserving, it”s worth the investment!

  10. Meg Rodzen says:

    This is super helpful! Any chance you’ve printed at Costco and have your thoughts on their quality?

  11. Meg Rodzen says:

    Here’s another comparison including pro printing if you are interested! http://improvephotography.com/7756/test-results-best-online-print-lab/comment-page-4/#comment-18588

  12. Camera Tamera says:

    I tried shutterfly Christmas cards this year and the family of dark blondes looked red. Not just a little red but light your hair on fire and call yourself Irish red. The quality of paper was very poor as well. I liked their photobooks and I’ve always been happy with them but my goodness take your business elsewhere for cards n prints.

  13. Very interesting and helpful comparison. I sent wedding pictures out to MPIX a few days ago. Have not received them back yet. Hope I will be pleased with them. Thanks for the info.

  14. Heather Abbate says:

    Thank you for posting this! I try to stress the importance of where you take photos to be printed, but sometimes it takes a visual for clients to listen. A lot of my friends who have had photoshoots done have came back with bad photos due to the horrible print quality. Wish all photographers would share this blog post to their clients.

  15. Melissa Henry says:

    Corey, thanks so much for posting this! I just wrote a blog post about digital files vs. wall portraits and included a link to your post here since you have created such a thorough analysis of consumer lab print results. This is very helpful for me to help explain to clients why they should let me print their images. If you feel like reading my post, here’s the link: http://www.mdphotographs.com/digital-images/ Cheers!

  16. […] that give examples (and sometimes horror stories) of printing lab comparisons:  HERE, HERE, and HERE to name a few.  If you purchase digital images from your photographer, please talk with them about […]

  17. Bethany Brayton says:

    I don’t know what these labs are doing, but holy mackerel… I know you say they weren’t color corrected by the lab, but I have to wonder if they do so and say they don’t because that’s just… I mean, even accounting for variances in printers and computers… yeesh!

    Do you have a comparison from your preferred pro-lab in a print similar to what the 15-cent prints are – ie, glossy 4×6? I can’t tell if the one marked “Original” is your pro-print or your original digital. And/or from the others in what you usually get from the pro-lab, say 8×10? I’d be curious to see a direct comparison to that, as well – similar results, I would think, but maybe an 8×10 gets treated differently than a glossy 4×6.

    But even on a portrait size… I don’t mind printing 5×7 and 8×10 at my local Walmart, the colors are usually good, decent saturation and no color cast, good sharpness, nice enough paper for my needs, and I like their matte finish, but they’re still always off – I can’t tell if they’re darkening or lightening or some combination (the edges always seem darker and the center lighter than what I uploaded (despite knowing this tendency and trying to correct for it), so I feel like the tech is doing some “improving”, but I don’t know for sure, and there is no longer a “Fix” option to check or uncheck. I guess I need to sit down, compare my prints, and set up some sort of “Walmart Correction” action. In any event, for what I usually need printed (typically rescued family photos for an aging grandmother who isn’t as picky as I am, or 5×7/8x10s of my daughter for her grandparents), my local Walmart is ok.

  18. […] favorite (and least favorite!) consumer labs. {If you enjoy reading about this process, check out Corey Ann‘s comparisons, Beryl Ayn Young’s top five “best of” printing places, or […]

  19. […] comparisons for consumer labs, go here. Also note that for the best possible results when you hone in on your favorite lab: download and […]

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