When it comes to printing photos, there are several options to consider. Keep in mind that even the best photo lab will make bad prints unless you prepare your files for printing before sending them.
Should you print at home?
In the last few years printers have become so inexpensive that many people have one or two at home. Considering that you can pickup a very decent photo printer for around $100, the urge to print your own photos is very high.
Most of us only need a good quality consumer photo printer. Unless you print numerous photos each month, the cost of a print from a home printer is high when you consider the cost of paper, ink, electricity and the actual cost of the printer. But the expense may be worth the speed, convenience and satisfaction of making prints on your own personal printer. With a printer at home, you can have the best of both worlds: print most of your own photos or, for those extra special ones, make some proof prints for reviewing before sending your files to a printing service.
Should you use a photo finishing service?
Local brick and mortar photo labs can still be found in most major cities. If you compare the prices, you’ll find that online services can be cheaper even factoring in shipping costs. But the decision whether to use an online service or a local store often depends on how much processing work is needed.
If you want the printing service provider to do little or no processing, such as minor color correction, an online service is a good choice. But if you want extensive edits such as cropping, color correction, removing distracting background items and skin smoothing, it’s better to go to a local store. You can talk directly with a real person and discuss exactly how you want your photos to look.
Many major department stores have their own photo printing departments. They have self-service kiosks where you can get prints done for almost the same low price of the online stores. The downside to department store printing is that the number of options available in terms of print sizes and paper types are limited.
Should I use a consumer or professional printing lab?
Apart from the well-known online printing services there are less known highly specialized professional labs such as WHCC, Millers, Bay Photo and Nations Photo Lab. Which service to select should depend on the amount of prints you plan to do. If you plan to order many prints, professional labs become more attractive because they often offer printing packages.
The confidence you have in your abilities should also be a consideration when choosing a lab. Professional labs offer little or no editing services, they leave the photographer with the full control of the images. Professional labs generally offer more printing and mounting options, as well as different shipping options.
Consumer labs tend to be less expensive than their professional counterparts. Both types of services are generally very good when it comes to shipping and handling, but professional labs have a slight edge in how much care and effort they put in to their packaging.
For many, the services offered by consumer labs will suffice. However, as you develop as a photographer and your printing needs become more sophisticated consider using a professional lab.