I've written before about my on-going frustration with getting photos printed that I am happy with. Can anyone relate? I know I am particular - I want my photos to be beautiful and look what I see on my camera screen and on my computer screen. I'm not sure if it's me - the way I take the pictures, the way I edit them, the way I upload them, my computer monitor - OR is it the companies that are printing the photos? OR a combination of all these?!!
What am I looking for in a photo-printing company?
- Accurate reproduction of colors - the MOST important!
- Good price
- Fast shipping
- Good paper
- Prints available in a variety of sizes for printing instagrams, etc.
- Easy to access customer service
I wrote about a test I did with three companies a couple years - you can read that post HERE. After that post I placed an order for almost 600 photos from our trip to South Africa from Mpix because I was the happiest with the test prints from them. I wasn't happy with the results of the large print job though. I would say that about half the prints were excellent and half were terrible - they had a gray cast on them and were very dark. When I contacted Mpix (which you can only do via email - and then wait for them to respond) they said to let them know which 300 weren't good and they would redo them. Sorry but I don't have time to go through and list 300 pictures that aren't printed correctly. Needless to say, I wasn't too happy with that and haven't used them again. It seemed that two people printed them on two different machines or something and one did it good and one didn't. I can't take the risk that I'll get the "bad" printer when I send an order. I also didn't like waiting so long for a response to an email. I really want to be able to pick up the phone and call customer service.
Since then I've had many - more than a couple hundred or so - Instagram pictures printed by Persnickety Prints. I like their 3x3" size which is printed on a heavy cardstock. If you have a company that you like that does Intagrams, could you let me know in the comments? I wouldn't mind trying another company just to compare.
This summer I've been anxious to do the travel book we made in Italy and want to get those pictures printed. I didn't intend to do another test but that's what has happened. I started by sending a few pictures to Shutterfly because I have a print package for 4x6's that I purchased a while ago and would like to use. When I got them back, the colors were off - the greens are way too green, so for pictures that contain a lot of greenery like many of my pictures do, it's not good for me.
Many people have recommended Costco Online photo-printing, so I paid the $55 for a Costco membership (we don't have a Costco in this area, so I am only paying for the opportunity to get really good photo printing.) I sent a few photos to them and when I got them back, they were very dull and lifeless and dark. I called Customer Service about it and they refunded my money but said that if they redid them, they would look the same since they print what they receive. I went back and re-edited them and was happier with the results, but this time I noticed that the prints had been cropped. In many pictures you wouldn't notice it because it might cut off the sky or something, but on some it cut off a person's hand or part of a circle. Here's the example of one print where the crop is obvious:
On this picture I had placed two photos on a 4x6" space. You can see that they cut off the circle in the decorative wood piece in the top picture and Paola's hand in the bottom photo. This is the photo on the Costco site and you can see that there isn't any crop warning. The whole picture should have printed.
After calling Costco and being on hold for a couple hours, I finally got to speak to a supervisor who opened a case to look into the problem. Today (a week later) I got an email response saying, "the cropping is due to the fact that up to 1/8" an be cut off due to bleeding. The best way for you to receive the full image is to order with a border." Hmmm, maybe I don't want a border and none of the other companies I used cropped them at all. I might test them one more time with a border to see how they look, but I don't necessarily want a border - I might be getting a refund on the Costco membership. :)
I also sent a small order for 4x6's to Persnickety Prints just to give them another chance since my post a couple years ago. They were my least favorite of the four companies I used this time, but I will still use them for special print sizes like my Instagrams. They do have a satisfaction guarantee but I don't think I should have to call to get prints that I am happy with. You'll see in the samples at the end of the post that their printing lacks clarity compared to the other companies.
My fourth order came from Smugmug and those pictures are excellent. The thing is that these were pictures taken by Tiffany Kirchner-Dixon, who was the professional photographer on the retreat, and edited by her. Sooo - I don't know if it is the settings on her camera and the photos she took and the way she edited them or the quality of Smugmug printing - I suspect it is mostly the first, that makes the difference in the quality of the prints I received. It's very hard to take a picture of a photo to see the quality but I think these two are good examples of how good they are. The thing that I do know is that the photos I ordered from the Smugmug site look exactly like the prints I received which didn't happen with any other company I ordered from.
The one problem I have with Smugmug is the length of time it took to receive my prints. It took a full ten business days from the day I placed my order. That is too long to wait, I think, but I have opened a 14 day trial account with them - maybe it is worth the wait??? I read many reviews of Smugmug and the shipping time is something that many reviewers comment on.
SOOO.... either I am not editing my photos properly (I use Lightroom to edit my photos - many are taken on the RAW setting on my camera) OR my computer screen is not callibrated properly, so even when it looks good to my eye, it is not what the photo lab is "seeing" with the photos I upload to them. I have purchased a tool to calibrate my computer screen and have used it a couple times, but it is kind of tricky and I don't really know what I'm doing, and need to fuss with it some more. The goal is to have the color on my screen be as close as possible to what is printed by a photo lab.
Tiffany told me about a professional lab, White House Custom Color, that will print test prints for me to help calibrate my computer screen, so I need to do that. A professional lab might be the answer for me, but I have so many photos to print - I'm not sure I want to pay what it will cost for a professional lab to print my pictures. I wish that the results from regular consumer photo labs weren't so unpredictable. Maybe I would be happy with having fewer pictures printed if the quality is excellent!
As I was looking for more information about this, I found some photo printing reviews where people did test prints and liked Snapfish, but I've not heard them recommended before. Do any of you have experience with them?
So what is my conclusion - I still don't have one! Maybe I'm too particular, but I want to hold the pictures that I see on my camera! I just wish it wasn't so hard.
Here are some of the pictures I received (the bottom picture in each group has some fading in color on the right side from photographing a photograph, so please ignore that part.)
In the print below, the top one is Costco and the bottom one is Persnickety.
Below, the top one is Shutterfly and the bottom one is Costco.
Below, the top one is Perskickety and the bottom one is Costco. (It is hard to see here but in the bottom one the flowers are sharper.)
Here are two pictures where I placed two photos on the 4x6 to print half size photos. These are both from Costco and I like the color but not the fact that they are cropped.
This next one is the most dramatic! The top one is from Shutterfly and the bottom one is from Costco.
This last comparison has the Persnickety print on the left and Costco on the right. You can see on the Costco picture that they cut off part of the sign above my head and I look a little stretched out. It might make me look thinner but why are they doing that to my picture???
Anyway... it is totally frustrating to me - sometimes I long for the days of dropping off a roll of film and having it developed. Sure there were some pictures that didn't turn out, but the ones that did were great. Maybe looking at my camera display and a computer screen makes me think that I'll have something better than is even possible.
What do you think? Have you used a photo-printing site that you are happy with? Any advice? Help!!!! :)