Where You Print Matters

One of the biggest questions I get asked is, “Where should I print my pictures?” The short and easy answer: through me, your photographer. The more complicated answer? Here we go.

*Please note that this is a guide for consumers and clients. It is designed to show the difference between low end prints and professional prints.

When I first started my photography journey, I was what many in the industry call a “shoot and burn” photographer. I would give tons of photos, with minimal processing or retouching, on a disc for a cheap price. Throughout the last few years, my eyes have been opened to different services and offerings that have helped change the way I treat clients, and that have improved your client experience time and time again. I process each of your photos individually now, giving you the highest quality photo I can produce. What happens next? It’s time to print.

While your package includes prints through my favorite professional lab, you still have the option to buy digital files. If you do decide to purchase the digitals, you can print wherever you’d like. But what do I recommend? Rather than tell you, I want to show you. Take a look below at a comparison.

In each example, I include the original file (as I processed it, what you see on your computer screen). I also include the professional lab that your prints ordered through me come from. Then comes the interesting part. I ordered prints from Shutterfly, MPix, Smugmug (using the print lab EZ Prints), and Walmart. These are unretouched scans of the prints. I did not alter the color, crop, saturation, contrast, or anything else in any of these scans. When checking these out, remember to look at the details. Look at hair, shadows, and the picture as a whole. Look at the color, and sharpness of the images. Take a peak for yourself at the differences:

Comparison of print labsComparison of Print Labs

Comparison of different print labsComparison with various printing services

Pros + Cons of Each Lab:

Pro Lab: Obviously, a professional lab will use the best quality paper, will match colors best, and will stand the test of time the longest. However, professional quality does come with a price. This set cost me about 30% more than using a consumer online service. But really, what is a few extra in the big scheme of things? Prints are not something to go “cheap” on, especially if you want them to last. They are also packaged professionally (and safely to keep them perfect throughout shipping).

MPix: I was pleasantly surprised by these prints. Though they still don’t match the quality of the pro lab, they are definitely a step up from the other sites I used. The paper is still slightly thinner than I’d like, but definitely better than others. The prints are a bit cool, but aside from that the colors are pretty accurate. They were relatively inexpensive, even with me paying for faster shipping than the others (this was a last minute addition).

Shutterfly: These photos arrived to me relatively quickly. The photos were shipped in a cardboard envelope, not entirely protected from the weather, but arrived safely regardless. The colors are washed out and tinted orange/yellow. A lot of the details in the shadows were lost as well. The paper is thin, and the texture isn’t quite ideal. I was actually surprised how much it did cost me here, a little higher than I would have liked (especially the shipping).

Smugmug: Smugmug does offer different print labs, including some pro labs, with their “commerce plans,” as they are a hosting service not an actual print lab. For the sake of this blog, I did not use a commerce plan since most of my clients won’t be paying for a commerce plan for access to the other labs. The photos in this example were printed by EZ Prints.  Before really dipping my toes into the world of professional prints, I absolutely loved this lab. Much to my surprise, I was not impressed with these prints compared to the others. They were tinted very green, and were extremely washed out. Some of the details were lost yet again, but all in all, it wasn’t awful. I still probably won’t use them again for personal printing. The cost of these was actually cheaper than Shutterfly, which made me happy with the quality I received.

Walmart: I don’t even know where to begin. The colors of the image were destroyed. The contrast was far too strong, and the exposure was super low. They simply looked awful. Though they were ready in only an hour, I felt like I completely wasted my money. I’ve always told people not to print at Walmart, but now… I really need to emphasize how terrible the quality really is. I was completely floored.


All in all, it really is up to you where you print. A professional lab is your best bet no matter what, but you do have other options. If you aren’t going to print through me, I recommend MPix as a first runner up choice, as Smugmug as a second. Keep these comparisons in mind the next time you’re deciding. Think about what you need the photos for, if you’re wanting to pass them down from generation to generation, or simply need them for a day. Please feel free to share this page with anyone who may find it useful!

God Bless ♥ Victoria

  • Jess Allen - Thank you for this post I find it very helpful! I am a very amateur photographer, mostly taking pictures of my kids and scenery. I did however shoot my sister’s senior pictures last year. When it came time to design invites and print wallets etc. we used shutterfly and Nation’s photo lab. The invites came from shutterfly and were awful. Some of them were not useable, we couldn’t even read the information the font was so small and the picture quality was not there either. I would not recommend them. We were pleasantly surprised by nations. We ordered metallic and regular wallets. The quality was great and they turned out beautiful! I received many complements on the wallets, not so much on the invites I had spent countless hours designing to perfection. As a photographer you put alot more time into your work than people realize and when you finally receive those prints you’ve been dying to show off and they are poor quality it is very disappointing.ReplyCancel

  • Jorge Martinez - Thank you for the info. Lots of useful information. Just curiosity: When you talk about Pro-Lab, do you have one in particular? What would you recommend? On your article you mentioned Mpix, Smugmug, Shutterfly but don’t mention the names of Pro labs. Any recommendations?

    Thank you again for the article.ReplyCancel

  • christy - I would love find where I can order these and I would like to work on my pictures.ReplyCancel

  • Brenda Campbell - Hi Victoria, Just wanted to check on some information, Smugmug is not a print lab they are a website host and i use them for my site, they do offer prolab through there site if you want your clients to order there print from you on your site,Just a little fyi for your article,Do like the comparision good way to show clients 🙂

    Thank you
    Brenda CampbellReplyCancel

    • Victoria - Hey Brenda! Yes, this blog is meant to be a comparison for consumers and my clients (not other professionals in the industry). For the purposes of this blog, I did not use a commerce level plan because most clients will not be spending $150+/year on a membership. The blog has been updated to show that. The lab used through Smugmug was EZ Prints.
      Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Why Printing Matters » Victoria Simmons Photography – Columbus GA Photographer - […] week, we covered why where you print matters. This week? Why printing at all matters. I have a confession to make, it’s something […]ReplyCancel

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