Posted by: David Vernon | January 18, 2010

Online Printing

GrainyWhen it comes to printing your images there are a couple things you might want to consider.

You can print at home but that’s a long-term financial commitment (especially when it comes to ink) and can be fraught with peril when it comes to getting it just so. Good home printing, especially for archival purposes, is not for the faint of heart. You can visit a local lab at one of the big box stores, but good luck getting consistent or accurate color every time you have a batch of prints to do. What they provide in convenience and reasonably quick turnaround are often traded down in consistent quality. Not the worst solution in the world – but there are better ones and they come in the guise of online photo processors.

The notion here is pretty simple too. Upload your photos to a website, make some decisions about what you want, enter your credit card information, and wait for the prints to arrive. The pluses to an operation like this are plenty. You should expect top notch work in your prints – both in terms of color conformity (especially if you profile your monitor and comply with the printers profile needs) and print quality. Because these print houses work in large quantities to boot, price should be a major consideration too – on par with the discount big box stores and cheaper then doing the work at home. The number of products available should be on the high side – more then you probably can find and simply execute at either your home or the local stores. And finally you don’t have to make a trip to get your prints – they’ll be delivered right to you (or you customer).

So who to choose? The folks over at one of my favorite geeky websites (aka Lifehacker) are running one of their group opinion polls right now – on the “Five Best Photo Printing Sites“. Users leave comments over a number of days on who they’ve had success with and all the submissions are narrowed down to the top five. Folks will eventually vote on those and pick the one they consider the best. If you head over to the site you can see what the final five are: Snapfish, Shutterfly, Mpix, Adorama, and Costco (and you can vote based on your experiences).

I personally have been using Mpix for years and have found their quality, customer service, and delivery speed to be top-notch. They know their way around black-and-whites and they provide a number of different paper choices (including the awesome Kodak Endura Metallic). The quality of all of these places is I think pretty good. Could you do better at home or with a lab that is really top end? Yes – you could probably do a little better. But for 99.9% of us – you’re not going to notice the difference. I certainly feel comfortable telling people to use Mpix (or MpixPro) – and I feel like in the long run you’re saving money and not sacrificing quality because of it. And I’ve had days where I’ve gotten prints in my hand from Mpix (in Pittsburg, KS or Columbia, MO) in less then 24 hours.

I will mention two other options that I have experience with. The folks at Peoria Color Lab do a pretty good job too and they’re local (in Peoria’s Metro Center) so turnaround can be amazingly quick (if you make arrangements ahead of time they’re good to work with). I find their price point to be – on average – about 1/3 higher then other online labs but not bad. If you want to work from home, you have to download their ROES software (industry standard online ordering software package) and upload with that. The other folks I’ve had good experiences with are White House Custom Color. As far as I’m concerned, they could’ve easily been in the list above – and I would even consider them the sixth item on that five-item list above. They are a very similar experience.

If you’re happy doing it the way you are – stick with it – especially if it isn’t costing you too much. If not – try Mpix or one of the others mentioned – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


  1. For snapshot type images, I usually go with snapfish. They’re decent and cheap. For the more ‘serious’ stuff, I have been happy with mpix.

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