Print Your Photos the Easy Way
There’s a big difference between a photo and a photograph. The latter is an object itself, rather than just an image file displayed on a screen. Sure, you can hold your phone up to someone’s face to show them snapshots of your baby niece, but that’s no way to proudly display a favorite shot. Online photo printers like Mpix, Snapfish, Shutterfly, and Walmart Photo exist because people still want photo prints. The services included here can produce high-quality prints and memorabilia from your digital photos, whether that’s in the form of wallet-size snapshots or wall-size photo canvases.
Below, we give you some helpful ideas of what factors you should consider when choosing a photo printing service to give your digital keepsakes physical form.
It turns out you can get printed photos of your visual memories without breaking the bank. Some services we tested, including Amazon Prints, Snapfish, and York Photo Labs, produce 4-by-6-inch prints for just 9 cents apiece. Local pickup options tend to cost more: CVS Photo and Walgreens start at 33 cents for 4-by-6s, but you pay for the convenience of local pickup. The next-priciest 4-by-6 among the services we tested was Nations Photo Labs, at 32 cents, but the company provided excellent image and paper quality. In the middle is Shutterfly’s 15 cents for a 4-by-6.
Even if you want enlargements at popular sizes, such as 5-by-7 and 8-by-10, you don’t have to spend a lot. Snapfish will send you 5-by-7s for just 69 cents each, and Nations Photo Labs offers excellent-quality 8-by-10s for a mere $1.01 each. AdoramaPix (which recently rebranded with the name Printique), charges $2.49 for an 8-by-10 print, and most other services charge a still-reasonable $2.99-$3.99. For wall-art size prints, of course, you’ll pay more, but prices still aren’t exorbitant: All of the services in this roundup sell 16-by-20 prints for under $20, and most charge closer to $15.
One thing worth keeping in mind is that most of the services included here offer special discount pricing from time to time. The See It links above often lead to some unexpected bargains and offers.
Why stop at ordinary photo prints, when you can have your pictures grace mugs, playing cards, and even pillows? The services here offer a remarkable assortment of objects that you can personalize. All offer greeting cards, calendars, and photo books (more on this below). Most offer phone cases, blankets, and coffee mugs.
Shutterfly offers the largest selection of photo gifts, with flowerpots, blankets, cell phone cases, pillows, shower curtains, and even food bowls for your pets. York Photo Labs and CVS can sell you a necktie featuring your picture or multiple copies of one shot. I’m still waiting for one of the companies to offer photo-embellished rugs and lampshades. A couple of fun options that many do offer are puzzles and magnets. Walmart will sell you a Teddy bear wearing a t-shirt sporting your photo. The latest photo gifts I’ve seen are tea towels, pot holders, bottle openers, and pet food containers.
Large Canvas Prints
Two services included here, CanvasChamp and CanvasPop don’t even print standard small photos, but instead offer only large, high-quality wall art (as well as magnets and pillows). CanvasPop’s offerings range from $33 for an unmounted 8-by-10 canvas to nearly $500 for a massive 76-by-inch canvas stretched on a 1.5-inch-deep frame. The company also offers retouching and restoration services. CanvasChamp offers prints up to 54 inches by 54 inches, and is more budget-oriented than CanvasPop, with prices starting at just $4.25 for a 5-by-7 or 8-by-8-inch canvas.
Those two aren’t alone in offering your photos in the form of large wall art. Nations Photo Lab’s canvas offerings start at $50 for an 8-by-10 stretched on a 3/4-inch frame, and Snapfish’s start at $44.99 for an unframed 8-by-8 canvas. AdoramaPix (aka Printique) charges $27.49 for an 8-by-12 canvas and runs all the way up to $248 for a 30-by-40-inch canvas. Mpix’s gallery-wrapped canvas prints start at $57.75 for an 8-by-10.
Most of the services also offer a choice of hard backings for larger prints, and they’ll also frame your picture. Mounting options for Shutterfly include printing on cardstock, which starts at $3.99 for a 5-by-7, $7.99 for an 8-by-10, and $19.99 for an 11-by-14 print.
But cardstock isn’t as suitable for wall hanging as other options such as styrene, standouts, gatorboard, and metal prints (more on this last type of print below). Gatorboard is stronger than standard foam plastic, since it’s impregnated with wood fibers, and it’s easy to hang on the wall. All these types of backing are available from many of the online photo printing services included here.
Mpix offers a CollageWall option that lets you group related shots with a matching background. These start at $80 for a 1.5-by-1.5-foot array consisting of four photos. Other services, including AdoramaPix offer similar décor solutions.
Metal prints are an elegant, more permanent option offered by several services. With this process, your photo is printed directly onto a metallic surface for more vivid colors and contrast. Mpix can print to paper using a similar effect, with its Metallic Print option. In actual printing on metal, Nations Photo Lab charges $12 for a 4-by-6, $15 for a 5-by-7, and $22 for an 8-by-10. Its largest metal option is a substantial 20 by 36 inches, which costs $195. Snapfish can print you an Aluminum panel that you could use as a tabletop starting at just $27.99.
A new, stylish twist from Snapfish is its maple wood mounting. This option starts at $69.99 for an 11-by-14 print. The option comes with mounting holes in the back, and the printing process allows the wood grain to show through your image for a rustic look.
Framing adds the ultimate wall-art touch to your large photo prints. It also adds cost: A framed 3.5-by-5 from Mpix costs $26 (for matting, you pay an additional $10). AdoramaPix charges from $129 to $220 for framed and matted print, depending on the frame chosen, while CanvasPop charges $257 without matting and $321 with matting.
Printing Photo Books
Almost all of the services included here can print books featuring your photos. For special events such as weddings, graduations, and vacations, nothing serves as a better reminder than a professionally printed photo book. The entry-level price for a book is Shutterfly’s $15.99 for a 7-by-9-inch. Snapfish and Adoramapix charge $19.99 for an 8-by-8 book. Nations only hardcover books, which start at $29 for 5-by-7-inch books. Mpix offers hardcover books with sewn bindings, called Premium Panoramic Photo Books, starting at $39.99 for a 20-page 5-by-5-inch book and Economy books with the same specs, starting at $19.99.
Shutterfly has a service that curates your photos and designs a book for if you feel you’re not up to the task yourself. The service has one of the best design tools, with three options: Make My Book, Custom Path (which lets you personalize every page), and Simple Path, which instantly lays out your photos.
If you’re comfortable with photo editing software, Adobe’s Lightroom Classic and Apple’s Photos app both offer excellent photo book design tools and let you send your project to a professional printer. Lightroom uses the book-only Blurb service, and Apple uses an undisclosed but high-quality publisher.
Editing, Ordering, and Sharing Photos
If you’re going to be ordering photos online, it helps if the service has a friendly, navigable website. For example, most services, like Snapfish, let you simply check off all the sizes you want on a single page grid. Others make you select a size for printing before choosing the images you want, and then start over again if you want more sizes.
Snapfish and other services offer basic photo-editing tools, letting you brighten or darken an underexposed or overexposed shot, for example. Many services automatically apply color correction; Nations Photo Labs offers high-level photo editing for a price premium, but we didn’t see a big difference in our test prints between premium color-corrections and the service’s standard prints.
Online Sharing. This feature is offered by some services; AdoramaPix, Mpix, and Shutterfly are particularly strong in this capability. The latter even lets you create online mini-websites for your photos. Snapfish and Walgreens Photo let you share online galleries that can be viewed as full-window slideshows. York Photos shared galleries are little more than batches of thumbnails, and Nations Photo Lab doesn’t get involved in online gallery sharing.
Film Processing. This may seem a passé topic, but there’s a contingent of photographers who still prefer film; I recently needed film processing for one of those disposable underwater cameras for a vacation that involved snorkeling. Companies here that still process film include Mpix and some CVS and Walgreens locations For a film-only service with more options including black-and-white film, check out The Darkroom. These services usually include a CD or web link with digital copies of your photos, which lets you edit and share them on your PC, but prints usually cost extra.
Mobile Apps for Photo Printing Services
The most popular camera these days is one that’s always with you—your phone. And smartphones have come a long way in terms of image quality, with some capturing images with more than 20 megapixels of resolution. With most photos now being taken by phones, it only makes sense for a photo printing service to offer a mobile app to get the images straight from your phone to the print service.
York Photo Labs offers a very basic app that only lets you upload and order prints. Amazon and Shutterfly add the ability to order photo gifts, while Snapfish and Walgreens Photo’s apps can import photos from social networks, perform some editing, and share photos with friends. Nations is the only service in this group with no mobile app.
Delivering Your Photos
If you want your pictures pronto, Walmart Photo or Walgreens is the way to go. Target Photo and CVS Photo also let you pick up prints locally, but we weren’t a pleased with their results in our testing.
If you decide you can wait a few days, or you want special options not available with local pickup, such as matte finish, mail order is provided by all the services tested. None of them takes an inordinate amount of time, and shipping costs for our order of 22 photos of various sizes ranged from $2.79 for York Photo Labs to $7.95 for Mpix—but the reason for the difference was stark. York packaged the photos in a thin, standard large envelope, while the carefully protected Mpix order arrived in a strong cardboard box with clear plastic envelopes for photo size sets.
If you want faster delivery, most services offer second-day and overnight but keep in mind that the products still have to be produced, so that doesn’t mean your photos will arrive the day after you order them, necessarily, even if you pay $15 for overnight shipping. But it may mean your pictures arrive four days earlier. In practice, none of our test orders, for which we used the lowest-cost shipping options, took more than five days to arrive except for the York Photo Labs order.
Packaging quality varies widely among the services tested. Mpix, AdoramaPix, and Nations sit at the top of the packaging quality pyramid; they use thick cardboard boxes to protect your prints. Amazon and York Photo Labs are at the bottom, using only thin paper envelopes.
For us, this is the most important factor when ordering prints: How accurately the photos reproduce the image you shot. Most of the prints I received, especially at the smaller 4-by-6-inch size, revealed acceptable image quality, but there are noticeable differences in lighting and saturation. You can see the differences in the mountain scene below.
Paper is another consideration. Most services use Fuji Crystal archive, but the higher-end services like AdoramaPix, Mpix, and Nations Photo Lab use truly professional-quality Kodak Endura paper, which is thicker and rated to last longer.
Please don’t hesitate to share your experiences with photo printing services in the comments below. To learn more, check out our collections of Quick Tips to Fix Your Bad Photos, Beyond-Basic Phototography Tips, and The Best Photo Editing Software. And if you’re set on printing your own pictures, our list of the best photo printers is a good place to start.
Where To Buy
Pros: Excellent interface and options.
The best packaging of all the tested services.
Good print quality.
Online gallery sharing.
Cons: Glossy prints cost more.
Prices on the high end.
No TIFF or PNG support.
Bottom Line: Mpix is one of your best photo printing options available.
An excellent interface, sturdy packaging, and top-notch image results make it a service worth seeking out.
Pros: Excellent print quality on high-grade paper.
Superior website usability and features.
Letterbox cropping and border options.
Highly protective packaging for shipping.
TIFF and large files supported.
Cons: Fewer printed gift options than competitors.
Bottom Line: The Printique photo printing service boasts a superior web interface, the best packaging of any service we’ve tested, and top-notch print quality.
Pros: Very high quality finished products.
Wide selection of template styles for making custom paper goods.
Ability to tweak templates to further customize your projects.
Great preview area that flags potential problems with images and text.
Cons: Prices are slightly higher than similar services.
Bottom Line: Upload your images to Shutterfly, and you can make custom greeting cards, photo wall calendars, and other simple goods with ease, thanks to a great batch of designing tools that even an amateur can master.
The final products are reliably fantastic.
Pros: Excellent print quality.
Color and lighting correction.
Includes mounting brackets.
Cons: No cropping tool.
Long delivery time.
Bottom Line: Turn your digital photos into living room art with this high quality, affordable service that prints your photos on canvas and can even frame them for you.
Nations Photo Lab
Pros: The best print quality of all the services we tested.
Excellent delivery packaging.
TIFF file support.
Cons: Web interface is less slick than some competitors.
40MB file size upload limit.
No online gallery sharing.
Bottom Line: It’s not as well known as some competitors, but Nations Photo Lab delivered the best photo quality of all the services we’ve tested, and at reasonable prices.
Pros: Easy order setup.
Good colors and print quality.
Cons: Skimpy packaging.
Print was cropped more than expected.
Image not optimized for printing.
Bottom Line: CanvasChamp produces large, wall-mountable canvas prints from your digital photos at a bargain price.
The results are good, but not best-in-class.
Pros: Mostly very good print quality. Low price.
Cons: Flimsy shipping packaging. Ordering interface less intuitive and full-featured than competitors’.
Bottom Line: Amazon Prints delivers decent picture quality at a bargain price. Unfortunately, the photo-printing service’s web interface is less intuitive and full featured than the competition’s, and its packaging is the least protective.
Pros: Good picture quality and packaging.
Online photo sharing.
Online image editing.
Cons: Clunky web interface.
10MB image file size limit.
Long processing times.
Exorbitant expediting fees.
Bottom Line: RitzPix delivers good photo prints, decently packaged, at average prices, but it doesn’t stand out from the crowd, and its web interface is mediocre.
Pros: Excellent online editing tools for making personalized greeting cards, calendars, and other custom products.
Huge array of products.
Connects with other photo sites, like Flickr and Facebook.
Cons: Unreliable printing of final product.
Fewer shipping and delivery options than other services.
Bottom Line: Website Snapfish has one of the best interfaces for making personalized greeting cards, but the final product may look less than professional.
Pros: Low price.
Decent web interface.
Fast service with local pickup option.
Online photo sharing.
Cons: Subpar image quality and shipping packaging.
No mobile photo-uploading app.
Bottom Line: Walmart Photo offers a good web interface and low prices, but our testing shows that its print quality and packaging don’t match those of its best competitors.
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