Magic Monday: Where to Print…

Ever been diamond ring shopping?!  There’s nothing quite like seeing the amazing shimmer of a diamond featured in a luxurious jewelry shop.  Ever notice how clean the ring is, and how the lights in the shop are designed specifically to highlight the cut and reflections of light that the diamond casts?

I love getting my wedding ring cleaned at the jewelry store and seeing it shine in all its glory.  Fast forward a few months after washing my hands in soapy water, doing work, exposing it to the elements of everyday living and not having the gorgeous lighting follow me around that the store features.  The quality of the ring is still the same.  The possibility of its beauty is still there.  But it doesn’t quite have the luster and wow factor that it could have when it is featured in the professional setting.

I liken this whole analogy to printing your images as well.  You can take a beautiful quality image and have it shine by printing it professionally or have the quality and effect dulled by going the cheap route.

One of the most common questions I received from students, is “Where should I print my pictures?!”

My first response?


I caution people against using ANY drugstore printing for a few reasons.

#1.  Default Color Correction.

The majority of work most drugstore type labs print is regular photos taken with point and shoot cameras by non-professional photographers.  (Nothing wrong with this).  BUT… because of the quality of the photos they generally print, they add a default color correction to all the photos processed through their machines to enhance the non-professional quality.  For many people who don’t apply any sort of editing to their photos this can be a nice addition.  For those who do spend time adjusting colors and editing to their own taste, your work may be dulled down or slightly lost.

***If you do decide to go this route, in the very least REQUEST that they turn OFF the color correction.  Sometimes they listen.  Sometimes they don’t.  Even when they do, you still won’t have the absolute quality the image is capable of.

#2.  Options

Generally, drugstore printing also limits your options to one or two finishes (typically glossy or matte)   The kind of paper you print on can greatly enhance the appearance of the image as well.  Printing on metallic paper, or with a luster finish will add even more of that “punch” to your print.  If you print at a drugstore, you don’t have this option.

In addition, drugstore photo printing may cap your enlargement options to an 8×10.  I get excited when people  discover that an 8×10 is really not an enlargement.  Try comparing that to a 16×20 or larger.  THAT is when your images start to have some real impact in your home.

To those of you who take your own images and want better printing results, or to those that have the digital files from a professional photographer session, you absolutely will have the best results in your printing if you make an informed choice about the lab you use.

Who do I recommend?

Although I haven’t printed here personally, it is the #1 recommended lab by photographers who sell their digital images to their clients.  You may pay a few dimes more for your 4×6, but you are gaurenteed to get better quality.  They offer print sizes in all sizes, all finish types (highly recommend the luster and metallic…something not even offered at the drugstore), they offer the option of printing canvases, gallery wraps, albums, and a variety of other products to showcase your images.

Want the wow factor? Want the shimmer?  Want to preserve the color quality?  Want to have options that will make a larger impact for your image?  Consider printing professionally.

Who I use:

Here’s my huge shout out for an incredible company.  I print all my prints through  You must be a member with an account, but let me explain why EVERYONE should have an account here!

#1.  Back up for your photos.

Whether you are a professional or just a happy photographer that loves to document the life of your family and friends… do you have a backup system for your photos?  How would you feel if your computer crashed?  Did you know that DVDs and CDs are NOT ideal for storing your images?  Their life expectancy is less than five years.  Don’t get comfortable thinking your work is backed up on CDs or a computer hard drive.  Its quite tragic to loose all your files.  I’ve seen it happen and it is cause to grieve.

Smugmug allows you to upload your pictures online into your own private account.  They back up the images in FIVE DIFFERENT STATES!!!!!!  They will upgrade with each technological advancement as well. So in 10 years when it seems completely archaic to print from a CD, you won’t have to worry if your images are with smugmug.

#2.  Online access.

You can share your images with all your family and friends across the world!  They can order prints for themselves directly from the site!  You have the ability to password protect any gallery you create to keep things private as well.

#3.  Low Cost.

A yearly subscription starts at $39/year.  Thats less than a few dollars a month to preserve all your images.  Most people would pay much more in the event of a crisis when they discover they have lost everything!

#4.  Incredible customer service.

Have help and service 24/7 from real people who are happy, friendly, witty, and have a sense of humor.  I’ve even made friends with smugmug employees that I’ve never met  because they’re that friendly!

#5.  Print Quality.

Oh yes!  The intent for this post!  Smugmug’s print quality is amazing!!!!  They combed the entire country comparing quality of labs.  They printed the same images at all the top recommended labs and conducted tests with professional photographers to see which image was chosen as the top print consistently (without telling them which lab it came from).  How’s that for choosing their top lab of choice? The images are STUNNING. They offer all sizes, all paper finishes, canvases, albums, books, and beyond.

Their prices?  A few cents more than the drugstore.  Don’t skimp on your prints.

#6.  Convenience.

How nice to just have the prints delivered to your front door?  How nice to have complete control over your order by being able to see the images and order exactly what you want in any size, adjust the crop, and do it all from your own home?  You don’t have to take a CD to the drugstore and make detailed notes of what to print and what not to print.  You don’t have make detailed notes of all the sizes for each image.  Convenience alone is worth the price to me.

COUPON CODE:  Use the coupon code SnowSmug and get $5 off your smugmug account.

Smugmug also allows you to create a trial account for free for 14 days.  You’ll be hooked.  I promise.

***Just so you know, I don’t get ANY compensation for promoting smugmug, and frankly, I’m slightly jealous that you get a discount since I paid full price!  But nonetheless, I love them with all my heart and recommend them to everyone 😉

11 Responses

  1. Great timing, I’ve been looking into printing and this article answered practically all my questions.
    I guess the only thing that I still wonder about is how you choose Metallic vs Matte vs Glossy, etc. How do you know which finish you should use for which type of photo? I’ve heard metallic is great for greens and yellows, but that’s pretty general.
    The 50% off on smugmug is a nice touch!

  2. Hey James! I almost always order “luster” finishes, simply because it makes the colors so vibrant and crisp! (It’s sort of matte finish but better 😉 I’ve done metallic a few times as well and also LOVE LOVE LOVE it. Best advice between picking between the two of those would to be order one of each on a smaller print so you can see the difference. If I had an image that I wanted to appear “softer” like a newborn I might go for luster instead. I have a huge 20×30 wedding image from our wedding in our master bedroom that is metallic and it is SO VERY AMAZING, especially when set next to the matte finish prints next to it, it sort of trumps all 🙂 But just play around. Get a few samples and see what you personally like! Hope that helps!

  3. Hi Brooke,

    I used your coupon to sign up for SmugMug….thanks. I wanted to let you know that it actually shows up as $5 off, not 50% off. Thanks for the good advice on printing, I needed it.

  4. I’ve got to admit — I’m usually the cheap one … until recently that is! I needed to make some last minute one-hour prints so I could have some pictures to show at a ward activity where I was offering photography at our service auction. I chose some of my favorite pictures that I have taken to showcase my work and ended up choosing to print them with WALMART (gasp!) because I was going there that day anyway. Long story short: The pictures came back looking so BAD that I couldn’t even bring them all to the auction. My very favorite newborn picture came out extremely orange and contrasty — so much so that all the beautiful softness was lost and the baby look jaundiced! While I have had better results from other cheapo places (like Walgreens) I am now convinced that professional labs are the only way to go! Thanks for the recommendations 🙂

  5. Thank you so much for posting about this. What a great analogy! I am excited to try out some of these other places and see the difference in my pictures. (and I think I’ll go get my wedding ring cleaned too!)

  6. I use mpix and I love it! I have never mentioned to clients who get cds of my work where they should/shouldn’t print them. I hope they aren’t printing at horrible places and getting icky pictures. 🙁

  7. As always…it makes my heart happy to know you love SmugMug. And not just because my brother. I recently had an order glitch and was once again BLOWN AWAY by their incredible customer service. If I wasn’t already married I might have attempted a little stalking…he was amazing. 🙂

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