Digital Photography is great. No more hassles with film, developing and the surprise of what the picture will look like after you paid for prints. Sometimes you really want to print pictures, and there are many services that do this. As always, some are better than others. Let’s look at some of the best services out there and how to get the best results from them.
So many services, who to choose?
Like almost everything online, there’s tons of digital photo printing services and some are better than others. Prints are permanent and if I’m not happy with how they look, it’s a waste of money. So I will only mention three of them, Snapfish, MPix, and Kodak. Yes, you can pay less for different services – and you can get a bunch of dark, low contrast and poor quality prints.
Why Snapfish, MPix or Kodak?
Consistency and quality are the two main features I look for in a photo printing service. I encourage you to read MacWorld’s review of nine different printing services. In the article, Ben Long details the good and bad about each of them. From his results, he recommends Snapfish and MPix. The Kodak service via inside iPhoto was not the best, but alright. Although he notes that directly from Kodak was a little better. The rest of them were either inconsistent or poor quality. I’ve personally used both Snapfish and Shutterfly.
With Shutterfly, I ordered about 200 prints a few years ago. The quality made me want to look elsewhere for my next set of prints. Yes, they may have gotten better in the years since I used them, but this time I researched it a little better and found that I’m better off with a different service.
With Snapfish, I used them as recently as Summer 2008 and the prints were great. I was pleased with the prints and will use them again. Also, their prices were very competitive.
How to get the best results:
The photo printing service can only do as well as the images you send to them. You know the phrase, garbage in, garbage out.. So here’s how to prepare for great prints:
- The photograph:
Make sure the photo you are going to print is a good one. A great photo printing service will print a dark, out of focus, fuzzy, pixelated mess if that’s what you send them.
- Setting the camera correctly:
Make sure you are using the proper exposure, flash and white balance. If you are taking low-light pictures without a flash, be sure to hold the camera still or use a tripod.
- Pixel Count:
Set your size and compression levels to the largest size with the least compression. Yes, it will seriously impact how many images the camera can store but with print, a smaller size image is going to look bad when it’s enlarged. To resolve this, use larger memory cards and consider purchasing a second one.
- Checking via Preview/iPhoto:
It’s always a good idea to view your photo at actual size to see how it’s going to look. Images always look so much better on the screen because the pixel count per inch is lower than for print. For example, your MacBook’s display is 1280 x 800 pixels. If your photo fills the entire 13 inch screen, it’s roughly the same pixel count as a 4×6 print.
- Cropping the 4:3 ratio to 3:2:
This one will always cause problems the first time you print digital photos. Traditional photography follows the 3:2 ratio of width/height (4×6, 5×7). Your digital camera works on a 4:3 ratio, similar to computer monitors and televisions.
What this means for you is when you print your digital photos, some of the picture is going to get cut or cropped out. This will result in noticeable differences between the originals and the prints. Most digital photo printing services will automatically emphasize the center, cropping out the edges. Some will let you adjust this before you order your prints but it’s just as easy to crop the photo yourself in iPhoto or Preview. Be sure to do this, sometimes the auto crop works and other times it ruins the print.
Note: Here is a tutorial I wrote on how to crop/resize your photos for printing.
Most of the digital photo printing services have a browser plugin to make uploading a large amount of pictures easier. I wholly encourage you to use them. If the plugin doesn’t work with Firefox, it should with Safari. Also remember that upload speed and download speed on your home internet connection are two different things. Uploading usually takes much longer than downloading – about 5 times as long. So, if you are sending a large amount of pictures, set aside some time for the transfer to take place.
Prices and wait time:
Prices are very competitive but if you want the best deal, pre-ordering usually will knock off a few cents per print. The wait time is usually a day for the printing process and then 2-4 days for shipping depending on your location.