Print Lab Comparison: Professional vs. Fast & Local Labs

One question I get all the time is “Where should I print my digital photo?”

Not all labs are created equal. As the saying goes “You get what you pay for.”

print lab comparison - total picturesIn early 2016 I started to offer the option for my clients to order prints directly from their online gallery. With this setup, there were several professional labs to choose from and I had to select one.

I wanted to make sure my clients received quality prints if they decided to order through me so I went ahead and ordered the same print from every company in multiple finishes. Since my sessions include high resolution photos that my clients can opt to print themselves, I also included local labs where they would typical order prints to have a full comparison.

The Results

The results were as expected….all over the board but in my opinion, two companies pulled out ahead without question.

Professional Photography Printing Lab

The professional print lab I chose is ProDPI. This is where all orders printed through my online galleries will be completed. The color, packaging, and turn around time were all top notch.

“Local” Print Lab

If you opt not to use my professional lab through your online gallery, I highly recommend ordering through MPix. This had the best quality by far.

I can’t stress enough NOT to print photos received from a photographer at Wal-mart, Walgreens or other one-hour labs. Those places are fine in some circumstances but printing professional photos you want to showcase on your wall is not one of them. MPix price is only a little higher than these quick labs and well worth the wait to have it shipped to you (which is typically a very quick turnaround time even if you select Ground shipping).

Let’s talk paper finishes:

Below are definitions of standard types of finishes.

  •  Glossy finish is very common today at fast, local photo finishers (e.g. drug stores) as well as online printing retailers.  These photographs have a shiny appearance which does quite well showing the details and colors of the image, but are prone to glare and are highly susceptible to fingerprints.
  • Matte finish is what you have most likely viewed if you have ever noticed a “texture” on a photograph.  While this texture does not detract from the detail and the color of the image, one of its purposes is to help reduce glare by deflecting light.  Additionally, this texture helps reduce the fingerprint problem normally associated with glossy prints.  Matte finishes are a good option for photographs which are frequently handled and/or viewed outside of a frame or album.
  • Luster finish is most easily thought of as being somewhere in between gloss and matte. Luster prints are slightly glossy, which helps enhance the image’s color and details, but also feature a very fine “texture” to help reduce problems associated with glare and fingerprints.  Offers a nice balance between the features of glossy and matte.
  • Metallic photographs have this name because they almost look like they were printed on a sheet of metal.  A metallic finish has a very high gloss, and the colors appear to be quite intense, but in a pleasant way.  Although normally more expensive, a metallic finish can provide a vibrant “pop” to images, making it a truly unique keepsake.

It’s hard to tell someone which finish is “the one” for them as everyone has their own style. Glossy finish would be what  you would select for snapshots in a photo album. When printing photos that you hired someone to take of you professionally, that is when I would recommend a different finish. Matte gives you a classic look and would be a great choice for a newborn session or milestones. It’s a classic finish for a classic session. If you have a fun family session outdoors and want your finish to reflect that feeling, you may want to think about having luster or metallic.

My Finish Picks:

  1. Top Choice: Matte (through my online gallery)
  2. Second runner up: Luster (through my online gallery)
  3. Alternative option: MPix E-Surface
  4. NEVER: Walmart or Walgreens 1 hour unless it’s for a project I plan on throwing away when I’m done.
My Top Picks: ProDPI and MPix
My Top Picks: ProDPI and MPix


Walgreens and Wal-mart Prints
Walgreens and Wal-mart Prints


(Resource: GrandImages)