A guide to printing digital photos via the internet

Common 6×4 inch prints are for wimps. If you want to impress people with your photographs then make big prints. This article can help you get excellent prints and good service at a reasonable price.

Avoid kiosks and printing in-store

We had one local store that was good at printing digital photos, but, like most small camera stores, they’ve shut down. I’ve tried printing in-store at BIG W once and the prints came back with an ugly greenish cast. Sure, you might demand reprints but why waste your time in the first place? Discount department stores rarely have experienced photo professionals running the machines.

What to look for when printing via the internet

There are many online photo printing services in Australia and pricing is highly variable. The following table compares only a few, just to illustrate some points for the discussion that follows. This post is not a complete review.

BIG W Photos, Harvey Norman Photo Centre and photoenlargements.com.au are consumer labs. They print on digital minilabs (Fuji Frontier) and maximum print size is 12 x 18 inches. Professional labs like Digilab Professional, Pixel Perfect and RGB DIGITAL PRO PHOTO LAB feature large-format printers, e.g. Durst  or Chromira, which can expose 50 or 30 inch roll paper.

Inches BIG W
Harvey Norman
photoenlarge (<20) Digilab
(1-5)
Pixel Perfect RGB DIGITAL
4×6 0.15 0.12 2.00 0.80 0.52 0.25
5×7 0.35 1.60 0.75 0.70
5×7.5 1.60 0.99 0.80
6×8 0.75 2.00 1.95 1.27 0.95
8×10 2.95 2.00 3.10 4.29 1.50
8×12 3.75 2.00 3.60 5.15 2.00
10×15 9.84 8.95 7.00 3.75
11×14 13.84 12.95 8.20 8.27 6.00
12×16 15.84 14.95 9.90 10.30
12×18 17.95 5.00 10.50 11.59 9.00
16×20 15.90 26.42 12.00
20×24 17.90 39.63 17.00
20×30 18.85 49.54 17.50
Shipping 0.00 0.00 10.00 6.50 25.00 12.00
Upload Flash Flash Web FTP Web FTP/App.
Comparison of photo printing costs at three consumer labs and three professional labs. Lowest prices in bold, valid May 2012. Minimum shipping and handling shown. Table ends at 20×30 inches although most pro labs can print much larger. Unit costs at photoenlargments.com.au and digilab will decrease with larger orders. This table provides examples for the discussion. It is not comprehensive and not updated. You must shop around for the current best prices.

Reliable quality

Poor colour-balance is common from consumer labs. I’ve experienced better results from BIG W’s internet photo service, where the products are made in a print centre somewhere and then delivered to my local store. However, my recent online prints from Harvey Norman were unsatisfactory. For small to medium prints, most pro labs run digital minilabs similar to BIG W and Harvey Norman, but the quality is consistently good.

A good selection of print sizes

I thought BIG W Photos was satisfactory but they no longer offer my favourite print sizes, like 5 x 7, 8 x 10 and 8 x 12 inches.

Low cost prints

If you’re printing lots of photos, the cost accumulates quickly. For small prints, consumer labs can’t be beaten for price. For medium and large prints, pro labs are usually cheaper. I don’t waste my time with labs whose price lists aren’t published openly on their website.

Low cost shipping

Total order cost includes shipping. Again, consumer labs win because they can deliver prints to your local store for free. Some pro labs are rather expensive for shipping and handling and some don’t offer regular post.

Easy upload

Web-based uploaders can be slow and tedious. The flash-based Fujifilm application (BIG W, Harvey Norman) is probably the worst. I prefer FTP which allows me to upload a whole order in one click. Some labs provide upload and ordering software but I prefer not to install more applications on my personal computer.

How to evaluate different photo labs

Evaluating digital photo labs is easy, just send them a test image. Check that colours are natural, with no colour casts in the neutral tones. Pay attention to skin-tones, which are especially sensitive to poor colour balance. Note that most pro labs will use a minilab machine for smaller prints and not the large-format printers you might be more interested in evaluating.

Personally

There are no good consumer labs in my area, which is why I print via the internet. I’ve printed at Digilab a couple of times now and have been happy with the service and results. In preparing this article, I noticed that photoenlargements.com.au can be good value for mini-lab prints and RGB DIGITAL also looks worth trying. Feel free to comment about your favourite Australian photo lab.

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2 Responses to A guide to printing digital photos via the internet

  1. bulumakao says:

    Damn! I’m ready to FTP and order but Digilab has now closed!

    • bulumakao says:

      Since Digilab closed, I have used RGB Digital and the prints were satisfactory except maybe not as sharp, or I could have sharpened more before sending them off to the lab. The colour balance was good.

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