Tips for Printing Photos
Choose the best photo lab, pick the right photo finish, and know when enlargements are recommended.
When printing photographs, choosing the best printing solution seems complicated. As lengthy instructions aren't practical here, I'll offer some simple advice.
If you don't have time to read, you should know that Mpix is a good online lab, Costco is the best big-box lab, and ASAP Pro Imaging is the best local lab. When printing, I recommend a luster finish over a glossy finish. And larger printed photos look better than smaller printed photos.
Choose Your Photo Lab
If you're printing your photos, you must choose a photo lab. Labs develop and process photographs. Since all photo labs aren't equal and print quality can vary, lab selection is important.
I use professional labs that only service professional photographers. That means my prints are better than any offered here. But they're also more expensive than prints offered by these do-it-yourself services.
Fast turn-around and low prices are big-box store advantages. I’ve used Costco’s photo lab for non-critical printing that I needed quickly. And some customers have purchased good, Costco-branded canvas prints that were an excellent value.
If you prefer a local Houston photo lab, you have several options. I’ve used ASAP Pro Imaging for an important personal project. They did splendid work, and when a problem outside their control occurred, they offered help even though fixing the issue wasn’t their responsibility. They’re highly recommended.
Online photo labs are convenient. You can upload files and then receive print delivery in just a few days. Of the labs I’ve listed, I recommend Bay Photo Lab and Mpix. Shutterfly and Snapfish are inexpensive but lack consistent quality control.
When you need prints quickly and quality isn’t your main concern, small chains might be an appropriate choice. I only use small chains for unimportant prints like passport photos. Don't print your heirlooms here.
Choose Your Photo Finish
When order prints, you'll be asked to select a photo finish. The three most common finishes are matte, glossy, and luster (sometimes referred to as pearl). Glossy is typically the finishing method for most public labs.
Glossy photos are shiny, and they typically make the color and contrast "pop" in an image. On a glossy print, imperfections (like fingerprints) are highly noticeable, and glare can be an issue under many light sources.
Matte is a dull-looking finish that is often used for fine art prints. In most cases, matte prints are best viewed under special bright lighting. The greatest advantage to matte prints is that light doesn't typically reflect off a matte print and thus you won't see much if any glare on a matte print.
The third common choice is luster. Luster is my personal favorite for my photographs. Luster is not as shiny as glossy but it's not as dull as matte. It looks great under most light sources and it doesn't easily show fingerprints.
For my wedding photography and engagement photography, subjects are sometimes featured in a small area of the photograph. You'll see photos like this in my wedding photography portfolio and engagement session portfolio.
My intent when capturing those photographs is that you'll print the photos at larger sizes where your features and expressions are recognizable. When viewed on small monitors or when printed at small sizes, you won't see those details.
For these "tiny people" photos, I recommend 8" x 12" or larger prints. You won't believe the difference.
Alternatively, if the background or framing isn't important to you, you can often crop the images quite a bit, and retain enough file information for a sharp 8" x 10" print. More information about cropping is found in my cropping tips section.
Bigger is better, so print your photographs as large as you dare!