Just when you think you’re DONE with everything “wedding” after the big day, think again! Sure, there are the thank-you notes, but you can knock those out in a few nights. The real pain in the butt (albeit a fun pain in the butt…sort of) is trying to decide which wedding photos you want to show off. Depending on what kind of wedding photo package you opted for (and how much you paid), you’ll most likely just end up with a CD of the final high-resolution images. Your photographer might also offer to do an album for you, or print selected images for you and your family. Chances are, however, that both of those options will be pricier than if you did it yourself. So, what should you do with your wedding photos? The answer is: print them yourself!
Being the OCD bride that I am, I wanted to find the best wedding photo printers I could for my wedding photos, and at the best price. But when I started the process, I had a hard time deciding what the best option was. I figured other brides were probably having the same problem, too, so I decided to go a step further and, for research purposes for this site, test out several wedding photo printer options and document the outcome. The results are below…I hope you find them helpful!
NOTE: Having worked for major magazines and websites, I’ve been lucky enough to learn about the photo editing process. It has definitely helped me determine image quality, which was extremely useful for comparison purposes on this post!
Still planning your wedding? Read more about how much wedding photographers cost and ways to save!
Commercial Photo Lab:
I decided to research where the best photo lab was in Nashville, and I came upon one that was recommended by a lot of local photographers who do professional shoots for recording artists. Surely, they MUST be great, I told myself. I got their pricing list, which seemed extremely high but I figured I had to pay for quality, right? Here’s what they offered:
Paper: Kodak Endura
Price for custom (lab corrected) prints:
5×7: $15.00/$12.00 (for the 2-5th print of the same image)
Because several of my images had to be cropped (nothing major, and pretty much exactly what anybody knows how to do themselves on a computer), they considered my order a “custom print,” which meant higher prices. The turnaround time was three days, and I didn’t have to deal with shipping because it was local. My order contained color, black and white, and a sepia-ish tone for one photo. I ordered a Luster finish (also called Lustre), because that is what my photographers recommended. It is not quite matte and not quite glossy…it’s somewhere in between.
The color ones turned out great…probably as sharp as I’ve ever seen a color photo. The black and whites, however, were too dark. One photo had me looking like I had a bad case of 1980’s blush (remember when it was cool to apply your makeup blush in a thick line?). The “almost” sepia photo had a great tint on the original photo, but the printers made it a straight black and white photo and it just wasn’t the same. I asked them to lighten up the Black and Whites, as well as try to match the original sepia-like tone of the one photo, which they did but not without a little bit of ‘tude. When they did make the correction, they turned out great. However, I left there feeling broke and a bit frustrated considering how much I paid.
Color Photos: A+
$200 poorer, I decided to research and find out where the top wedding photographers get their prints made. And which wedding photographer is better known than the talented Jose Villa? Since he never had a chance to reply to my e-mail asking him to tell you, my lovely readers, WHERE you should get your photos printed and how the process works (no hard feelings, Jose, I know you’re busy!), I decided to use my 007 web research skills and just find out myself! Turns out Jose’s photo lab of choice is Richard Photo Lab in Los Angeles. I was thrilled to find out that you can go to their website and order your prints online. I was even MORE thrilled when I saw their prices.
Paper: Fuji Crystal Archive
Price for custom (lab corrected) prints:
5×7: $1.50/$1.00 (for the 2nd print)
You can order non-lab corrected prints, but it’s such a small price difference that you might as well just have them do it for you!
When you go to the website, you are prompted to download a RPLPrints application. The application itself is a little outdated, but it gets the job done. You select the size of the photo you want, the paper type (matte or glossy) and tone (Color, BW, Sepia). You then add it to your cart. From your cart you can edit the photo by changing the alignment (vertical or horizontal), crop it to where you want by zooming in and out, or play with the photo alignment by free-rotating it. The checkout process gets a little confusing, and you don’t always know what has gone through or not, but overall the process was easy enough to figure out after awhile. You have an option to package the photos in nice proof boxes (starting at $5.98-$138). Shipping was pricey, however, and cost around $9.00 for only 6 prints.
I was impressed when I got a call from the lab when they were unsure about something in my order, so I got the feeling this was a small lab and not a factory that just churned out orders. I got the prints in a few days, and was happy, especially considering how much less I had spent compared to the Nashville lab. The color photos turned out great, and they nailed the Sepia tone of the one photo without me even having to ask them (take that, Nashville). However, my only complaint (and it’s small) is that the black and whites were not as crisp/sharp as my other ones, but it was not something I felt the need to fix. While I was happy with the quality of my prints, RPL (like the commercial photo lab, above) doesn’t have an easy way to share the photos with family members online so they can order their own prints. so I had to move on…
Color Photos: A
Now that I felt like I had seen the “best,” having used the same printer top wedding photographers use as well as an overpriced photolab in Nashville used by record labels and pro-photographers, I still hadn’t figured out how to share the photos with my family, and how to make sure they could get great quality prints for a fair price. So, I figured I’d try an online printer everybody has heard about and seems to get good online reviews: Snapfish.
Paper: Fuji Crystal Archive
Price for prints:
5×7: $0.79/$0.69 (for 11-24 prints)
There is no option for lab-corrected prints
I went with Snapfish versus Kodak or Shutterfly because I had read favorable reviews online, and also I had attempted to upload all of my wedding photos to both Kodak and Shutterfly, but the entire process was way too long for the high-res files. The process for Snapfish was extremely easy, and you could edit the photos before you printed them (by cropping, rotating, or even adding effects to them or changing the tint from color to black and white.) There was not an option to have their labs color-correct them, but they did have an auto color-correct as well as an option to lighten or darken the image. Normally this would work out fine, but with important photos (like wedding photos), it’s nice to know that someone is going to adjust them for you if they need to be fixed. There weren’t that many options for photo sizes (4X6-8×10), but shipping was super cheap (I paid $1.48 for 7 prints) and I got the photos in a few days.
While the prices might have been great, the print quality of the photos was not as good as the first two labs. The black and white was TOO bright, and looked washed out (that was true for the 8 x10’s, however the 5 X7’s were good), and the detail for the color prints was not as sharp as the commercial lab or RPL. I experimented with their two different photo finish options (matte versus glossy), and it just confirmed that matte/luster is always the better option. If you’re going to be framing these photos, DO NOT get glossy. You will always have a glare, and it just somehow looks cheaper. Now I was back to square one: I had a great way to show the photos to family and an easy way for them to print them, but I didn’t love the quality. So I kept searching…
Color Photos: C
I did a lot of online research to find out which online photo lab photographers tend to gravitate towards, and that led me to SmugMug. They are a paid digital photo sharing service and lab that a lot of pro-photographers use as a way to offer their prints to clients. They also offer fun merchandising options for your prints, such as mousepads, mugs, framed prints, and coasters. I paid $40 for a year-long subscription, which allowed me to create a private photo gallery as well as a password protected link I could send to family/friends. I uploaded my wedding photos, organized them based on sequence of events (rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception, etc.), and edited/cropped several of them. There are tons of photo size options (4X6 up to 24X36) and three photo finish options (matte, lustre, and glossy).
Paper: Kodak Endura
Price for prints (Lustre option):
SmugMug makes it extremely easy to upload photos and organize them. It took a bit of time to put them in the exact order that I wanted (I had to do a lot of dragging to rearrange), and a couple times I actually had to go back after I had saved the order I wanted the photos in and do it again because it would revert back. However, once I got the hang of it, it worked fine. The ordering process was super easy, which is great for parents and relatives that might not be very web-savvy (we all have at least one in our family). As soon as I got the photos uploaded and arranged, I sent the link out in an email along with the password, and parents and relatives have been able to easily order the prints they want.
Shipping was very reasonable ($4.95 for 8 prints), and I got them in just a couple of days.The overall cost of the prints was great, and I was even happier when I received the photos. SmugMug.com uses the same paper (Kodak Endura) as the pricey commerical photo lab, for 1/15 the cost. And the quality was nearly identical! The color photos were just as good, and the black and whites were spot-on without me having to tell them to fix it. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Color Photos: A+
WGM Cliffs Notes:
- Overall, SmugMug.com offers the best online photo printing/sharing services, with the best quality for the price.
- Order your wedding photo prints with a Lustre (or Luster) finish. They’re better than glossy.