Digital Images Printed: Walmart Versus a Professional Lab

There are a lot of photographers out there, and some of them might rather just shoot your images, barely edit them (if at all), and burn them to a CD or DVD, and then hand them over to you.  It’s fast, it’s easy, and clients are thrilled to have the freedom to do whatever they want with those images, all for the bargain price of $100.  But once those images are in the client’s hands, the photographer no longer has quality control over prints of those images.  Maybe they don’t care.

I care.  I take a lot of time to shoot, edit, and process images to show a certain style.  I take pride in my images, and I stand behind my work.  It’s an art, not a “shoot and burn” rampage.  If a client comes to me for their photos, it’s because they want special images and high quality prints and wall art.  And I intend to deliver just that.

8/30/2014 UPDATE:  That said, I do still offer digital collections.  But I’m determined to educate my clients on the importance of print quality.  Check out my new post that compares several consumer print labs to a professional lab.

Say you get your digital images, and you get them printed at your local drugstore or maybe a cheap online printer.  You might not notice the color shift or lack of sharpness.  You might have your “mommy goggles” on and think that picture of your child is the best picture ever.  And when your friends see that picture, they’re going to tell you, “Oh, that’s such a great picture!  Little Sally is so cute!”  You know what they’re saying inside?  “Ew, why is it green? Who took that picture?  I hope she didn’t pay for that.”  And do you know who ends up looking bad?  The photographer.  Not to mention, your prints just lost that photographer potential business.

I’m not about to let that happen, for my sake and yours.

Not all printers are the same.  Not all 8×10’s are created equal.  Some of you gasp at the cost of prints by a custom photographer.  You know Walmart charges $2 for an 8×10, so how in the world can XYZ photographer charge $60?!  This blog isn’t about the extreme expense that goes into running a legitimate tax-paying business and offering personalized service to you, or the amount of time that goes into creating your images, far beyond the one hour you see the photographer shooting.  There’s a lot more that goes into it than you see during your shoot.  But let me give you this answer:  Quality.  Professional photographers use professional print labs.  I don’t mean the camera store at the mall with pricier prints than the drugstore.  Wolfe Camera is a good consumer printer to use for your vacation photos, but it is not a professional print lab.  Professional labs offer higher quality photo paper, higher quality inks, and special coatings that ensure your images are resistant to finger prints, dust, and fading.

I was at a friend’s house recently, and she had a very large canvas print hanging over her mantle.  Even at the cheapest printers, canvas prints aren’t cheap.  She has high ceilings and very large open windows.  By “open”, I mean, light is shining through them.  That wall art should look absolutely stunning in her beautiful home.  But it didn’t look quite right.  She complained that her print had faded, and it has only been hanging there for a few months!  Now her investment in that print has gone to waste.  If she had invested  a little more for a professional quality print, she would have it in perfect condition for a lifetime.

You get the gist of what I’m saying, right?  So, let’s move on to an example.  This post only shows a comparison to Walmart prints, so be sure to see my newer post that compares professional lab prints to consumer labs MPix, Shutterfly, and Walgreens.  Walmart’s print quality was so bad, I had to write this post about this comparison only.  See for yourself…




Um. I’m not kidding.

Seriously, when I saw the prints from Walmart, I was floored.  I expected them to be a little dark and a little off, but I didn’t expect to see this sweet little baby turn into a zombie!!

Let me clarify a few things, now that you know where I’m coming from.  First, I’m not discouraging you from using Walmart or any other consumer printer to print your everyday snapshots.  A lot of pictures turn out perfectly fine for their purpose.  You know, to flip through them, stuff them back into the envelope, and then toss them in a box in the back of the closet.  Consider slightly better options, like Shutterfly or Snapfish or MyPublisher for photobooks or other fun products.  I’ve used Shutterfly for years for my personal snapshot photobooks, and I think they’re great.  Just not for professional custom photography.

Also, for the record, I do sell my images on CD or DVD, but they are only printable up to 8×10.  They come at a price, though, and that’s for a couple reasons.  First of all, like I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of cost and time that goes into offering photography services as a business and creating your images.  The images are art, and that’s what you’re paying for, not the cost of a $3 blank CD.  Also, if you want your digital images enough to pay for them, I trust that you aren’t going to turn around and print them at Walmart.  I trust that you are going to use a quality printer and care about how your prints turn out before you display them. For this, I recommend MPix.

8/30/2014 UPDATE: In my most recent consumer print lab comparison, I no longer recommend MPix as the best option.  It wasn’t the worst offender, but even their prints are slightly off in color versus the original photos and the professional prints.

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