Compare and contrast. It is not only a part of our daily lives but also a part of our photography as well. When we compare two images, it’s easier to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each one individually. An example of this is when I cull a client’s images. I am always comparing at least two or three images side by side when making the final selections. An image on its own may be great, but when placed side-by-side with another image I can easily see the best one.
Comparing a professional print lab to a consumer print lab is the perfect example of why comparing the differences is so important. I was discussing this topic with my husband and as a consumer, he does not have a trained photographer’s eye. He’s heard me talk about the importance of printing from a professional lab many times over, but I have never compared images side by side for him to see the actual difference. This exercise was a huge eye opener for him and he was amazed at the differences his untrained eye could see. Many of my clients are the same way and most don’t realize the difference a professional print makes until we show them.
I chose to print a favorite image of my daughter from my lab of choice, Miller’s Professional Imaging, to contrast it with prints from other consumer print labs: Costco, Walgreens, Target and Wal-Mart. Every print is printed directly from my file with the automatic adjustments and corrections turned off. As much as I love shopping at these stores, you’ll see through my little experiment that you likely want to do your photo printing with vendors that specialize in professional prints. It is amazing to see the difference!
This is my original digital file that I printed from:
Now let’s walk through each of the prints and see how they compared to each other. Below are all five images together. I printed them each in a 5×7 size with the exception of Target. They did not offer that exact size and the closest size was a 6×8 print. I ordered a matte or lustre print when I could but Walgreens and Target only printed with glossy paper.
The Miller’s print was hands down the most accurate print of them all. It was perfect! I wanted the paper samples from each lab to be as close as possible so I printed on Miller’s e-surface paper instead of my usual metallic paper. Miller’s printed my image exactly how I saw it on my screen. I wasn’t surprised with the quality of what I received and I love knowing I can order from them and receive a consistently beautiful print each and every time. It is why I have printed there exclusively for years!
The print from Wal-Mart was one of the prints that was dramatically different than my original. There is a very obvious pink/magenta tone and the contrast was increased so much that my daughter’s legs look extremely dark and her dress has lost the details. I can also see the added contrast in the color of water as well. The focus is blurred just a bit and the reflection is muddy and not very clear.
Walgreens also added more contrast to my image but it is not quite as dramatic as the Wal-Mart print. The shadows are darker and the highlights are brighter. Her skin and hair are warmer with the added contrast and color. Glossy paper was only available option and it seems to magnify the different between it and the Miller’s print even more.
Costco did the best job of not changing the colors too much but instead of adding contrast, the contrast seemed to be removed. The colors are very muted and the image has lost some of its sharpness. She looks out of focus compared to the other prints. Wal-Mart had some sharpness issues as well, but not as extreme as Costco.
I was very surprised at just how much the color was off in my print from Target. The blue in the water is neon blue and the overall image is lighter than the Miller’s print. There also seems to be more yellow in the photo — in her hair and parts of the white clouds. It doesn’t look like a ton of contrast was added but the brighter neon colors are just too bright to ignore.
As each new image was printed, the importance of using a professional lab became more clear to me. Using a lab that specializes in professional prints truly makes a difference whether the images are for your clients or for your own home.