December 2, 2021

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The 5 Best Photo Printing Services (2021): Tips, Recommendations, and More

Another place Printique shines is the photo upload process. You can import images from just about anywhere, including Lightroom, Flickr, Instagram, Google Photos, Facebook, and Dropbox, or directly from your computer.

25 4 x 6 Prints From Printique Cost $7.75 ($.31 Per Print)

Best on a Budget

Snapfish

If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, but you still want good-looking prints, Snapfish delivers. Snapfish doesn’t offer the same quality of prints you’ll find in our top picks, but it’s also less than a third the price and the results are not bad.

You can upload images from your computer, phone, or import them directly from social media (Facebook, Instagram, Google Photos, or Flickr). The web interface is easy to use, though as with most of the cheaper services, you’ll be constantly bombarded with upsells for books, mugs, and more.

I was surprised by the quality of prints from Snapfish considering the price. They’re better than what I got from several other services (not reviewed here) that charged more than double.

25 4 x 6 Prints From Snapfish Cost $2.75 ($.09 Per Print)

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Best for Books

Shutterfly

I’ve used Shutterfly to create everything from calendars to books and have been happy with the results, but the company’s prints are not the best.

The tonal range is good, shadows don’t disappear into pure black, and at the white end of the spectrum, clouds retain plenty of detail. But the prints have a flat look to them and the paper is flimsy compared to our top picks. I also found the constant upselling on the website tiring. Every time you upload photos, even if you’ve already said you want to make prints, Shutterfly interrupts the purchase process to say “We’ve turned your images into a book” and forces you to dismiss this unwanted dialog just to get to the thing you actually wanted to buy.

Given the subpar purchasing experience and lack of outstanding results, I only recommend Shutterfly for prints if you’re on a tight budget, since it is cheaper than Mpix or Printique. Where Shutterfly excels are those books they’re always trying to sell you on. I’ve been happy with the results of both books and calendars.

25 4 x 6 Prints From Shutterfly Cost $4.50 ($.18 Per Print)

Best for Portraits

Nations Photo Lab

Nations Photo Lab prints on quality paper, and the packaging is the best of the bunch. It’s hard to imagine anything ever happening to your images in transit the way the company secures them, although shipping times are among the slowest.

While the prints are high quality, I found that many times, especially with landscapes, colors are washed out. Highlights, especially bright white clouds against a blue sky, lack detail compared to the same images from Printique. The results for portraits are much better. Nations’ color correction does an excellent job with skin tones and produces the best portrait-style prints of the services I tested.

What I really dislike about Nations is the website. It’s slow and sometimes difficult to navigate (and I never could get it to give me a receipt). If you want to upload a lot of photos to Nations, the far better option is to use the third-party app Remote Order Entry System (ROES). It’s a Java-based desktop app that, once set up, greatly improves the experience.

25 4 x 6 Prints From Nations Photo Lab Cost $8.00 ($.32 Per Print)

Printing Services to Avoid

Amazon’s Photo Printing: This service produced the worst images, not just out of this particular test, but the worst prints I’ve ever seen. Full stop. The best I can say for it is that it’s fast. I had my prints in under 24 hours. The problem is, of the 25 prints I ordered, eight of them had printing errors. Convinced that a 30 percent failure rate must be some kind of fluke, I fired off another round of 25 (different) images and this time seven of them were misprinted. That’s a kind of progress I suppose but not one I would recommend. I didn’t bother trying again and I suggest you avoid Amazon’s photo printing service like the plague.

Walmart/CVS/Walgreens: Technically, 1-hour photo kiosks didn’t die. They wormed their way inside pharmacy chains. There’s nothing wrong with these services. They’re convenient, or they were in the pre-Covid world. This is still the fastest way to get your images printed as uploaded jobs generally process within a few hours. But the results vary tremendously from one store to the next. Just like the 1-hour services of old, the quality of prints you get depends on what shape the machine is in, and how skilled the technician working that day happens to be. You might be able to get good prints at your local store, and it might be worth checking out if you’re not happy with other options, but for most people, this isn’t going to get the best results.

How to Get Better Prints

We used a mix of images that represented a good cross-section of the kinds of photos most of us have. That includes green forests, blue seascapes, browns and grays in city shots, portraits, macro images, close-ups, images with strong bokeh, stacked images with long depth of field, and more.

We didn’t limit testing to good images either. We tested plenty of blurry images, photos that were overexposed and washed out, and ones where details might be lost to shadow. In other words, images like most of us have on our phones and in our cameras. Some images came from RAW files we edited in desktop software, others were sent straight from our phones, and we also pulled from social media posts.