Shutterfly.com Review – Consumer Print Lab Comparison

Overview

I will admit, I shudder when I hear the words “Shutterfly.com” – I have visions of photo novelty products, such as mouse pads, woven blankets and cheap acrylic mugs floating through my head.  However, I am not naive and I know that Shutterfly is VERY popular with consumers because of the wide variety of products that they offer (and the constant sales!) So, as part of my blog series reviewing the print quality of various consumer labs, I put Shutterfly.com on the list.

comparison prints professional lab shutterfly online

Available Products & Services

PAPER: Shutterfly uses Fuji Crystal Archive paper. This is a consumer grade paper that has a display rating of 40 years or less. For images that are in “dark storage” the rating is longer.

MOUNTING: Shutterfly does not offer mounting for basic wall portraits, however, they do offer various wall art options, such as metal prints, gallery wrapped canvases, wood wall art and acrylic prints.

LUSTRE COATING: Not Available

FRAMING: Available only for canvas prints.

GALLERY WRAPPED CANVAS: Shutterfly offers canvas products, but the selection is very limited with only seven available sizes.

PRESS PRINTED PRODUCTS: Shutterfly offers a variety of press printed products. They offer a decent selection of card templates via their main website or you can visit their affiliate, TinyPrints, for a selection of premium templates and products. I did try out Treat.com, another SF affiliate, which allows you to send SINGLE personalized greeting cards to family or friends. I tried it out at Valentine’s Day one year to send various members of my family a greeting card from my kids. It worked perfect – I uploaded a picture, selected a template and personalized it. Treat.com then took care of printing and mailing out the card. Considering I am horrible at remembering to send cards on holiday, Treat.com is a great option. I mailed myself a copy of the card to check out the quality and it wasn’t too bad. My family was impressed with the card, so the goal was met.

PHOTO BOOKS: A VERY popular product line-up for Shutterfly is their Photo Books.  A little part of me (the professional photographer me) dies inside when I hear people ordering albums from Shutterfly. I ordered one as a sample to try out their design software and get an overall idea of product quality.  I have mixed feelings about it. I suppose it isn’t horrible, but the print quality is a bit blotchy and I really, really do not like the super thin pages.  Now, mind you, the album I ordered has my professional images in it and I prefer those printed on a better quality of paper than the flimsy stuff from Shutterfly.  Anything less than that is a professional let down, especially in the area of albums. Snapshots from a vacation may work just fine in a Shutterfly Photo Book, but I am still not sold on them for printing an album with professional images. I just don’t think they do the portraits justice.  Shutterfly does offer a premium album (marketed for weddings) and there is a possibility on a higher quality paper the printing might be better on those albums. I have not ordered a sample.

NOVELTY ITEMS: One press printed novelty product that caught my eye on the Shutterfly website was the spiral bound notebook. I use notebooks a lot and thought it would be fun to have one with my kids’ picture on it. Quality was decent for a product that will get tucked into a purse or bag and beat up. Price point was okay (I got it on sale) and it would make a nice gift for a friend or relative.

spiral lined personalized notebook shutterfly

Print Review

The one area I was surprised with my samples from Shutterfly was with the general print quality of the images I received. They are not spot on, but they are within tolerance. The difference probably comes down to personal preference as the Shutterfly images printed a bit more saturated.  The one MAJOR DOWNSIDE to Shutterfly is that their “VividPics” auto correct option is a pain in the tush to deal with. You can’t turn it off at the account level and you have to turn it off for every.single.picture you order. I left it on to see how bad the images would look. The adjustment wasn’t too bad, but I’d probably turn it off going forward.

Bottom Line

Shutterfly print quality for small prints was within acceptable limits.  They offer both glossy and matte options for small prints and matte only for larger prints. Downside: Very limited print size options: 4×6, 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, 16×20 and 20×30. If you are ordering prints larger than 8×10, I would suggest Mpix.com as the print lab to use.

As always, if you are using professionally crafted, print-ready digital files, I recommend turning OFF any option for color correction. Shutterfly calls their auto correction option “VividPics” and you must turn it off at the individual image level. Here is the Shutterfly information page on how to turn off VividPics.

If you a printing files from Shutterfly that came from a source other than Meggan Jacks Photography, I would recommend submitting a small order of test prints to make sure that your files will print properly with Shutterfly before ordering a significant amount of items.

Additional Consumer Print Lab Review Articles

Please check out the other reviews I have written about different consumer print labs:

Costco Photo Center Review

Mpix.com Review

Walmart Photo Center Review

 

Mpix.com Consumer Print Lab Review

Overview

Mpix.com is the online consumer print lab I generally recommend to my clients for printing the files that they purchase from my studio. Mpix lab offers a nice variety of products and a few options and services not typically found at other consumer labs. Their mounting and lustre coating options are a real benefit when ordering prints 11×14 and larger and these available services make Mpix my #1 recommendation for consumer print labs for Traditional Wall Portraits.mpix print lab review

Available Products & Services

PAPER:  Mpix is one of the only consumer labs that offers professional grade papers. Their Fuji Lustre and Pearl papers have an archival rating of 100 years for in-home display and 200 years for dark storage. The Illford True B&W paper has an archival rating of 100 years. This is in comparison to consumer grade papers that have a display rating closer to 40 years or less.

MOUNTING: Mpix offers a variety of mounting options – some, such as mat board or foam core, are considered unfinished and require framing. One option, referred to as “standout” is a has a finished edge and comes ready to hang.  I recommend, at minimum, ordering mat board mounting for prints 11×14 and larger.

LUSTRE COATING: Mpix is one of the few online consumer labs that offers lustre coating. Lustre coating is perfect for any print that is to be framed without glass as it will protect the image against finger prints. Images that have a lustre coating are easily dusted with a soft cloth.

FRAMING: Mpix offers framing services in addition to their printing services. This is a great option if you want to receive your print framed and ready to hang on the wall. I ordered a 16×20 print framed in their Espresso Walnut and thought the frame was beautiful and the overall assembly of the product was top-notch.  I ordered the print with lustre coating and skipped any glass/acrylic options.

GALLERY WRAPPED CANVAS: Mpix offers two types of canvas prints. One is a traditional paper print, adhered to canvas material and then mounted on your choice of mat board or foam core. These canvas prints will need framing.  If you are looking for a modern, ready-to-hang option, they also offer Gallery Wrapped Canvases which is where they print the image directly on the canvas material and then wrap the canvas around a wooden stretcher frame.

I ordered a sample of both a matboard mounted canvas and a Gallery Wrapped Canvas from Mpix. They each passed my initial quality inspection. I am not a huge fan of mat board mounted print but did think the Gallery Wrapped Canvas looked nice. Color was a bit yellow compared to my control prints, but nothing that would prohibit me from hanging it on a wall.

The one downside to Mpix’s Gallery Wrapped Canvas is that they only offer an image wrap (meaning the image wraps around the side of the canvas) and do not offer a color wrap (where the image is on the front and the side border is a solid color.) This can potentially present a problem if your image does not have enough room around the subject for the print to wrap.

Price wise, Mpix Gallery Wrap canvases are on the higher end of the scale for consumer available options. I ordered my print as part of a 20% off sale they offered in February. Of the consumer-grade canvases I have ordered, even with the sale, they were still about $30 more expensive.

PRESS PRINTED PRODUCTS: Mpix offers a variety of press-printed products, including birth announcements and accordion albums. I ordered a sample of the accordion album using one of their pre-designed templates. The quality of the item was good, but the item, even though ordered at the same time as traditionally printed 5x7s and 8x10s, required a separate shipping charge. From a consumer standpoint, this was quite frustrating. Mpix does, however, periodically offer free shipping specials, or one day sales on their press printed options, so I would suggest waiting, if you can, for a sale of some sort to take advantage of the press printed items.

Print Review

Overall in the print review Mpix performed within acceptable tolerance. While there is some notable difference in side by side comparisons of their prints vs. the control prints (the mpix prints have a slight green tint in the shadows), when the Mpix prints are viewed on their own they pass inspection. The other products I ordered from Mpix, including the framed wall portrait, 16×20 gallery wrapped canvas, 10×10 standout, 8×10 canvas mounted print and samples of Pearl and True B&W papers all passed inspection as being acceptable.

Bottom Line

Mpix is one of the pricier online consumer print labs, but I feel the prices are worth the investment in terms of pro-level options and level of print quality. They do offer frequent sales, so if budget if a concern, I recommend signing up for an account and keeping an eye out for sales on your favorite products.

As always, if you are using professionally crafted, print-ready digital files, I recommend turning OFF any option for color correction. Mpix will offer you this option and you will need to check a box that indicates you understand that Mpix is not liable for any color or density issues when printing your files if you do not opt for their color correction services.

If you a printing files from Mpix that came from a source other than Meggan Jacks Photography, I would recommend submitting a small order of test prints to make sure that your files will print properly with Mpix before ordering a significant amount of items.

If you are using files from MJP, you should be relatively safe in ordering your prints. While I don’t offer a 100% quality guarantee of any print that is not ordered through my studio, I do run periodic tests with Mpix to make sure they are able to print my files within acceptable standards.

 

Costco Photo Center – Consumer print lab review

Overview

I have a love/hate relationship with Costco print labs. For the most part, I love them and recommend them, but I do so with one MAJOR caveat: NOT ALL COSTCO PRINT LABS ARE CREATED EQUAL.  In all honesty, this is a disclaimer than can apply to ANY print lab, but since I do, in general, recommend Costco print lab as a local print option for my clients, I feel like I have to give them fair warning.  In my area (Phoenix/Scottsdale, AZ) there are numerous Costco locations – in fact, there are three within 5-8 miles of my home. Two produce great prints and one is mediocre at best.  I blame it on staffing, for the most part, as I think an educated and quality conscious staff is the key to great results at ANY print lab.

In general, if you have a Costco that has a great staff that keeps their machines calibrated on a regular basis, your local Costco can be a great resource for small prints (8×10 and smaller.) Most of the time you can get prints the same day and who doesn’t love that level of instant gratification!

Costco offers more than just small prints, however, as detailed below. Their entire product line can be viewed online at Costco.com – just click on “Photo Center” from the top menu bar.

Note: Most local Costco stores only print 12×18 and smaller. All other products offered through Costco.com are shipped to you or to the store.

Available Products & Services

PAPER:  The two Costcos I used for my test prints used Fuji Crystal Archive Paper – this is a consumer grade paper that has a display rating of 40 years or less. For images that are in “dark storage” the rating is longer.

MOUNTING: Costco does not offer mounting services for their prints. They do offer framing and canvas prints, however.

FRAMING: Costco (online) offers framing services in addition to their printing services. This is a great option if you want to receive your print framed and ready to hang on the wall. They currently offer 5 frame choices – Black, Espresso, Silver, Gold and Natural.  I have not tried out their frames, so I can’t attest to the quality at this time.

GALLERY WRAPPED CANVAS:  Costco does offer gallery wrapped canvases – both image and color wrap options. However, their color wrap options are limited to either Black or White wraps.

OTHER PRODUCTS: Costco offers a wide variety of other products in addition to traditional prints and canvases. They offer greeting cards, photo books, calendars, mugs, t-shirts, ornaments – the list goes on and on.  Most of the “other” products are available for order online with shipping to your home or in-store pick up.

print comparison from costco print lab

Product Review

SMALL PRINTS

As I mentioned above, Costco print results are not consistent between stores. I selected two of the three Costcos that are close to my home to try out for printing. One is the store I use for my personal prints and the other is a location I had been told by a friend had poor photo results.

Costco #1 represents the Costco location I use when I need quick prints done for personal use. As you can see, the results are within tolerance of the control – minor color shift in the shadows, but nothing that leaves you thinking “Eww.”

Costco #2 represents the local Costco that comes with a warning. I made an error when I ordered prints from this location and forgot to turn off the Auto-correct option that Costco sets as a default. However, this worked in my favor as it allowed me to see the impact of AC on my professionally edited images. I ordered a second set of prints with AC turned off so that I could get an accurate comparison.

As you can see from the results, Costco #2 printed considerably more yellow and the AC version printed yellow with more contrast which just makes the results “Eww.”

GALLERY WRAPPED CANVAS

I wasn’t going to print a canvas sample from Costco. I just didn’t think there was ANY WAY that the results would be worth it. But when I was waiting to pick up my prints from Costco #2, I saw a woman picking up her canvas order. As the Costco employee pulled the cluster of canvases out of the cardboard shipping box to show her the results, I have to admit, I was impressed. They were obviously professionally crafted images and from what I could tell, color and clarity of the canvases were beautiful. The canvases will definitely be show stoppers on the walls of her home. With that thought in my mind, I went home and ordered a 16×20 canvas from Costco. And you know what – it’s not too bad!  Ordering was easy, shipping was fast and I’d hang the final product in my home. The major downside to their Gallery Wrapped Canvases is that aside from an Image Wrap option, they only offer two choices for Color Wraps – black or white. Not the end of the world, but not as flexible as having a custom color choice option.

D@mn You Auto-correct!

So, how do you turn off that pesky Auto-correct option with Costco? First off, I always recommend ordering your prints through Costco.com. This will save you time as you can order and then pick up those prints without having to wait around for them to actually be printed (if you are like me, waiting for an hour in Costco will lead to a significant hit to your wallet!)

You can turn off Auto-correct within your print preferences with a few easy steps. You can also change your default paper option from Glossy to Lustre if you desire.

instructions on how to disable auto correct at costco photo center

After you’ve logged in to your Costo.com Photo Center account:

1. Click on “My Account” in the upper right corner of the screen.

2. Click on “Print Preferences” in the left side menu – This will display your current, default, print preferences. Click on the blue “Edit” button on the right side of the screen under the displayed print preferences

3. The Auto-Correct option is the first item listed in the center column. Change the default option of  “On” to “Off.”

4. (Recommended) If you prefer lustre prints, change the default option from glossy to lustre.

5. To save your changes, click on the blue “Update Info” button.

Bottom Line

As I mentioned in the opening statement, I recommend Costco for printing 8x10s and smaller, but with a major disclaimer. They are not all created equal – but they are worth trying out.  I would test print a few 5x7s before ordering an album worth of images. If they look good, then proceed with your entire print order. If they make you say “eww!” then either try another local Costco if you have another one close by, or consider using another print lab.  If you are looking for a canvas vendor, I feel the Costco canvases are worth trying out if you want an image wrap or are okay with a black or white color wrap.

ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU HAVE AUTO CORRECT TURNED OFF!!

 

 

Friday Favorites Week 1 – Grandma’s Bowls

Project Inspiration

I’ve had a project idea floating around in the back of my mind for the past year or so. I am not sure what spurred the idea – perhaps a it was the 52-week photo projects I see periodically shared on Facebook or Instagram.  Whatever the inspiration may be, my ultimate goal is to create an album of “My Favorite Things” that I can share with my kids – an album that will maybe become a little peek into my life for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I thought it might be fun to share this project on my blog since there is a photography element to it and maybe, just maybe, it will inspire someone else to so something similar.

Favorite Things

The first item on my list to share is something that should my house be on fire and my husband, children and hard drives already be safe, I’d make a serious attempt to grab on my way out of the house…. Grandma’s Bowls.

vintage boonton melmac melamine mixing bowlsThe backstory

My maternal grandmother passed away in 2007.  She and my grandfather had been farmers, raising milk cows and then crops on their land just outside of Des Moines, Iowa.  Her house was a small treasure trove of antiques – quilts handcrafted by her mother-in-law, vintage postcards from the early 1900s, small kitchen gadgets that were precursors to modern day appliances… the list went on and on.  Other items were not so much antiques as family heirlooms – Grandma had three sets of good china – her own set, her mother’s set and her aunt’s set. Two sets of silver and a collection of porcelain bells that us grand kids would take turns ringing to signal the start of dinner time on Sundays.

Generous soul

Before she died, Grandma gave many of her items away to family members – things she knew we admired.  I made an off-hand comment once that I really like her jadite bubble bowl (which she ALWAYS used to put sliced tomatoes in) and the next time I visited Iowa, she had it packed up ready for me to take home with me to Arizona.  But she wasn’t able to give away everything prior to her death – she lived alone at home right until the end and enjoyed being surrounded by familiar things of the past.

After her death my mom and aunt wanted to clean out her home so that the contents would not be stolen or ruined by vandals.  Since I live out of state, I wasn’t able to help in the task of sorting through the treasures on her property, but my mom did ask me if there was anything of Grandma’s that I wanted.

Simple request

My list was short – there was only one thing I REALLY wanted.  Grandma’s mixing bowls.

On the surface, these melamine bowls are nothings special. Made by Boontoon out of New Jersey, Grandma probably acquired them sometime in the 1950s or 60s. But all good things made in Grandma’s kitchen came from these bowls. Cookies, brownies, fruit salad – even the Sunday evening popcorn was poured into the large bowl to be shared.

I love that these bowls are practical – made of plastic to avoid breaking and they can take the abuse of a metal mixing utensil. The bottoms show some wear from the years of use, but to think of all the joy the contents of the bowl brought to my mom’s childhood, and even to my own childhood, makes me smile. These are the first bowls I reach for when mixing brownies or muffins. I may make my popcorn in the microwave as compared to on the stove, but I still pour it into the bowl for sharing. I hope I can pass on the bowls and the and the memories they help create, to my own grandchild some day.

My goal is to make this a weekly blog series, so be sure to check back next week to see the next entry into My Favorite Things album.

 

Walmart – Photo Center Review

I received a text from my friend around 10:30am on Thursday morning:

“Can u print the pix from our session for J’s parents? They leave tomorrow to go home”

I responded in the affirmative and she asked for me to send them to Wal-mart for the sake of time and convenience. Normally I’d tell her she is crazy and that I refuse to allow Wal-mart to print my beautiful portraits, but I didn’t have time to set her up with my pro-lab prints or even prints from my typical local source- Costco. So, Wal-mart it was.

There was one upside to ordering from Wal-mart. Over the past few months, I have been ordering test prints from various consumer print labs in order to see how my professional quality portraits are printed. I forgot to turn off auto-correct for the set I initially ordered from Wal-Mart. The prints came back awful, but I couldn’t rule out that it wasn’t the result of the lab-applied auto correct.  A new set of test prints, with auto-correct turned off, would be required in order to solidify my opinion of Wal-mart’s printing capabilities.  With this in mind, when I uploaded my friend’s order to Snapfish (which will allow me to send the prints to Wal-Mart) I included a few images for test prints.

My friend texted me later in the evening to say “Thank you” for uploading the images and I asked her how they looked. She said “not great” but indicated that they were “passable” and would work fine for her purpose.  When I picked up my test prints from her I just shook my head in dismay – how in the world my calibrated images can print so horribly is beyond me. The prints were dark and yellow compared to my control prints (printed at my professional lab.) Even when you turn off auto-correct the prints still turn out awful.

So, the moral of the story – don’t print through Wal-Mart. I had a feeling they’d print horribly, but was shocked at HOW horrible they were. Of all of the consumer print labs I have ever tried, Wal-mart definitely ranks at the bottom.

I suppose it could just be my local Wal-mart and I should try a few other stores in my area before I make such general assumptions about Wal Mart print quality as a whole. However, considering I can drive to my local Costco, which does print decently, faster than I can get to another Wal-mart, I am not really concerned about wasting time and money to see if a different WM can get their act together.

On my to-do list for next week: order new prints for J’s parents and drop ship them to Nebraska. I have a feeling their grandkids look like oompa-loompas in those portraits and the kids are by far cuter than that!

walmart photo center review

Wall Portrait Displays: Size Matters!

Part 2 in a three part series on how to create a beautiful wall portrait gallery in your home. Do not forget to read Part 1 with ideas on the perfect location?

The number one mistake people make when creating a wall portrait display is choosing the wrong of portraits to display – they select one that is too small. “I don’t want to go too big” is one of the biggest fears I hear from my clients when discussing which size of wall portrait would look best on their wall.  They say they want an 8×10 – well, I am here to tell you why you need to “Go big, or go home.”

wall portrait sizes over a couchThe Curse of the 8×10

I grew up in an 8×10 household. Every portrait on the walls of my childhood home was an 8×10 – my six month baby portrait, my annual school photo and even my senior portrait – all are immortalized as 8x10s.  I will admit, I was likely close to creating an 8×10 household myself until I started down the path of my professional photography career.

Now, to be honest, there is nothing wrong with an 8×10 portrait – they have their place in our homes.  They can work great in the hallway, where the average viewer is probably less than two feet from the portrait, or in a frame on an end table nestled under a lamp and wedged between a box of Kleenex and potted plant.

Where they don’t belong, however, is above a fireplace, couch or dining room sideboard. If they ARE hanging out there, they had better be hanging out with quite a few friends of their same size, or a couple of MUCH LARGER friends.

Why?

Because an 8×10 is just too darn small for the average wall portrait!

Size matters!

Print sizes starting at 16×20 are traditional wall portrait sizes, meaning that the portrait is adequately viewed from a distance of three feet or more which is a comfortable distance for the viewer to stand away from the wall.  Also, think of the impact you want your portrait to have on the guests in your home.  A 20×24 portrait makes a statement and draws the viewer in from across the room to “take in” the image.

An 8×10 portrait on the wall draws the viewer closer simply because they cannot see the image from a distance!

So what size of print is the proper size? There is no absolute definitive answer as it depends on where you plan to display them and how many portraits you plan to put in your grouping, but here are some general guidelines:

Only the Lonely…

If you are displaying just ONE portrait, you need to make it have an impact. As you can see from the pictures to the left, an 8×10 does NOT make an impact. A 16×20 is better, but it is not what I would professionally recommend. Because the sample portrait is a full body, environmental portrait where the size of the subjects are smaller in relationship to the overall size of the print, my recommendation for this portrait is a 24×30 when displayed over a 7.5 ft couch with an 8 ft ceiling. If you have a larger piece of anchor furniture and/or a higher ceiling, a larger portrait may be necessary to have the same impact.

I get by with a little help from my friends…

Just as John Lennon had the Beatles your  portraits have friends, too.  Which friends are needed for your arrangement depends on the location of your display the number of images you want to use.  When you use fewer portraits, those pieces can be larger to fill the same area.  If you have more images that you want to display, you will have to find the right mix of larger and smaller  portraits to fill the same space.  At this point, the possible display combinations become nearly endless and the design process moves into finding the right balance between display impact and image selection.

Big is Beautiful

Part Three of this series will try to outline strategies to finding that perfect balance, but the key thing to remember from this article is DO NOT fear going with a larger sizes for your wall portraits.  As you can see in the graphic below, the 8×10 is not a statement, but rather an accessory. You are NOT being ostentatious by displaying a beautiful 24×30 portrait of your family. You are celebrating what you love and the pride in your family.

wall portait sizes displayed above a couch