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Photo-Printing Services


Photo-Printing Services

I'm a big fan of Shutterfly, but here's an article comparing the various services available for online printing of digital pictures.,1759,1536878,00.asp

Photo-Printing Services
By Jonathan Roubini

As people switch from film to digital cameras, they often have questions­and legitimate concerns­about getting prints of photos. How do you get high-quality prints? Will they look as good as film photos? Are they expensive?

Fortunately, ordering prints online is much cheaper and easier than you might think. And almost any digital camera­whether 2 megapixels or 5­is capable of producing prints that will look just as good as any you've gotten from your old film camera. That said, there is some variation in quality depending on the services you use. Some printing services print more accurately, while some do a better job of enhancing photos. Some offer better editing tools, and some are just easy to use.

How We Tested

For this story, we tested nine of the top online printing services, according to data provided by InfoTrends. We also tested ez prints, which provides online photo-printing services to many of the sharing services in "Photo-Sharing Services".

To compare printing services, we ordered and compared prints of ten photos from each site. Paul Aresu (, a professional photographer, took three reference photos of model Ania Suarez (, using a Canon EOS-1Ds. These photos were shot specifically to test the quality and accuracy of the photo-printing services.

The other seven photos were taken by amateur photographers using a variety of 2- to 5-megapixel cameras. These provided a good representation of what to expect for photos from casual photographers and hobbyists.

We rated the output based on perceived quality and on how closely it matched the originals. Quality and accuracy each has its own advantages: If you know you want images reproduced exactly, accuracy will be important. Many casual users, however, will like the enhancing features some services use to make prints look better.

The Results

We were surprised at how drastic some of the differences among these sites were. Our favorite service overall is Shutterfly. It is extremely easy to navigate and offers convenient single-click actions for common tasks, such as rotating images. Ofoto offers equally handy tools and is quite easy to use. The service also produces very good prints. Still, Shutterfly, with its impressive image enhancement feature and a slightly easier-to-use Web site, edges out Ofoto for our Editors' Choice.

Most of ez prints' business comes from partnered Web services that offer photo sharing and other similar tools. For sheer print quality, ez prints is the best. Otherwise, the service is somewhat lacking. For instance, ez prints is devoid of photo-editing tools­no cropping or red-eye reduction, even. The service does provide a general enhancement feature that consistently improved the look of our images.

By contrast, Imagestation offers the most advanced editing tools among these products. But the site is slow, and images are of only average quality.

For the most part, we like Snapfish. The prints look very good, though they can't match the quality of Shutterfly and Ofoto. And the tools aren't as streamlined as with some services; for example, tasks we performed with Shutterfly in just one or two clicks required far more on Snapfish.

The prints Club Photo produced were neither exceptionally fine nor glaringly bad. What did make a strong impression was how badly the Web site is designed. Thumbnails of images are very poor. And when you share an album with a friend, the friend gains access to all your albums; you can't be selective. dotPhoto suffers the same album-sharing flaw. After we wrapped up testing, dotPhoto told us that its site would soon be redesigned.

Kodak Picture Center Online produced relatively poor images. We were particularly surprised when we ordered a print on 16-by-20 paper and received what looked like an ink jet print on Kodak ink jet paper.

The PhotoWorks service is very easy to use. Its print quality, along with Wal-Mart's, was the worst of the services. Wal-Mart also suffers from a lack of features. And unless you purchase storage space (78 cents a year for 10MB), your uploaded pictures will disappear after 30 days.

Interestingly, some of these services use the same photo-processing centers, yet that doesn't necessarily mean the quality is the same. Club Photo and Imagestation use the same lab, and these two services took longer than the others to produce our prints. Meanwhile, dotPhoto and Snapfish both use the same lab, yet Snapfish's prints were the better of the two.

Photo-Printing Services: Shutterfly

Of course, you'll probably want to order prints of your favorite photos. Shutterfly is our favorite all-around printing service. The site is easy to navigate, it includes simple yet effective editing tools, and most important, its print quality is excellent.

Club Photo

Product: Club Photo Club Photo,

Editor Rating:

The dark profile head shot is kept dark, with slight brightening, yet we see some posterization. In general, Club Photo's prints are decent.

Product: dotPhoto Company Info: dotPhoto,

Editor Rating:

In the profile headshot, there is some obvious posterization. The service has also brightened dark images the most. Otherwise, dotPhoto offers good prints.


Product: Snapfish Company Info: Snapfish,

Editor Rating:

The dark pictures we submitted were automatically brightened, and the result is a posterization effect. Apart from this issue, we are pleased with the quality of Snapfish prints.


Product: Shutterfly Company Info: Shutterfly,

Editor Rating:

Shutterfly successfully enhanced and brightened the dark pictures without any posterization. The only minor issue is that the sky in one picture has some hints of purple.

ez prints
Product: ez prints Company Info: ez prints,

Editor Rating:

ez prints produces excellent prints. In general, it does a better job in adjusting colors when necessary. The intentionally dark pictures were kept dark­but enhanced to look better.


Product: Wal-Mart Company Info: Wal-Mart,

Editor Rating:

In this print, the picture is darkened to the point that the hair cannot be distinguished from the background. Wal-Mart has also added some posterization to the test head shot.


Product: Ofoto Company Info: Ofoto,

Editor Rating:

Ofoto produces impressive prints that are very close to the original images. The bright model head shot looks realistic, and the hair keeps its natural brown color.

Kodak Picture Center Online

Product: Kodak Picture Center Online Company Info: Kodak Picture Center Online,

Editor Rating:

In this print, the model's hair looks closer to black than to the brown of the original image. Our darker pictures were brightened, producing posterization problems similar to those of Snapfish and dotPhoto.


Product: PhotoWorks Company Info: PhotoWorks,

Editor Rating:

Images from PhotoWorks are generally on the red side. There seems to be a sharpening going on in the pictures; this is noticeable in the details of a face.


Product: Imagestation Company Info: Imagestation,

Editor Rating:

The posterization is clear in different areas of this picture. In general, the pictures have a slightly exaggerated tone of black and red.

Photo-Printing Services

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