(Where is the best place to print your photos? / Photo: Digital Vision.)As a savvy spender, who do I trust to print my most memorable snapshots? I put six photo developers to the test with a select number of pictures from my recent honeymoon.
With the help of my producer Sarah, I examined price, quality, and customer service in a sort-of unscientific, though comprehensive way – all to reveal the best and worst places to print photos.
6th Place: CVS
While I love to shop here for beauty and supplies, CVS Photo sunk to the bottom of my list for photo development. Pricing is similar to other one-hour retailers at about 19 cents per 4x6 image, but CVS was the only retailer that slapped a surcharge for orders under $5. What’s more, some of my prints turned out relatively murky and dark, among the worst of the bunch. And unlike rivals, CVS offered me no freebies as a new customer and its site was pretty basic, offering few options.
I placed a couple of orders online and requested pick-up at two different CVS locations to see if there’d be a difference in quality. And there was! A store located a half-mile further from my house produced noticeably better photos than those printed at a location just down the street. For this reason, CVS ranked last - but a drugstore competitor didn’t fare much better.
5th Place: Walgreens
In fifth place is Walgreens, where prints were also 19 cents and the photo quality, much like with CVS, varied based on the location the prints were produced. You periodically hear about price drops at Walgreens of up to 50% off photos and, at that rate, these may be worth it.
For our Yahoo!Shopping readers and viewers, Walgreens is offering the following coupon code for a free 5X7 print per household: 5X7FREE
Shipping and handling may apply. The coupon code is valid for one use per account through April 27, 2013. Valid at Walgreens.com/photo only.
3rd & 4th Place: Snapfish.com and Shutterfly.com
Further up the list at third and fourth place I chose two major online-only photo developers: Snapfish and Shutterfly. Price-wise, the online retailers were an average 10 cents cheaper than the brick and mortar stores when ordering 4x6 and 5x7 prints. They offer even better prices for other tchotchkes - wall décor, mugs, blankets, key chains and charms -- offering far more unique trinkets than any of the traditional retailers. Accounts also come with free, unlimited photo storage, sharing, and access to your Facebook and Picasa shots.
Best of all, each came with a signing bonus of 25-50 free prints to woo new customers. The prints I ordered ended up being free!
Overall, the two online retailers were comparable in terms of quality and rates, though I found Shutterfly’s 50 free prints a more attractive sign-up offer. So if you have a large print order and can wait a few days for shipment, online seems the way to go. However, if you want the convenience of one-hour photo developing - which is offered at your local drugstore or box retailer- just know that it’s the pick-up location doing the printing, not the vendor. And based on my experience, I know I won’t be choosing the CVS nearest to my house to do the printing!
2nd Place: Walmart
While the in-store kiosks were not very user friendly, the photos themselves were quite decent and priced the same or slightly lower for larger prints like 5x7s. Walmart has also been praised for its same-day offerings like custom photo books, greeting cards and posters. The color in their prints seemed “truer” and a bit more saturated; but in some cases, that also meant darker prints.
Also See: Hidden Shopping Pitfalls
1st Place: Target
Though this retailer hasn’t always performed well in critical reviews, I actually favored Target’s Photo Center. Compared to Walmart’s 1-hour photos, Target’s 1-hour prints had a slightly brighter hue - and for the same price. Target also had lots of neat product offerings, from “TracerPix” motion photos that allow you to see up to three images at once to personalized phone cases. Note, however, that Target had fewer product options for same day pick-up.
Everything from the machine to the photo paper can impact photo quality, so results will vary for everyone. To help you get the very best from your photo printing experience, here are my top tips:
- If you’re short on time, for 10-15 cents more try the Photo Kiosk machines, located at or near the Photo Center of your local drugstore or retailer. They use the same printing method as the 1-hour photo service, but the photos are ready in minutes.
- When ordering online, upload the highest resolution possible and pay particular attention to photos from your phone or Facebook where a cropped, zoomed or a small file size may not be noticeable in your gallery. If offered, “True Digital” sizing automatically adjusts your photo to a 4x5.3 shape – un-cropped and closer to your original file, but smaller than a 4x6 and not ideal for framing.
We want to hear from you. Which photo vendors do you favor? Connect with me @Farnoosh, and use the hashtag #FinFit.