Mpix, MpixPro, and Miller’s Professional Imaging, all part of the same family-owned company based in Kansas, offer different levels of products and services to different types of clients. Above, a poster-sized image comes out of the printer. Photo: Steve Herbert
Printing at home can be a good thing, but sometimes it’s best to let someone else do it. Maybe you want to make a whole bunch of 4x6 prints, or you need a print larger than your home printer can produce. Or maybe you have an image you love, but you can’t seem to make a print that matches your vision of it. A lab, whether accessed online or in person, can even obviate the need for a printer of your own; if you don’t print much, it can be more economical to have your prints made for you.
There are lots of labs to choose from, ranging from consumer-friendly, automated online systems all the way up to high-end labs where you can work one-on-one with in-house master printers. The higher up the scale you go, the more control and, most likely, the more printing options you will have. And, of course, the more you will spend.
1. Find the right lab for you.
Before you print, decide which kind of lab you will need. You may even want to work with several, depending on your requirements at the time: It could be that you’ll use a consumer-friendly lab, such as Mpix, for quick, small prints; order your bigger prints from a site like AdoramaPix that will allow you to download profiles; and save your big, serious prints for a master printer such as the Icon lab in Los Angeles. Or you might stick with a do-it-all site such as Kodak Gallery, which takes care of color management for you, makes prints from small to large (including posters), and also offers the typical mugs and mousepads you’d expect from an online lab.
If all you need is big, an online lab might do it. But if you choose to work in person with a high-end lab (most major cities have one), you’ll get hands-on guidance the likes of which you could never match working remotely. Says Bonny Diadhiou of the Icon, “It takes about five people to make one beautiful print. There’s no just pressing a button—it’s even hand-trimmed. There’s so much love and labor that goes into making a single print.”
A custom lab like this will make an appointment with you to sit in a gray-walled room with optimized lighting while a seasoned printer works on your image on a color-correct monitor; the printer may even rework your RAW file if need be.
If you plan to begin a long-term relationship with a given lab, try calling customer service and see how long it takes to get a human on the phone. Ask for its policy on unsatisfactory print quality. Find out if the lab takes rush orders. Consider its output sizes: Is there enough variety? How big do they go? And finally, of course, consider the cost. Is the lab a good value for the money? Bear in mind, though, that some pro-level print services such as MpixPro require that its clients make at least some portion of their income from photography to access the professional site.