An Mpix technician applies a surface layer to a photo by hand. Photo: Steve Herbert
4. Set the right color space.
Can your lab accept Adobe RGB or Pro Photo RGB, or must you submit your files in the smaller-gamut sRGB color space? Similarly, consider file type and size. Some labs have file-size limits, and some accept only JPEGs, not TIFFs.
5. Pick your medium.
Unless you go for a high-end lab, your prints probably won’t be made on inkjet printers. Instead, you’ll get what’s commonly called digital c-prints. These are made using a chemical process in which your images are projected onto photo paper using a series of lasers. This affords different paper options: Lots of labs offer Kodak’s papers such as Endura, a matte surface that works best for portraits, or Metallic, which works well when your shot includes metal, water, or sky.
However, high-end labs often print with inkjet machines as well and can help choose the best method and medium for output. The Icon, like many such professional printers, offers more than 25 kinds of paper, and can print using a wide variety of methods. They can also print extremely large—Icon recently had a job making prints nearly 60 inches wide by 15 feet long. Try ordering a print that big online. Finally, consider archivability. How long do you want your prints to last? According to Diadhiou, black-and-white pigment-based inkjet prints can last as long as 200–300 years, and color 100–200, depending on how they’re stored and displayed. A digital c-print, however, probably won’t last more than about 60 years.
6. Order your own test strips.
If you’re planning to have a bunch of images printed, but you’re not sure of the best paper type to suit the pictures, order test strips. Use your editing software to gang a bunch of them up on a single big print, and then have it made on various papers to compare how the same set of images look on each. Or, if you’re not sure how much contrast or brightness will work best on the paper you’ve chosen, send out a similar big print with five or six variations of the image on a single piece of paper. Once you figure out what works best, order away.