Get what you want on­line

Amateur Photographer - - Technique Home Vs Lab Printing -

There can be a nag­ging doubt that prints from an on­line lab will be a dis­ap­point­ment, look­ing vastly dif­fer­ent from the on-screen im­ages that you up­loaded. It’s cer­tainly true that the auto en­hance­ments of­fered by some labs can re­sult in overly bright and con­trasty prints, some­times with colour sat­u­ra­tion bumped up to un­nat­u­ral lev­els.

This shouldn’t be a con­cern with up­mar­ket labs such as Lox­ley and WhiteWall. A di­verse range of papers is avail­able, in­clud­ing the likes of Fu­ji­color Pro­fes­sional DP II gloss or lus­tre, Ko­dak Pro­fes­sional En­dura Metal­lic, and more. For the sake of ac­cu­racy, ICC colour pro­files are avail­able for free down­load from both labs, along with in­struc­tions for their use. It’s a use­ful added fa­cil­ity if you’re some­body who likes to be in con­trol, and to en­sure that you re­ally get the re­sults you want.

Cost of lab prints

For 6x4in prints, a good main­stream lab is the most cost-ef­fec­tive op­tion. Pho­to­box (www.pho­to­box.co.uk) is my cur­rent favourite. The qual­ity is good and this size of print costs just 15p each (while batch or­der­ing is even cheaper: 12p each for 20+, 10p for 500+). Auto im­age en­hance­ment is avail­able at no ex­tra charge, but I’ve found this is only ben­e­fi­cial if you haven’t edited your im­ages be­fore up­load­ing them. This ‘clas­sic’ ser­vice uses Fu­ji­film 210gsm Crys­tal Archive pa­per in gloss or matte, and you can up­grade to ‘pre­mium’, which is based on thicker Fu­ji­film 250gsm Crys­tal Archive Supreme, at 19p per print (15p for 20+, 12p for 500+). Postage costs (first class) are £3.99 for 1-19 prints, £4.99 for 20-149 prints, £5.99 for 150-349 prints and £7.99 for 350- 499 prints.

Suf­fice to say that you can make sub­stan­tial sav­ings com­pared with cre­at­ing your own 6x4in prints at home with an inkjet printer. I’ve found that Pho­to­box gen­er­ally de­liv­ers prints within a cou­ple of work­ing days of plac­ing an or­der, and they often ar­rive the next day. That can ac­tu­ally be quicker than mak­ing a large num­ber of prints at home.

Pre­mium qual­ity

While the qual­ity of prints from Pho­to­box is typ­i­cally very good, it’s not a match to the kind of lab that caters to pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers. A prime ex­am­ple is Lox­ley Colour (www.lox­l­ey­colour.com), which has long been one of my favourite on­line labs – not least be­cause it has a his­tory of of­fer­ing ‘hand cor­rec­tion’ for in­di­vid­ual prints at no ex­tra charge. I’ve found that even if you’ve edited im­ages metic­u­lously, us­ing this op­tion en­ables Lox­ley’s tech­ni­cians to get the very best out of the print­ing ma­chin­ery and to cre­ate su­perb-qual­ity prints.

An­other rea­son Lox­ley is often favoured by pro­fes­sion­als is that its prices are very com­pet­i­tive. For ex­am­ple, prices for small to medium in­di­vid­ual gloss or lus­tre prints are 67p (6x4in), £2.24 (10x8in) and £2.69 (12x8in). Metal­lic and velvet pa­per op­tions have a 50% markup, and first class postage is £5.58.

An­other of my favourite on­line labs is WhiteWall (www. whitewall.com). Un­like Lox­ley, it doesn’t of­fer a hand­cor­rec­tion ser­vice, but a free ‘au­to­matic im­age op­ti­mi­sa­tion’ fa­cil­ity is avail­able, sim­i­lar to that of Pho­to­box. Again, bright­ness and con­trast corrections are ap­plied based on an au­to­mated process, and best avoided if you’ve edited your im­ages to your lik­ing, as­sum­ing you’re con­fi­dent in the ac­cu­racy of your mon­i­tor.

WhiteWall is com­par­a­tively pricey for small to medi­um­sized prints, which start at £2.90 (6x4in), £7.95 (10x8in) and £8.95 (12x8in). There’s less dif­fer­ence be­tween Lox­ley and WhiteWall for larger-for­mat prints, with both labs charg­ing around £12 (24x16in) and £19 (30x20in). WhiteWall is ac­tu­ally cheaper for 60x40in prints, at £71.95 com­pared with Lox­ley’s £87.46. How­ever, turn­around times are rather longer, typ­i­cally at around six work­ing days as the lab is based in Ger­many. With that in mind, the de­liv­ery cost of £3.95 is very rea­son­able.

Ul­ti­mately, it makes the most sense to have an A4 inkjet printer at home for gen­eral photo print­ing, and to use a lab for high-quan­tity small-for­mat print­ing as well as for your large-for­mat prints.

There’s al­most noth­ing to choose be­tween most WhiteWall and Lox­ley prints, but WhiteWall prints can some­times be slightly more vi­brant WhiteWall

Canon inkjet printer With the colour/in­ten­sity mode set to ‘Auto’, prints from the Canon Pixma PRO-10S tend to be marginally brighter than those from the labs

Lox­ley For out­right ac­cu­racy in bright­ness, con­trast and colour, Lox­ley’s prints are the clos­est match to the screen im­ages on my cal­i­brated test mon­i­tor

For the best-qual­ity prints, use labs that cater for pro­fes­sion­als, such as Lox­ley and WhiteWall

Pho­to­box pro­duces small-for­mat prints in any­thing from low to very high quan­ti­ties, and of­fers a wide range of other print sizes and photo prod­ucts

An added at­trac­tion of WhiteWall is that it gives you a par­tic­u­larly large se­lec­tion of photo papers to choose from

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