Get what you want online
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.
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