Many of my clients ask me for my recommendation as to where they can get their printing done for the 4×6 and 5×7 inch prints from the digital files they have from their wedding or family photoshoot. As a specialist fine art printmaker, I either print myself or work with professional print companies (that only sell to professional photographers). So I set about to find the answer by testing a number of the most popular consumer print companies is Sydney.
As a professional photographer I am particularly fussy about the quality of prints. I do professional printing within my studio and I also utilise professional print services so I know what a good photo should look like. I also believe this gives me a unique ability to review these printing companies and the photos they provide to everyday consumers.
I always recommend my clients get their large-scale prints through me, for reasons that will become clear from the outcomes of the print testing I conducted below. I have however found that I can now confidently answer my clients’ questions on where to get some small-scale prints done in Sydney based on my comprehensive and detailed review.
Other printing tests I have found online used non-professional images that had not been checked on a colour-calibrated monitor. As the image standard was highly variable I found it difficult to rely on the results, as I couldn’t determine if the print image quality was a result of the actual original digital file (quality of the photographer) or as a result of the print process (the print company). By selecting images that were technically good I could accurately assess the print companies.
Full disclosure – I have no relationships with these print companies and I paid full price for all the printing myself.
The Photo Print Test
To find a reliable cost-effective printing source for small sized prints to recommend for my clients.
I ordered the same 12 prints (9 colour and 3 black & white (one of which was blue toned) in as many paper types as was available from a number of companies in Australia both in store and online retailers.
Why 12 different prints?
I wanted to be able to test a variety of colours (particularly skin tones and black & white’s) and image types (travel, wildlife, and family portraits)
What did I assess?
- Ease of ordering – user interface either online or in-store
- Printing Paper Options
- Print errors
- Paper Quality
- Available advice – available in store or on their website/blog
- Accuracy of print (how alike the printed photo is to the digital image) – Here the print was compared to the digital file to see what differences I found. This included the exposure difference (is it lighter or darker), the accuracy of the colours (the hue, vibrancy, and saturation levels), the colour balance (were the whites white or did they look cooler or warmer), the tint (did the overall photo have a green or magenta look to it) and lastly the sharpening applied.
Ease of ordering – Ordered online with delivery to home, good user interface
Paper Options – Gloss and matt
Cost – 15c per print although there are often online deals and the first 60 photos are free.
Accuracy of print – Some under-exposed and some over-exposed, colour temp accurate, very bad green tint, and appropriate level of sharpening applied.
Print errors – Nil, however the green tint was so bad it should qualify as print error
Paper Quality – Thin paper unable to comment further as no branding is visible on the back of the paper.
Overall Rating – 2/10
Recommendations – The green tint was so bad that I couldn’t recommend to anyone.
Ease of ordering – Ordered online and picked up in-store, had to download flash player to enter print ordering system! Good user interface. No information about when pickup could be made after ordering, although received an email when the order was ready for pickup.
Paper Options – Gloss and matt
Cost – 10c per print.
Accuracy of print – Exposure levels accurate, colour temp accurate, magenta tint, and sharpening levels appropriate.
Print errors – Blue banding on 2 prints, minor scuff marks on 2 of the prints. Banding is present in the one of the colour images, and demonstrates and inability to deal with subtle variations in blues within a sky.
Paper Quality – Very thin, average photo paper
Overall Rating – 5/10
Recommendations – The best of the 10c per print companies. If price is your primary concern then this may be your best choice.
Camera House (Tom Sades Parramatta)
Ease of ordering – ordered online and picked up in-store, best user interface, very easy to order and interface was quick loading. No information when ordering about when pickup could be made. Received an email when the order was ready for collection.
Paper Options – Gloss, lustre, and metallic pearl plus a range of Canson and Ilford fine art papers
Cost – 19c for the gloss and lustre, 29c for the metallic pearl, and $2 for the fine art papers
Accuracy of print – Under-exposed, warm tone (colour temp), slight green tint, appropriate level of sharpening. This assessment is for the gloss and lustre papers. See note below for the metallic pearl and fine art papers.
Print errors – a few black specks of ink on four of the images. Most of the specks could be easily brushed away, a few could not.
Quality – Average thickness, good quality photo paper for the gloss, lustre, and metallic pearl. Thick high quality fine art paper for the Canson Platine paper (see below for more details).
Overall Rating – 7/10
Recommendations – A clear winner both for the quality and variety of prints they offer, the staff expertise and the overall cost of prints.
Metallic Pearl Paper – Massive exposure problems with whites blown out and some with a blue halo. 8/12 photos I would assess as completely unuseable. This is a specialist paper with unique properties that means it requires digital files that have been calibrated for printing on this paper and many types of images are just not possible to print to a useable stage. If this is something you are interested in using I recommend going in-store and checking with the staff to see if it is possible to print your image using this paper. Some photos can look spectacular on this paper, usually landscapes.
Fine Art Papers – This Camera House has a number of Fine Art Paper available and I tested their most popular, the Canson Platine. This paper is a high quality archival paper with a thick card stock appearance to the prints. It is the same paper used by many professional printers, including myself for fine art prints and the superior quality can be easily seen. If the JPEG had been prepared for the print with this paper a more exact print would have been seen. Even without the calibration this print stood out from all other prints as it achieves both the quality feel of a fine art print and the longevity from an archival paper. Below is my testing results for the accuracy of print using the Canson Platine Rag at Camera House.
Accuracy of Print – Slightly under-exposed, warm tone, slight magenta tint, and appropriate level of sharpening.
Special Note – All Camera Houses are owned separately and their printing facilities, staff knowledge and paper choices vary widely. Tom Sades Camera House is the only wet lab Camera House in Australia and offers a significantly superior range of paper options and staff expertise from my experience. Recommend that if you don’t live near the Parramatta area that you ensure that when ordering online you select the Parramatta store in the top right hand corner of the Camera House home page prior to ordering your prints for home delivery.
Ease of ordering – Ordered online and picked up in-store, had to download flash player to enter print ordering system! Good user interface. Software on user interface seemed a bit buggy.No information about when pickup could be made after ordering, although received an email when the order was ready for pickup.
Printing Paper Options – Lustre only
Cost – 10c per print
Accuracy of print – Exposure levels accurate, colour temp accurate, magenta tint, and soft (under sharpened).
Print errors – Photos were soft (under sharpened) with fine black lines across the photo visible in 50% of the images, one B&W image had a brown/red tone to it, and three images had wide blue banding lines across them which was very visible in the B&W images.
Quality – Very thin, average photo paper.
Overall Rating – 2/10
Recommendations – Avoid as there are significant quality control issues
Ease of ordering – Ordered in-store and picked up same day, good user interface
Paper Options – Lustre and gloss
Cost – 10-20c. 10c next day pickup, 15c 1 hour pickup, 20c immediate pickup
Accuracy of print – Exposure levels accurate, cool (blue) tone (colour temp), magenta tint, and excess level of sharpening.
Print errors – Photos were over saturated and grossly over sharpened with a grainy appearance to 5/12 images
Quality – Cheap and nasty plastic feeling, very thin photo paper
Overall Rating – 3/10
Recommendations – Avoid except if you are printing photos from your phone and want that saturated look to be maintained, or have a photo that is lacking saturation, contrast or sharpening then this may be worth trying for a small batch to see if you like the results.
Ease of ordering – Ordered online and delivered to home, user interface worst of all tested, quick delivery times.
Paper Options – Gloss and matt.
Cost – 19c although there are often online deals.
Accuracy of print – Over-exposed, colour temp accurate, green tint, and slightly under-sharpened.
Print errors – Banding is present in the one of the black and white images, and demonstrates and inability to deal with subtle variations in grey and black.
Quality – Average thickness, good quality photo paper.
Overall Rating – 4/10
Recommendations – OK, however there are better options at the 19c per print range.
The quality of the final print is dependent on a number of factors:
– The original quality and specifications of the digital image
– The editing of the image
– The preparation of the digital image by the photographer for the print process inc. calibration of the image to match the printer, paper source, and ink
– The paper source
– The type of printing ink
– The printer type
– The knowledge and expertise of the printing staff
General all purpose prints– Lustre Fujicolor Crystal Archive at 19c print at Tom Sades Camera House were the best value for money with a good overall quality
Important and keepsake Prints– The Canson papers at $2 print at Tom Sades Camera House were the best print quality available, without first having a professional photographer prepare the image for print. If you are framing the print this is the best option as the thickness and quality of the paper will give a much better result.
Photo Enlargement Tips
If you have a photo that is important to you and you want to get a large print done at consumer print source then take the following steps:
- Take the digital file to a store for printing
- Check that you have a digital file size adequate for the print size you wish
- Ask for a 4×6 print (you are using this as a test print) to be done first and then assess the colours to ensure you are happy. If you are not happy either choose a different print paper or ask the print shop assistant to assist you to alter the file to your tastes
- Once you have the file altered to your liking, and you have selected the right print paper then order the print in the final size that you are after.
- Check you are happy with the print prior to leaving the store