Steven Brokaw Photography

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Commercial Printing Services - Kind of a "Hit or Miss" Thing

I decided a few years ago that commercial printers have a cost advantage over printing on my own high end printer.  I now use 3rd party printing services whenever I have a photograph for a contest, want to frame a photo, or if I'm selling one of my photos.  Really, it's hard to beat the price of places like MPix or similar services versus the cost of photo paper and high end ink.  Even your local Costco or CVS can provide reasonable printing services.

Here's the rub, the quality is often "Hit or Miss".  My computer screen is calibrated, but I would estimate that 50% of the prints come back too dark or "muddy".  The colors never have the pop that II envision.  I've tried multiple options, i.e. allowing the service to do color correction, having it turned off, matching paper profiles whenever possible, brightning my images for printing, etc.  Again, Hit or Miss.

In today's digital life for photographers, the absolute need of having your art printed is not as important as in the film days, but you still have that need. 

My recommendation:
  • Experiment with several services, stick with the one that you like,
  • If you have a big job or running multiple prints, do a test print.  Instead of ordering 10 copies of an image, get just 1 done and see how it turns out.  If it's aces then go with it.
  • Brighten your image.  I normally increase the exposures in the shadows and dark areas .25 to .50 of a stop.
  • Use a commercial service that's local and you can visit & chat with face-to-face.  This has the advantage of showing them what may concern you about the output.  I don't think you can do this with a place like CVS, because the guy behind the counter normally has no clue about photography
  • Get your own printer, and suck it up
Bottomline, if you are using a commercial printing service you need to bring to the table a healthy amount of caution.  Note, if you have suggestions or recommedations, pass them along.

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