Professional vs Consumer Prints – The Primary Differences and How to Educate Your Clients
When the time comes to print photos, most people tend to look for the quickest, cheapest way to get it done. This usually involves selecting one of the top two or three Google search results and then ordering whichever prints are on sale. There’s no arguing the convenience and affordability of this method, but is it really the best way to preserve our memories in print? Whether it be through local big box stores or professional print labs like Bay Photo Lab or anything in between, the wide range of printing choices begs the question(s): What’s the difference and which option is best? Although many people decide based on price, the reality is this: Professional print labs can’t be beat. Professional photographers (and serious enthusiasts) should absolutely create a relationship with a professional print lab, and the following points will illustrate why (please note that some labs require a tax ID). As a bonus, we will also include some tips to ensure you’re properly preparing your images for print.
While people are used to the idea of paying a photographer to capture photos, they’re less accustomed to ordering professional prints through their photographers. Instead, they tend to ask only for digital files before taking the route described above and looking for the cheapest option. However, when we consider the reasons for printing our photos, the answer rarely comes back “because it was cheap and easy.” In reality, we usually print the photos that we hope to keep and pass down to help tell our story for years (and possibly generations) to come. While one would expect to pay more for prints from a professional print lab, the cost is not as prohibitive as one might expect. On the other hand, professional print labs offer several reasons to consider their services, including the following, which pros should communicate to their clients:
- Wide Range of Products: While you can shop around through different vendors to put together a great printing package, pro labs offer all the convenience of a one-stop shot with a large variety of printing and framing options. You can read this article for a quick overview on various print options as well as more information on how to choose the right wall display for your images.
- Quality Materials and Craftsmanship: Pro labs use archival quality materials and pay close attention to quality control, ensuring that the prints themselves are free of damage or defects.
- Consistent Print Quality: Professional print labs are fellow artisans in the craft of photography and they work most often with professional photographers, who tend to have a more discerning eye and notice details that typical consumers might overlook. For this reason, they tend to consistently produce a better representation of images that stay true to the digital file in regard to color control, brightness, contrast, etc.
- Customer Service and Support: Most print labs, whether professional or consumer-based, offer customer support. However, pro labs provide experts who are available to guide clients from the beginning to the end of the transaction. Again, they’re used to working with professional photographers, so their approach is better aligned with professional expectations.
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Consumer print options, like those found at Costco or Walmart or other online printers, usually draw in their clients one of two ways: first, the clients already frequent the store for non-photography related shopping, or in an online space, clients are inundated with ubiquitous pop-up ads, especially after they’ve searched for printers on the web. The price breaks from these options might make ordering prints slightly more affordable, but at what cost? At the end of the day, we sacrifice quality and longevity of the product with consumer print labs. Rather than recreate a comparison test within this article, we invite you to view the many examples that have already been presented online. Overall, when compared to prints made by professional labs, consumer lab prints tend to consistently demonstrate issues with color rendering and quality paper or products.
Quick Prep Tips for Photographers
You put in the time and effort to plan your shoots and meticulously edit your photos, so it’s worth it to take the time to properly prepare your images for print and order samples to familiarize yourself with the lab’s work. For image prep, it’s important to do the following:
- Calibrated monitor: There are various tools to use to calibrate your monitor to ensure color accuracy, including Datacolor’s SpyderX or X-Rite’s i1Display Studio or i1Display Pro Plus; regardless of which tool you use, be sure to calibrate your monitor before editing your photos!
- Color space for the lab – RGB vs Adobe RGB: Using the correct color profile for the lab you intend to send your photos to is as important as calibrating your monitor for color accuracy. Check with your lab of choice before editing and submitting your digital photos for print.
- File type: Another important step when preparing your files for print involves sending the correct file type of your digital image. Some labs prefer JPEGS while others favor TIFF files, and so on. Check with your preferred pro lab before sending in your files.
- Sizing & Resolution: Depending on the print sizes you’re ordering, some cropping may occur. It’s best to handle this yourself before sending the file to print. As for the resolution, we recommend leaving your file as is for the highest resolution possible; in other words, when ordering your prints, do not select a resolution size from the printer that is smaller than the resolution of your digital file.
- Choose no auto color correction: Most labs offer auto color correction, but if you’ve followed the steps above and perfected your image for the final edit, there’s no need to select this feature.
In addition to preparing your images, we recommend ordering samples from your lab of choice so that you know exactly what to expect when your prints arrive. Alternatively, if the option is available, choose soft proofing so that you can see how the images will look before they’re printed. For this to be effective, it is imperative that your monitor be correctly color calibrated. Either way, rather than experiment with client work, get to know your lab while having personal work printed.
[Related Reading: 7 Ways for Photographers to Sell More Wall Art and Photo Albums]
Whether printing photos for your personal collection or having them printed for clients, it’s worth going with professional print labs like Bay Photo Lab to ensure your images are delivered true to your final edits. From delivering consistency in color and contrast to offering a wide array of quality printing options, professional print labs outperform consumer labs at a fair price with amazing customer support. Hopefully, you’ll find that working with a professional lab will help increase your sales as well as the overall quality of prints for both you and your clients.
This is a sponsored post for Bay Photo Lab. All opinions are my own. Bay Photo Lab is not affiliated with nor endorses any other products or services mentioned.