Photo Lab Printing

Not long ago, photo lab printing was a huge part of your photography process. You shot a roll of film, dropped it off at the lab, and one to 24 hours later, you picked up  your prints.

But then digital happened. And then social media happened. And mobile phones with high resolution cameras happened.

And now most of us rarely use a photo lab.

But there is still something about holding a print in your hand, framing it and putting it on your wall or in a photo album, that has a different kind of satisfaction. It’s somehow more tangible – similar to reading a printed book.

I make a fair amount of prints, especially for family. I take portraits of the little people in my life – the children who haven’t started the obligatory school photos yet. And I usually gift the shoot and a set of prints to the millennial-aged parents, because I know they likely won’t get prints if I just give them the files.

Instead, they’ll put the photos on social media, or a hard drive somewhere, and they’ll get lost in the never ending river of images we see every day.

But a print stops us from losing track of that photo.

I make prints of my skateboard photos and give them to the skaters as a thank you for working with me on shoots. There’s nothing like seeing the look on a 14 year-old kid’s face when you hand him a package of 8x10s. You know those prints are going to soon be pinned on his bedroom wall. He’ll look at them every day.


Why I prefer to use a photo lab, and not make prints myself

  • For the amount of volume I have, the cost is too high for me to maintain a high-end archival printer
  • Print sizes, choice of papers, color and consistency is greater than I can produce myself
  • I love the variety of products my lab offers
  • I enjoy the convenience of sending photos to the lab online and having them delivered to my door, a day or two later

Photo lab prints are still the best archive. Why?

Nowadays photo labs use archival silver-based photographic paper. Yes, you can use archival inkjet labs, but I personally prefer the quality, texture and durability of a good photo lab print.

Finding a good photo lab

Before you send a photo print job out to a lab, it’s a good idea to do some test prints. What I recommend is to send out the supplied test image (called imagemaven-test-image.jpg) and another file of your own to two or three photo labs.

The supplied file is 8×10 size and is saved as high quality sRGB jpg. This is the format that the lab needs.

photo lab test image

Click to download this test image. For personal use only.

Tell the photo lab NOT to correct the file, and just to print as is – no corrections.

In Canada

If you are in Canada, you can send your files to consumer labs including, Vistek, London Drugs, or Costco. An 8×10 should cost you no more than $5.

In the USA

My pro photography friends tell me that WHCC is great. Their customer service is 10/10. They call if they have a concern and their shipping costs are not too high, even to Canada.

I don’t use any of those places

I use Technicare, which is a Canadian professional wholesale lab. They service both Canadian and American professional photographers. Customer service is great. They offer a large product line.

If you have a photography business in Canada or the US, you can set up an account with Technicare. Americans can take advantage of the exchange rate now too.

Technicare mainly provides services the professional wedding, family portrait, high volume, and sports portraits industries. They have wedding albums and a very robust online ordering system called ROES. They do mounting and laminating, large format printing, as well as high end canvas wraps, prints on metal, framing and gift products.

I’ve had very large, framed canvas prints, as well as prints on metal produced at Technicare.

pixportal photo labPix Portal is the consumer lab of Technicare that anyone can use. It has most of the products that their pro lab has and uses the same equipment for printing and processing. Join their mailing list and get an instant 20% off coupon.

Virtually all photo labs offer web uploading of picture files, so you only have to go to the lab to pick up your prints.

If you aren’t located in the city where your preferred photo lab is, the lab will ship your prints to you or your clients for a nominal fee.

Check out the lab’s product line

If you can visit the photo lab in person, have a look at the photo paper finish (matte, glossy, satin, canvas), and see what other printing and mounting services they have on offer. I get great ideas by looking at sample products.

Develop a good relationship with your photo lab as they can help you out in a pinch:

  • help you with rush services
  • help you trouble shoot any image problems you are having
  • and most will color correct your files for you

Your lab is an important part of your business because they are often the last step in the image making process, and they produce what the client gets as a final product.

If you do your own printing, that’s still true.

The print is often the last step in the photographic process, and it’s what everyone sees. You want the best possible quality print that you can get. It’s how you get referrals, and win awards in photo contests and shows! And it just feels good knowing you’re giving the best possible quality of print to your friends, family and clients.

One of the reasons I hesitate to give my clients the files to print, is I’m not always sure they’re taking them to a good lab. A bad photo lab can make your photography look horrible.

File format and sizing for photo lab printing

  • All photo labs print from jpg files
  • Color space should be sRGB for silver-based photo paper
  • General rule for file size is 200-300 pixels per inch (ppi) at the print size you want
  • Contact the photo lab or check their website before sending in your files
  • Inkjet labs may have different specs

Need more info?

If you need more help with re-sizing for printing, read this blog post, and watch the video here.