My shortlist on where to make prints, books, gifts, and more.

Your photos are not meant to be stuffed into a shoebox, neither the literal kind nor the digital kind (lost on a computer or hard drive somewhere).  Your pictures are meant to help you remember stories, hold onto moments, and celebrate people.  There’s no better way to let your pics work for your memory than to print and display them.


This post is pulled from one of the last lessons from the SPS Photo Fix, which is currently OPEN for enrollment through Friday May 1, 2015.  It’s also 41% OFF.  Next enrollment won’t happen until late November.

This could honestly be an 8 hour tip.  The options are endless.  And so many of them are great.  If you have a favorite company or service that you don’t see here, awesome!  Actually, please leave it in the comment section.
This is simply my personal shortlist of companies and products I’ve used, and give my full recommendation to.
 

Great Places to Make Prints

Shutterfly

First up, Shutterfly gets my full recommendation when it comes to ‘consumer’ labs.  Shutterfly is extremely popular, and I’m really beginning to see why.  A few years ago, I pretty much just looked at them as the discount printer, while much was to be desired in terms of quality design and printing.  But I’ve since learned a little secret to get “pro” prints from Shutterfly.
The most impressive part about Shutterfly (to me) is its network of sister companies, including TinyPrints, The Wedding Paper Divas, Borrow Lenses and my personal favorite: ThisLife (now part of Shutterfly).  (An entire lesson in the Photo Fix is spent on organizing and storing your pics…ThisLife is a big part of my personal workflow).
Anyway, Shutterfly.  You should check them out.
shutterfly
That said, there are of course other labs that offer exceptional prints at great prices.  These labs are trusted by the most discriminating pros across the planet.

mpix.com

Mpix is perhaps the best price-to-performance ratio in the industry.  I’ve recommended them countless times to clients and friends, and continue to do so.  You get great quality and consistency, all while saving some money over the dedicated professional labs below.  Not to mention, you can order everything from regular ole prints, to canvas, to books, to cards, to mugs, to a host of other products in between.

mpixpro.com

Just like Mpix, but:

  • Greater product selection. A product catalog twice the size of Mpix.
  • Simplified ordering. Order using the popular ROES software.
  • Reduced shipping. All domestic orders ship via FedEx Next Business Day at only $5.00 per order… orders over $100 ship for free.
  • Color correction available for $1.25 per image file.
  • And, of course, higher quality AND more importantly, consistency.
  • There are other differences of course…check it out.

whcc.com

White House Custom Colour has been my trusted lab of choice for Shultz Photography since the beginning.  They serve pros only.  But if you have a website (even a personal portfolio site), you can submit it and become accepted.  Awesome service, products, and results!  And a selection of products that are very popular.
I have no complaints with WHCC.  Solid.  Exceptional customer service.  Trusted by many of the top photo dogs on the planet.

canvasondemand.com

A great place to buy high quality canvas prints!  They’ve been featured just about everywhere and have a great combo of quality and value!
 

Favorite Places to Make Cards and Gifts

Shutterfly

Cards, Mugs, Pillows, Blankets, iPhone Cases, Bags, Shirts…you name it, chances are, Shutterfly prints on it.  It’s pretty easy to see why Shutterfly has become the number one designation from folks like parents.  They simply have a huge selection, have hired great designers, and provide outstanding value.  With its integration into ThisLife, it’s even better.  You can simply select your images in ThisLife and order straight through Shutterfly.

TinyPrints

If you’re needing cards, invitations, announcements, or stationary, you should start at tinyprints.  The big deal here: DESIGN.  They hire outstanding designers, then you just plug in your info.  They carry some other products too…while browsing just now I found some very nifty iPhone cases.  Last, but not least, they have a selection of papers and finishing options that are a step up in quality that provide that boutique feel you’re so often seeking.

Pinhole Press

Beautifully Simple Photo Gifts.  That’s Pinhole Press’s mantra, and it fits what they deliver ever so perfectly.
I’ve been a long time user of Pinhole and am impressed every time.  The designs they offer for cards, stationary, notepads, announcements, books, calendars…you name it…are on the far end of “minimal” on the spectrum.  Personally, I’m a huge fan of minimal design.  I think it will stand the test of time better, and I think it usually allows the pictures to shine more.  If you’re after a huge dose of sophistication, Pinhole Press is your medicine.
Two Big Thumbs Up to Pinhole Press!

My Favorite Place to Make Fine-Art Quality Coffee Table Books

Throughout my photography career, I’ve seen some really nice products.  Books that are hand bound with fine Italian Leathers that cost well over 4 digits.  And I’ve seen the opposite end of the spectrum.
I’ve never found a better price-to-performance ratio as I have with one company in particular when it comes to making books out of your images.  And let’s face it, an actual book of your images is one of the very best ways to preserve your story.  Books, after all, are all about story!
Most books from the “budget,” “I-found-a-coupon-for-a-free-book” are, to put it simply, junk.  Junky printing.  Junking papers.  Junky binding.  They look, feel, for for all I know, taste and smell, cheap.
If you want a true, bookstore quality book, with printing options that are absolutely professional, look no further…

Blurb Books (http://www.blurb.com)

Blurb books
They might cost a few more bucks than the books you buy from all the mass market Wal-Mart’s of the printing world, but it’s literally just a few bucks more for true, fine art, bookstore quality.  I mean, for real.  A 7×7, four color press printed book starts at $12.99.  It’s just insane the amount of value you get from Blurb!
While all there papers are great, if you really want to amp up the quality, look no further than the Blurb Proline books.  Check out the video to see what I mean:
 

 
For the record, I’ve made many a book with the Pearl Paper (proline).  The results are stunning. It’s absolutely worthy of using for my professional work (meaning I use the Proline books for my business).
But even when the proline papers are a bit too much, fear not, their “normal” papers are tremendous.
Last, but not least, you can easily design, and submit, a book to Blurb from directly within Lightroom 4 or 5.  An easier way simply does not exist (although I hope to one day make it even easier).  Details, click here.
When it’s time to make a book that will beautifully preserve and present your images for a lifetime, look no further than Blurb!
 

Self Printing

There are hundreds of printers in the $80-$200 range for photo printing.  In this price range, they all pretty much do the same thing.  Pick one and be happy.  It’s like a camera in the $500 range: they all take great photos!
I think it’s cheaper to just use a lab (any of those listed above) to make prints.  The cost of ownership with printing is just simply pretty high when it comes to buying ink all the time.  Not to mention the huge pain it is to keep these printers color calibrated to your screen, etc.  So, personally, I’ve never been in the market for home printing, at least on the consumer level ($100 printers).
Then I found Epson Professional Printers.  The first print I saw, I was in love, and sold.  The problem, these printers cost about $2,000.  Which is fine for someone like me who prints for clients (and charges for those prints).  But hardly justifiable to moms and dads who are just looking to make prints at home every so often.
Enter the Epson Stylus Photo Series.
Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 6.23.52 AM
It’s the middle of the road.  These printers offer 95% of the performance of their Epson Pro big brothers, but at a fraction of the cost.  The best part, the print quality.  These prints exceed anything I’ve seen.  They exceed the pro lab I use.  There’s loads of technology that goes into it, all beyond the scope of time and info here.  Let me just say a few things.

  1. These printers use 9 colors of pigment ink with a precision unsurpassed.  The colors are insane.
  2. The papers.  There’s an option for everything, from lustre photo to the finest museum quality acid free cold press paper.
  3. Ease of use.  I’ve owned my Epson R3000 for over a year.  I don’t print that often with it, maybe a couple times a month.  When I do, I print something special.  Because the results I get are going to be better than my pro lab.  And all to say, I’ve simply never, ever, color calibrated it or anything like that.  It has just always worked.  That’s exceptional in the world of printers.

So yeah, they printer I use at home is the Epson Stylus Photo R3000 (now discontinued).  It was $650.  So that’s no slouchy expense.  But you can get into one of the 2 lower models for a couple hundred less.  Note, they usually have an instant rebate going on.  If they don’t, wait!  It’ll come around in a few weeks.
If that sounds like way too much money to spend on a printer, I don’t blame you.  Like I said at the beginning, I think it’s cheaper to outsource your printing to any of the fine folks I’ve already mentioned above!  Still, people ask me about printing from home a lot, so I wanted to include at least this much.

The Best Way To Display Your Photos (The Answer Might Surprise You)

One problem has plagued photo lovers since the beginning of cameras: the shoebox full of pics.  You know what I mean.  We get all these images printed, throw them in a box, put it in a drawer.  Years later, for whatever reason, it’s time to find one.  It might as well be lost, stuck in there with a thousand other random images.  But you have a fun 3 hours searching for that one image, reminiscing of days gone past.  Even the kids take a break and pull away from the tv to look at all the old pics.
Back to the shoebox.  First, it doesn’t have to be that way.  There’s an easy way to store and organize your images (click).
Second, even at that, certain pictures aren’t meant to be kept in the “digital shoebox,” so to speak.  Images are always better printed.  There’s nothing like holding your images in your hand.  There’s something about the tactile experience of a good print.  Somehow, a good set of prints often tells the story in a simple, timeless, nostalgic, almost magical way.
While I’m a big fan of books, there’s another way that, after much effort trying to avoid it, is in fact the easiest, most convenient, and even cost effective ways, all said and done.  And it’s almost surprising, because it’s so old school.
Not wanting to offend any of you scrap bookers out there.  I realize some of you have the gift (not to mention the time and money), and so hey, more power to you!  I’ve just ran across SO many folks who simply do not have the time to deal with it.  All the cutting.  All the glueing.  All the paper.  All the supplies.  All the … designing … which means, ultimately, all the decisions!!
Every decision delays action.
Every step delays action.
If it’s not simple, it won’t get done.  For seemingly 99% of moms/dads out there, there’s just no time in the margins of life for designing and executing a scrap book.
And so, I’ve searched high and low for the best way to display images and preserve story.  I honestly don’t think an exceptional solution exists.  I’m working on it.  In the meantime, my wife came across a solution that’s so old school, I protested at first.  But low and behold, she discovered a gem.

project life

It’s called Project Life, and its creator is a gal named Becky Higgins.  As simply as I can put it, Project Life is scrapbooking for normal people.  Ha!  No scissors needed.  No papers needed.  No gadgets needed.  Most of all, no designing needed (unless you want to).  You just need a few Project Life supplies (kits available), your pics, and a pen.
Check out this video overview:

 
That said, Project Life can get a bit time consuming.  That’s still my biggest gripe.  I mean, sure, it’s way easier than scrapbooking.  But the process of annotating the binder full of images can still be a deal breaker for many a busy mom or dad.  Which is why I’d encourage you to make it simple.  Because Project Life, in its most basic form, still nails the concept of preserving story and Legacy.
And to that, I applaud Becky.  I absolutely love her heart for documenting life and creating Legacy!
At the end of the day, you can buy hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on scrapbooking supplies, and then still do nothing with it for two main reasons: (1) time required and (2) decision paralysis.  Waiting on the creative bug to bite again is no way to ‘document life.’  Alternatively, you can try to create your own ‘digital versions’ (essentially) of scrapbooks. Options abound.  But most are cumbersome and/or cheesy at best.  The ones that aren’t sometimes still take too much time, software, etc.
To me, the Project Life approach is a great middle of the road.  Easy enough.  Great designs.  And you can annotate as much as your time and inspiration will allow for.

The important part, and I can’t stress this enough, is to get your images in places that will be seen.

That isn’t in ‘the shoebox,’ physical nor digital.  Images have great power to “cultivate a good life,” in the words of Becky.  Legacy has always been, and continues to be, one of the reasons why I love photography.
And to that, while pressing the shutter button is half the battle, the magic happens when you’re flipping through that album, years later, whole fam on the couch.  A gracious, intentional heart is oft formed when you find yourself in your own story…  To me, that’s the great power of photography.

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  1. […] Towards the end of the course we have a lesson about the best places to make prints, books, gifts, and more.  I’m including a chunk of that lesson here. […]