## Online Print Service Provider: The Experimental Disappointment

The PSP I chose uses a retail inkjet printing process. Their paper is not archival and is lightweight, but it does have a smooth polyester coating that does a reasonable job of resisting fingerprints and humidity.

Their colour prints were acceptable but they didn’t meet my quality expectations. Colour tones suffered from added contrast and vibrance. What should have been a milky white was blown out to a true white; a muted yellow printed as a bright yellow; and brown shadow areas showed a colour breakdown with an obvious red in the darkest areas. The white balance had also been shifted toward cooler tones. The result was greens were too blue and skin tones showed too much red. Added vibrancy also ruined the porcelain quality of the model’s skin, causing blown highlights down her nose and across her forehead.

Adding clarity, vibrance, and contrast to the image files resulted in over-produced results. I don’t consider those prints even acceptable. Adding enhanced colour to the one image file resulted in a noticeable and unattractive effect that mimicked poor use of a preset filter. In fact, the version without colour enhancements printed as I expected would the one with enhancements. Image files without sharpening still printed with a tiny bit more sharpening than I like. Adding sharpening to an image file was definitely not a good idea!

The PSP maintained the warmth I had chosen for my black and white image. There was also a nice range of tones in the black and white image although the highlights were too bright and just marginally short of being blown out.

## Printing My Own: Reliable but Resource Heavy

Inkjet printers have come down in price and there are many quality papers to be had at a reasonable cost. In fact, the range of available papers can be overwhelming—or exciting, if you like experimenting. If you’re willing to pay a bit more, shopping for photographic paper can be as fun as filling a shopping bag with penny candy! Ink, however, continues to be expensive enough to deter many photographers from pursuing home printing—that, and the nuisance of sorting out how to get what you see on your screen onto the paper. Still, home printing is a viable option worth comparing to the other three outsourced alternatives.

I thought my own prints were better than the trade printer but not as exciting as the drugstore prints. The colours in my prints lacked clarity and were a little cooler than I intended. That problem would be resolved by using a custom colour profile. (Because I didn’t have custom profiles for the three commercial printers, I didn’t use a custom profile for my own photos.) In all other aspects though, I got what I provided in the image file.

The black and white photo printed exactly as I intended. It was, however, more work to print from my home printer than it was to upload files to a commercial printer, and it required more time.

I don’t know how much it costs me to make prints at home. I’ve seen charts for calculating the costs but the results vary so much that I question the value of the charts. I chose an inexpensive house-brand paper distributed by an office supply store. The paper I chose, especially the satin finish in this line, is an insider’s secret to cost-effective small size photo printing. However, to print on inexpensive paper, I still need a printer, ink, and some kind of colour management system or a willingness to print three or four times the quantity I need as I adjust for print outcome.

I was happily surprised by the results of my experiment. With the exception of the black and white print, the best quality and lowest price were delivered by the drugstore. I was disappointed that I had to wait 7 days to get my prints, but other drugstores and retail outlets offer faster turnaround. My options for printing were limited to the basics of cropping, so I would not use this printer if I knew I wanted custom adjustments. I will, however, use this printer again for printing proofs, small enlargements, and photo cards.

• White balanced and exposure balanced
• No added clarity, contrast, or vibrance
• Sized to desired dimensions at a resolution of 300 pixels/inch
• Saved as an sRGB JPEG at 100% quality

To get the best black and white prints, I would try preparing my image in Grayscale, then convert it to sRGB for uploading to the printer. It won’t give me the slightly warm whites I prefer, but I think it would give me a neutral black and white.

The quality and service of online print service providers varies widely, but their product line tends to be the largest. If I wanted more variety in product options, I might give the PSP I tried a second chance. I expect the results, even if better, won’t be different than what I obtained from the drugstore at a lower cost. Files for an online PSP should be prepared in the same way as files prepared for a drugstore printing service.