Suburban America used to contain roughly a single 1-hour photo lab for every five hundred people. Little kiosks were sprinkled across strip mall parking lots like pepper on a bad steak. Then came the digital camera and suddenly there was no film to develop. Those kiosks abruptly disappeared, taking our photo printing options with it.
While developing film isn't commonplace today, the desire to have a photograph as an object has never faded. Now, in place of the 1-hour-photo booths, there are endless online printing services, most of which produce far better results than the kiosks ever did. Unfortunately, some of them are truly awful at printing your images.
To make sure you don't end up with prints of your kids with orange skin against green skies (yes, that happened in one test), we assembled a collection of photos designed to test color, tonal range, blacks, whites, and more, and fired them off to nearly a dozen services. Here are the best places to print your photos.
Best for Most People
When my kids were born I wanted to make sure they, like me, inherited a shoebox full of faded family photographs. I bought a film camera but decided the film was too expensive, so I sold that and bought a DSLR instead. I started using Mpix to print everything. The results have never disappointed. Mpix is an offshoot of Miller's Professional Imaging (a pro-only printing service) and the pedigree shows in the print quality.
Mpix prints on Kodak Endura paper, and offers a variety of paper options. I tested the E-surface, which renders rich deep blacks, and very true-to-life colors. It holds up well over time; images I printed in 2013 look exactly like they did when I got them.
The website is simple to use. You can import images from the most popular social networks and photo backup services like Facebook, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. Unfortunately, Instagram isn't on the list. Once your images are in your Mpix account you can order prints in virtually any size, including options tailored to images for your phone (4 x 5.3 inches, for example). There are also options to print on canvas, wood prints, and more.
It's not the cheapest service, but Mpix frequently has sales. Unless you're printing something as a gift and need it now, I suggest waiting until prices dip.
Best for Photo Nerds
The best quality prints in my testing came from Adorama's Printique service, formerly called Adoramapix. Choosing between Printique and Mpix was one of the toughest calls I've had to make in this job. In the end, I went with Mpix because you get free shipping and frequent sales make it cheaper, but if printing quality is your only concern, Printique wins by a hair. A part of the reason is also options: You can choose a range of papers and they're listed by their actual names like Kodak Endura or Fujifilm Matte. I also like the option to print the date and file name on the back of each image.