The Who, What, Where, Why and How of Photo Printing

These are my opinions and I have not been paid to promote any of the following companies. I am not getting any kind of incentive should you choose to use them for your own projects. 

How times have changed…

When I was a senior in high school I used to go to Ritz Cameras multiple times a week to drop off film and pick up prints. There was always a collage on my wall or a scrapbook being made and prints were constantly going in frames. Rarely did I print anything larger than the standard 4×6 prints, but occasionally I’d upgrade to 5x7s or a rare 8×10.

When my brother had his boys and then I started having my own kids, I used inexpensive labs like Costco to get things on my walls or to give as gifts. I tried all the different options with mixed results. I’d mount things myself to save money and paint frames from the thrift store black to save even more money. I couldn’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on custom frames despite wanting those images up on my walls.

Why prints matter…

About 2 years ago I started offering printed products to my clients and fell in love with photography all over again. I had samples made of hundreds of products from dozens of labs so that I could  pick and choose my favorites and only offer the best of the best to my clients. Those old painted thrift store frames and prints from Costco no longer have a place in my house and it’s not because I suddenly have a big budget for wall art. It’s because I value it that much more and I’ve seen the difference in quality.

Nothing gives me more joy than seeing my children’s faces on my walls every day. And while I could sit here and tell you why you should use a professional photographer multiple times a year or you should only print from professional labs, that’s not what I want for you. What I want is for you to experience that same joy of seeing a smiling face on your wall every single day regardless of who took the image or the quality level.  And if you ever question if it’s worth it to spend the money on family photos, think about this “displaying family photographs in your home can increase your child’s self-esteem and sense of belonging.” If that quote holds even a fraction of truth, I’d say it’s money well spent.

What to Print

There are 4 big products to consider when thinking about what to print for your family.

  1. Cards
  2. Large singular wall art
  3. Gallery of Wall Portraits
  4. Albums

Thinking about what you might like to do with images BEFORE they’re taken can greatly help in the planning process. For instance, if you go into a photoshoot knowing that the main goal is to get that one great family portrait that will go on the cover of your holiday card and to have printed big for the mantle then you can focus on getting that one great shot. If instead you really want to do a gallery wall where you have an individual photo of each kid or you want all the little detail shots that make for great albums , then knowing these things can help you (or your professional photographer!) shoot with intention.

1. Cards

Cards are the standard choice for holidays and baby announcements. You choose that perfect image for the front of the card, maybe a few extra smaller photos for the back and paired with a little text they’re ready to be sent to all your friends and family. Generally they come in sets of 25 and consumer labs usually charge between $2-5 per card. Of course you can find cheaper cards at places like Costco, but if you care at all about quality I’d avoid that option and any other “One Hour Photo” type places.

Where to go for Cards: ($$$$ one of the most expensive options out there but they have some truly gorgeous “ready to go” designs. The quality of the cards is beautiful) ($$ these guys are owned by shutterfly but they seem to do a decent job. They have quite a lot of designs to choose from and an easy ordering system. You can also order just 1 card from them which is kind of a cool option if you want to customize your cards for individual recipients. Most other companies have minimums of around 25)

2. Large Wall Art

Large wall art is your big image on the fireplace mantle or the framed family portrait above the couch.  And by big I don’t mean 8×10 or 11×4, I mean 20×30 and up.  Do this experiment for me: get a piece of standard sized computer paper and some tape and go around your house taping that piece of paper up in areas where you might want to hang a family portrait. See how small it looks on the wall? Standard size computer paper is 8.5×11, so it’s a little bigger even than that 8×10 print people seem to always think is “big.” Large wall art should be a statement and have impact, which you won’t get with a little 8×10.

Where to Print Large Wall Art:

This is the one category that if I’m being truly honest I think should be left to the professionals. However,  if you have your own DSLR or you’ve purchased the printing rights to images from a professional photographer, then MPix is going to be your winner for consumer labs. They are the consumer lab for Millers Photographic which has long been a staple lab for professional photographers. MPix offers a massive variety of wood, metal, canvas, framed prints, acrylics and more. MPix also has incredible customer service and have always been willing to fix any issues.

3. Gallery Walls:

When you have a big wall or perhaps a long hallway, you may want to consider a grouping of multiple photos. Gallery walls are excellent ways to showcase how your family has grown, with wedding, maternity, newborn and family photos from over the years. They’re also a fanatic way to get multiple prints from the same event or photoshoot on your walls when you couldn’t possibly just pick one. Gallery walls are nice because they don’t have the same commitment level that one large print does- you can easily swap images in and out and each one doesn’t cost you several hundred if not thousands of dollars.

Where to Print Gallery Walls:

Again, my answer here is – they even have a system called Collagewall that practically puts itself on the wall for you. If you’re looking for a way to quickly and easily hang a collection, definitely check it out. Shutterfly also has a design-a-wall option that may be worth checking out. I personally don’t recommend Shutterfly, but I do know that some people are happy with the quality, so I don’t want to completely ignore them as an option. For another inexpensive option, you could check out MixTiles they aren’t going to give you the same high quality feel that mpix can offer, but they can get photos up on your wall quickly and easily.

Just to add another note about gallery walls- this is where a professional photographer can truly help you. Many of them (Glean + Co included!) offer design services and have software programs that can help show you your images to scale on your very own walls. These programs make decision making easier because you know that the gallery fit on your wall and exactly how it will look. Before you commit to an expensive layout.

4. Albums

Albums are an amazing way to showcase a special event or time in your life. They can hold many times more images than you could ever hope to put on your walls. They are compact, apartment and moving friendly. The biggest problem with albums is finding the time to actually create them. (Which, incidentally, is why it’s so expensive to purchase an album from a professional photographer. They spend a ton of time on it so you don’t have to.) Of the 3 options below I have never personally ordered from However, I’ve heard good things and they have a built in album designer. I have ordered from Artifact Uprising and their albums are the closest to professional quality. They’re certainly not the cheapest option out there but they’re beautiful.

Where to Print Albums: ($$$$ The best option out there without needing a professional account) ($$$ kind of your middle ground option, they’re not “cheap” but they’re not the best of the best either) ($$ use these guys for fun scrapbook like projects or things like making your own recipe book. Note: they often run sales. Sign up for their emails and wait until the thing you’re wanting has a coupon code!)


Want professional help?

All of our photo sessions come with a complimentary pre-session consultation. We’ll sit down and show you all our favorite, handpicked products from the best professional labs around the world. We’ll photograph your family with intention and help make your dream wall gallery, holiday card or album a reality. Give us a call today at 208-274-3704 to schedule your complimentary planning session.


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