5/13/15

Photo Lab Review - C-Prints and Silver Gelatin



Pictured: Richard Photo Lab, Matte Prints


I've been putting off prints for years.  Honestly, I was broke.   When I developed a small budget this year, my excuses ran out.  I believe in sharing information, so I'm starting a blog series to share my journey from print to ship.   I hope to cover printing, framing, shipping, and storefront options.

I've already started a store front here.  While I plan to offer fine art prints later this year, it is really important for me to also offer a line of affordable small prints.   So this is where my journey begins.  How to find the perfect little black and white print.  Update 2016:  I've moved onto selling only fine art prints as you will read in later chapters.

These last few weeks I have explored eight different labs.  It is difficult to show differences in quality by taking a picture of a picture, but I have included a few shots for general reference.

The labs in no particular order:

  
Color Inc

Paper I tested:
Luster:  The luster prints turned out fine, very close to my monitor but with a slight cyan tint.   Color Inc uses a Fuji Paper which feels thicker than the Kodak Endura used by Mpix/ Millers.  These printed comparable to Pro Dpi luster prints.

Shipping: Free shipping with $15 minimum.

Price Range: Cheap.  Color Inc regularly runs sales and keeps the sale calendar posted for the month here.  It's not unusual to see 4x6 prints drop to .19 cents each.

Ordering:  Like most major labs, Color Inc uses a ROES system .   It's an easy software program that is downloaded to your computer and makes ordering a cinch.   

Samples:  New customers can order five, 5x7 luster test prints shipped to them for 5 cents.  These are not watermarked.  Order test prints here.   Color inc also sends out a free sample swatch pack of their different paper types. 

Who they are for:  A pro lab open to everyone.  While the luster prints were great, I will mention my fine art print from Color Inc was unacceptable. 



Clockwise from top left: Richard Photo Lab Matte, Color Inc Luster, Mpix Pro Silver Gelatin


 

Pro DPI


Paper I tested:
Luster:  My prints came out well and were printed on Fuji paper.  According to them, there is a 2% post sharpening to all photos.  It's visibly sharper in print than on my computer screen.  This can be great or not so great depending how you sharpen your files prior to sending them in.  Make sure to measure this with your test prints so you can adjust your workflow accordingly. 

Shipping: Free shipping with $12 minimum.

Price Range:  Their prices are affordable.  Their 4x6 proof prints are a nice price, but you do have to downsize your files before uploading to get the proof pricing.  If you don't, they will automatically charge you the higher print price.  Not worth the trouble for me.

Ordering:  ROES software

Samples: New customers receive three, 8x10, watermarked luster prints for free.  Also, Pro DPI sends out a welcome packet with paper swatches of all their basic photo and press papers. 

Who they are for:  Professional photographers.  They require a website or other company information to verify. 



Mpix


Note: Mpix, Mpix Pro and Millers are all divisions of the same company and have the exact same print quality. This was verified when I called to ask. The differences are in the variety of products offered, shipping, ect.

Paper I tested:
E-surface (Luster):  Not a fan.  I didn't like the flimsy feeling Kodak Endura paper and some of my prints seemed over sharpened resulting in a digital look.  I wouldn't order again.  It was my least favorite of the luster prints. 

True Black and White (Silver Gelatin): These are processed using black and white chemicals and Ilford Paper.  Because of the processing there is no color tint, ever.  When compared to luster paper, these are softer in contrast, softer in sharpness, and softer in the highlights.  This works really great for some images and not as well for others.  I loved my high contrast images on this paper.   Mpix states this is a  matte finish paper, but I believe it's RC Ilford Pearl paper, the same paper that Digital Silver Imaging usesIt has a soft pleasing sheen. While substantially less expensive than Digital Silver Imaging, these print on the darker side of the spectrum, while Digital Silver imaging prints on the lighter side.  More on Digital Silver Imaging later in this post. 

Shipping:  Shipping starts at $3.95. 

Price Range:  Decent prices.  I can actually get some products cheaper through  pro labs that ship free.  But not bad.  All prices are listed online here.   Mpix has the lowest price I found on silver gelatin prints at .59 cents for a 4x6. 

Ordering:  Ordering is done by a standard upload.  This is tedious if you do large volume orders.  Also, if you choose to add white borders to your prints, it will cover your image on the sides rather than shrink down your image to accommodate the border.

Samples:  You can order a paper sample swatch for 3.00. 

Who they are for:  This is Mpix/Miller's consumer line that prints with professional quality.  Anyone can order.



Clockwise from top left:  Digital Silver Imaging Silver Gelatin, Richard Photo Lab Matte, Mpix Luster, Mpix Silver Gelatin

Silver Gelatin Print Review for Digital Images
Left: Mpix Silver Gelatin     Right: Digital Silver Imaging Silver Gelatin




 

Mpix Pro

Paper I tested:  Same as Mpix with the exact same results.  No borders are available for the True Black and White prints.

Shipping: Fed Ex Next Business Day for a flat fee of $5 per order.  $15 order minimum.

Price Range: Generally a little more expensive than Mpix and a little less than Millers.  It varies by size.

Ordering: Roes Software

Samples: Five free 8x10 watermarked test prints upon sign up.  These ship fast.  Choose a good variety so you can compare to your monitor.   They also send out paper swatches for most of their photo and press papers.

Who they are for: Pros and aspiring pros.



Millers


Paper I tested: E-surface and Silver Gelatin with same results as Mpix.

Shipping: Free overnight shipping with a $15 order minimum. 

Price Range:  They basically work the free overnight shipping charge into the print prices.  This is the highest priced line of the Mpix/Millers line of labs.  Depending on your needs, this could be worth it.

Ordering: Roes Software

Samples:  You will receive 3, 8x10 watermarked test prints on e-surface paper with a duplicate set that has been color corrected by Millers.  My corrected prints were pretty awful.  To be fair it's a correction service better suited for portrait businesses and not fine art. 

Who they are for:  Professional photographers subject to approval.



Left: Silver Gelatin by Digital Silver Imaging - Middle: Luster print by Color Inc - Right: Deep Matte by Richard Photo Lab



Richard Photo Lab

Paper I tested:
Deep Matte:  This was my first experience with Fuji Deep Matte paper.  I didn't know any better, but it's not an ideal paper for dark black and white images.  There is absolutely no light reflection on this surface which creates a soft buttery look.  It feels good to the touch.  The downside is the blacks appear flat.   My guess is this would be a great pick for light and colorful imagery. 

Matte: Richards matte paper has a slight luster but not as much as actual luster paper, which they also offer.  I remember when this was a standard paper for labs to offer.  I was surprised that Richard's was the only lab I tested that still offers this.  Also, Richard prints your photos just as you send them unless you choose color correction. This means there was no added sharpening or contrast or any other fixes I didn't ask for, as a result, these look softer than my prints from other labs.   They have a huge paper selection and offer both Kodak and Fuji paper options.  

Shipping:  Free shipping with a $12 order minimum

Price Range:  Affordable prices.

Ordering: Roes Software

Samples: $20 for a paper pack of all paper types, ordered through Roes.

Who they are for:  Both film and digital shooters. They seem to market to film shooters in particular.




Left: Color Inc Luster               Right: Richard Photo Lab Deep Matte

You can see how the deep matte has no glare when held at an angle.  With the right image this may be a neat paper.



Simply Color

Paper I tested: 
Simply Vivid:  These are printed on a nice heavy paper.  I sampled the all three vivid papers using their free print promotion.  I was surprised at how much I liked the glossy, and metallic with my work.  The downside is there was a stronger color tint than most black and white photos I've had done.  I called customer service and they said the color tint may always be a battle with the vivid line of prints.

Shipping: Starting at $4.95

Price Range:  More expensive than most labs I tested.

Ordering: Roes Software.  Their website was cluttered and hard for me to navigate so I was thankful ordering was through Roes.

Samples:  Currently three free, 8x10 vivid prints.  Details here.

Who they are for:  Professional Photographers.  Sign up requires a company name.



From left going clockwise:  Simply Color Vivid Gloss, Mpix Luster, and Mpix Silver Gelatin



Digital Silver Imaging

Paper I tested: I tested several papers but I'll save the fine art papers for my fine art post.  For now I will address the Silver Gelatin on RC Pearl Ilford paper.  This is the same paper and process as Mpix/Millers True Black and White.  DSI had slightly better contrast than Mpix.  They also had an easy option to add a small white border around the prints in Roes.   These have nothing printed on the back which makes them a cleaner surface for artist signature.

Shipping:  $9 for up to 8x11 and $15 for larger prints.  1-2 weeks before your prints are shipped.  This makes it really hard to justify buying small prints unless I'm ordering in large quantities.  Out of all the labs DSI had the longest production time by far.

Price Range:  The silver gelatin prints start at $2 for 4x6

Ordering: Roes Software for their value prints and online for their custom prints.

Samples:  Their claim to fame is Silver Gelatin on Fiber Paper.  It's nice, but pricey.  If you want to compare the Silver Gelatin RC and Fiber prints they offer a promotion to get an 8x10 of each with free shipping for $45 here.  

Who they are for:  Anyone who is interested in Silver Gelatin prints or Fine Art inkjet.




More in this Series:

Part 2: Press Prints Lab Review
Part 3: Fine Art Prints Lab Review
Part 4: Printer Review - Epson p600 
Part 5: Choosing a Storefront - Etsy vs Tictail 
Part 6: Eco-friendly Packaging and Shipping


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