Clicking for Photo Deals

The holidays for me mean lots of picture taking. Photos of the in-laws eating, shots of my daughter striking a pose only a 4-year-old could invent and a picture or two of my husband sleeping with his mouth gaping open on the couch. (It always seems funny at the time.) And then my camera sits, full of photos I never get printed. It's one of the downfalls of a digital camera: you see the photo the second after taking it so there's less urgency to get it printed.

But this year I'm getting my photos printed, so I shopped around for the best place to get digital snapshots processed. I experimented with a picture I took this summer of sunset at Long Beach Island, N.J. I had a 4x6 of the shot printed at several stores, including online sites, and large and small retailers. I looked at the quality of the print, how long it took to print and price. Here's what I concluded: had the cheapest rates at 12 cents for 4x6 prints; Target and had the best quality prints and was the fastest with my photo being ready for in-store pick-up five minutes after I placed my online order.

Other things I learned:

No matter where they're printed, there's very little variation in quality. The reason? Most photos these days are printed by minilabs, which are likely manufactured by three main companies: Fujifilm, Kodak and Noritsu, says Dimitrios Delis, director of marketing research for the Photo Marketing Association International. "It's an issue of technology rather than which retailer to use," he explained. I did, though, notice a slight difference in the crispness of my prints from Target, which uses Kodak equipment, and eKlick, which uses a Fuji machine, compared to other retailers that use the same technology.

Time was hardly a factor when it came to ordering prints online and then picking them up at a store. had the fastest turnaround. You just need to make sure you're close to one of its four local stores -- McLean, Potomac, Washington and Alexandria -- to make it worth your while. Other labs, such as Target and Walmart, weren't bad though with wait times of 30 minutes to an hour. If you're impatient, stick to the local labs. Ordering from online stores like and can take several days for the prints to come in the mail.

The more you have printed, the cheaper the price. While had the cheapest prints at 12 cents, also offers a 12 cent 4x6 deal if you sign up for their pre-paid plan. You just have to pay $60 upfront for 500 4x6s at 12 cents each. You then have two years to order that many photos. My one 4x6 print ranged from 12 cents to 29 cents before retailers tacked on fees for my small order. "Depending on the volume and the type of customer that the retailer expects to attract, they can set the pricing high," Delis told me. CVS added $1.49 because I was spending below $5. And don't forget about shipping and handling. The fees can be triple the cost of a single print. Shutterfly's 19 cent-print ballooned up to $2 after they charged $1.79 for shipping and handling. does, however, reduce its shipping fees the more prints you order. They also charge less the more 5x7s you order. Obviously you save on shipping and handling if you're willing to schlep over to the store to pick up the prints. Just don't try to figure out what you're spending on gas.

So where are you getting your holiday photos processed?

By Tania Anderson |  November 15, 2007; 3:00 AM ET General Interest
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I currently have all of my digital processing done at Costco.

- Online ordering uses Snapfish technology for photo management
- In store processing is Fujifilm
- 4x6 print is $.17
- In store pickup can be scheduled on hourly increments after placing your order online (Noticed that instore pickup with Snapfish directly using Walgreens is $.19 for 4x6 print)
- Standard mail for print orders (no limit) is free (Snapfish charges $.99 or more depending on number of prints)

My favorite feature: in store, same day processing of large prints. I have had Costco process up to 11x14 for full size prints and 12x18 for panaromic photos that I cropped down myself.

Posted by: agroshong | November 15, 2007 7:27 AM

Did you try Ritz or any of the other "higher-end" places? Price may be the top priority for most people, but in my experience Ritz has much better quality.

Posted by: ArlVA | November 15, 2007 2:25 PM

I am a regular user of Kodak Gallery and have never run into any quality or processing issues. I fall into the pro-consumer category. I don't shoot for a living, but I shoot every week to catalog life as it happens. One great aspect of the online processing is that I can order prints and ship them all over the U.S. to relatives that love to keep updated.

I also love that I can design and create mini photo books that can be processed and shipped to grandma in a few simple steps.

I'll be sure to check out some of the eLabs you mentioned in the blog. Thanks for the research.

Posted by: McLean | November 15, 2007 2:49 PM

I use Ritz -- so convenient. You order from home and pick up whenever. They even e-mail you when they're done (which is usually very fast). I even bought into their card system for the year. Ironically, I have a Kodak camera and use their program.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | November 15, 2007 4:56 PM

I've been using for years and years. Their bulk print prices are awesome if you're looking for lots of prints - you can pre-pay if you really want to rake in the bargains. But I've been loyal because the upload of my digital photos is easy, they also take 'real' film, and they keep a giant catalog of my pictures, and make it easy to share with friends and family.

Price Per Print:
1-24 $0.19
25-499 $0.15
500-999 $0.12
1000+ $0.09

Posted by: DC Grrl | November 20, 2007 2:39 PM

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