An excellent professional photo print lab is much more than just quality prints and diverse product offerings—it’s a partnership that will help your photography studio grow. Your lab is an extension of your business. They will fulfill your orders, ship your products, and determine what add-on products are available for you to offer your volume photography studio's customers and clients.
Undoubtedly, your goal is to partner with the best photo lab out there, but determining which lab is the best fit for your business isn’t an easy task. If you ask five photographers which print lab is the best, you might get five completely different answers. You will need to study all your available options, compare their offerings, then determine which lab is most suitable for addressing your business needs.
In this comparison, we will help you ask the right questions to consider price, product offering, fulfillment times, industry reputation, and overall quality to determine the perfect print lab for your business.
Price will always be a primary consideration when making business decisions. Since prints and photo products are your main commodity, understanding how much an order will cost determines how much you need to charge your customer, so it’s crucial that your lab pricing enables you to remain competitive and profitable.
These strategies will help you compare lab pricing to find the best partner for your business:
- Research Pricing Information: The first thing you need to do is research the labs you are considering and get their pricing information. Many labs have this information easily available online! Ensure it includes key information like the cost of prints, products, and any additional services you may need such as color correction, cropping, extraction, retouching, etc. In addition, some labs may charge specific packaging fees. Look for volume pricing and print sizing to understand how their pricing structure aligns with the needs of your studio. If you’re using an online solution like PhotoDay, you can view special pricing with consideration for no order minimums, drop shipping, etc. (but we’ll get into that later).
- Compare Prices: Once you have pricing from multiple labs, the next step is to compare them to determine the best option. One lab may have a low cost for prints but charge a premium on photo products, while another lab has moderate prices across the board. Calculating the price of your projected average order value is one strategy for determining which lab offers the best pricing for you.
- Consider Value: Price is always important, but the lowest price isn’t always the best option. You should also consider what you are buying. Assess the quality of prints, the lab’s product offering, and the level of customer service they offer. Having an outstanding business partner can justify a higher price. Also, determine if they are integrated with any online volume photography studio platforms you are using or may be interested in trying in the future.
Your lab needs to be great at more than just printing; they also need to excel at getting products to your customers. You should feel confident that your orders are being fulfilled efficiently and delivered in proper packaging to keep them safe in transit.
You should consider these factors when assessing a lab’s shipping capabilities:
- Cost: As with printing, every photo lab will charge for shipping differently. Research or ask about their shipping rates for various destinations, order sizes, and speed of delivery. Make sure you know if they charge additional fees for insurance or tracking. This information will help determine if the lab’s shipping costs and standards align with your budget.
- Free Shipping and Order Minimums: Many labs offer free shipping for orders that exceed a specific price. This is great for your larger orders but can be a problem if you need to order a single print for a customer. For example: If a lab offers free shipping and has a $15 order minimum, but you want to order 1 wholesale 8x10 at $1.75, you may end up paying $15 for the 8x10 and free shipping. Ensure you clearly understand a lab’s policies for free shipping so you are not surprised by an unexpected expense. With PhotoDay, there are no order minimums for dropshipping, so your customers can order exactly as many prints as they’d like.
- Dropshipping: Dropshipping means the lab will ship directly to your customer without you having to handle, store, or deliver completed orders. This saves exponential time for you! Understand the lab’s fees for this service or if it’s included through your volume photography software. Another question regarding dropshipping is whether the lab offers blind shipping, where packages arrive without the lab’s branding to maintain your professional image. Dropshipping is PhotoDay’s default shipping method; however, more traditional bulk shipping is also an option.
- Fulfillment Times: Assessing the time a lab takes to process and ship orders is imperative. Quick turnaround times are crucial in volume photography to ensure timely customer delivery. Determine a lab’s average production and fulfillment times on various products and prioritize labs that offer fast turnarounds without sacrificing quality.
- Packaging and Handling: Be sure to inquire about a lab’s packaging practices. A reliable lab will prioritize safe and secure delivery of your products to maintain high customer satisfaction. Ensure your chosen lab will use appropriate packaging materials to protect your prints and photo products during transit.
Certain specialty products like mugs, keychains, and magnets are staples in a volume photography offering, but these items barely scratch the surface of the vast array of products a lab may offer. Researching and understanding a lab’s complete product line will enable you to provide unique gift options that will delight your customers and generate upselling opportunities to drive your bottom line.
Most labs excel at the staples, but here are some suggestions for evaluating a lab’s ability to expand your studio’s product offering:
- Research the Lab’s Range: Check out their website or contact them directly to learn about their offerings. Determine what appears to be their specialties and decide if they relate to your volume photography business. Also, see if they offer any unique products you can’t get anywhere else that your customers may want to order.
- Sample Orders: Many labs will allow you to obtain sample products to assess their quality firsthand. You could also place a small custom order with your own photography to see exactly what your customers would be getting. Evaluate the craftsmanship, quality, and durability of the products to ensure the items meet your quality and aesthetic standards.
- Customization: Adding custom branding, text, or graphics adds tremendous value to a product. Some labs allow you to add logos, names, and other details to prints and keepsakes. If personalization is important to you and your customers, ensure the lab you choose offers this option. In PhotoDay’s online galleries, customization is a breeze for customers—from choosing graphic themes to entering text to swapping backgrounds. Check out the customer gallery experience.
When selling visual products like photo prints and gifts, the importance of quality cannot be overstated. Customers who are satisfied with the quality of their products will appreciate that long after they forget how much they cost or how long they took to arrive.
Here are some tips for evaluating a lab’s quality:
- Request Sample Prints: Asking the lab to send you samples is crucial in ensuring compatibility between your and the print lab’s systems. Comparing these prints to how the images appear on your viewing and editing monitors will let you know if monitor calibration is required to align your expectations with the print gamut range of the lab. If you don’t know how to calibrate your monitor, this guide will get you started.
- Assess Print Materials: Make sure that the paper, or any other print medium, is high quality and will represent your studio well. Weight, texture, and finish are important. If you think your customers will want specific finishes, make sure your lab can produce them. Most labs are happy to send you paper and print samples upon request.
- Request Different Sizes and Formats: Reviewing samples in different sizes and formats will enable you to evaluate the lab’s ability to maintain consistency across printing dimensions. Pay particular attention to potential quality loss in larger prints.
- Request Product Samples: Paper prints might be your best sellers, but you should also know the quality level of several lab products before offering them to your customers. You might need to pay standard fees and shipping to test a product firsthand, but different labs have varying policies regarding product samples, so let them know your reason for ordering your samples.
Evaluating Printing Methods
Numerous printing methods exist, and many photographers have strong preferences when it comes to selecting one. Each lab utilizes various equipment, chemicals, processes, and paper types, producing a slightly different look and feel. FUJIFILM products, for example, have a reputation for delivering consistent color and even skin tones. Noritsu is known for providing high quality at a lower cost.
If you already have a preference, ensure your chosen lab utilizes your desired method. If you haven’t picked a favorite yet, order samples from multiple labs and ask what equipment and process they used to print them so you can educate yourself.
Here are some things to consider:
- Printing Equipment: If you’re curious, find out what type of printing equipment the lab uses. You can even ask about specific models and research their reputation for high-quality output. All labs should have processes in place for regularly refreshing and maintaining their equipment, but if you have any concerns, feel free to ask.
- Color Management: Inquire about the lab’s color management process. They should have a color calibration system to guarantee accurate and consistent color reproduction. Most labs will share their calibration profiles with you to ensure their output quality meets your expectations.
- Paper Options: Assess the range and quality of the lab’s paper selection. They should offer a variety of paper types, including glossy, matte, fine art, and metallic finishes. Make sure the options match your and your customer’s expectations for prints.
- Print Resolution: Higher-resolution prints generally offer more detail and sharper image outputs, so find out the lab’s maximum resolution capability and ensure it meets your specifications.
- Print Process: Understand the methodology the lab uses to create prints. For color accuracy and longevity, they should use professional-grade printing techniques like archival pigmentation, inkjet, or dye-sublimation. Your studio may need to employ multiple processes for various applications, so research the lab’s full capability.
When you make a selection, be aware that equipment, processes, and manufacturers are constantly evolving. The legendary KODAK brand recently discontinued its paper and chemical business leaving many photography veterans searching for a new favorite. Stay informed on printing improvements and changes to keep your printing on the leading edge.
Evaluating Studio Workflow Integration
Finding a lab that easily integrates with your studio’s workflow will save time and resources you can then devote to growing your volume photography business. Most studio management platforms partner with multiple labs for your convenience. PhotoDay, for example, integrates seamlessly with APS Lab, Bay Photo, Miller’s Professional Imaging, Reedy Photo, Richmond Professional Lab, and WHCC.
Smooth integration simplifies placing orders, fulfillment, and delivery. However, if you’re not utilizing an online solution like PhotoDay, evaluating labs based on these criteria will guarantee the best result:
- Online Ordering: Make sure the lab you choose has an online portal that allows seamless submissions from your ordering system to theirs. It should be user-friendly, intuitive, and efficient for handling the entire ordering process, from uploading images to selecting products, specifying print options, and submitting payments. Or, if you’d rather skip this time-consuming process and let your customers pick their poses and products, consider an e-commerce solution like PhotoDay.
- Order Tracking and Status Updates: A robust order-tracking system allows you to monitor the progress of your orders from submission to production and shipping. Real-time updates and notifications are valuable for informing you of your order status and ensuring timely delivery to your customers. The lab you choose should offer these services so you will have peace of mind that your orders are being taken care of as expected. In PhotoDay, studios and customers alike can easily track every order.
- Communication and Support: This is vital when integrating your new lab into your studio’s workflow and remains critical throughout your relationship. Ensure that your lab offers responsive customer support and communication channels that can address technical challenges and any order problems that may arise. PhotoDay has seamless built-in processes for lab communication, customer service, and requesting reprints when necessary.
Evaluating a Lab’s Reputation
Much like any business, a lab earns its reputation over time. One user’s negative experience does not necessarily imply that the lab isn’t effective. In fact, it would be more surprising if companies with a high volume of clients and so many moving parts got everything perfect every single time. When evaluating a lab’s reputation, don’t look for singular negative reviews; instead, look for patterns of failure or success.
If you encounter a bad review or have a colleague tell you to stay away from a particular lab, look at how the company responded. Did they try to make it right, or did they continue to frustrate their client? If you find multiple people voicing the same complaint, you have a good idea of how the lab conducts business.
There are multiple approaches to familiarizing yourself with a lab’s reputation. Here are a few ways:
- Research Online: There is a wealth of information online. Look for reviews, ratings, and testimonials from photographers who have used the labs’ services. You can also seek out photography forums, social media groups, and industry websites where fellow photographers share their experiences and recommendations.
- Seek Recommendations: Like-minded business owners are the best to ask about the quality, efficiency, products, and customer service offered by a lab. Contact other photographers in your professional network and ask for their recommendations. You may get multiple answers about who to use, but you will also gain valuable insights into actual experiences with the various labs you are considering.
- Check for Industry Recognition: Winning awards and being recognized by reputable photography organizations represent excellence and appreciation within the professional community. Recognition can be a positive indicator of the level of service a lab provides.
- Assess Client Testimonials: Testimonials provide valuable insight into a lab’s reputation. Seek reviews about print quality, customer service, turnaround times, and overall satisfaction. A variety of positive testimonials about such vital topics can significantly simplify your decision-making process.
- Check Their Social Media: A lab’s presence on social media may indicate how it engages its audience, responds to inquiries, and shares updates on its products and services. A strong and positive social media presence can represent the lab’s active engagement with its clients.
Finding a professional print lab, you can trust is one of the most essential things a volume photographer can do to ensure sustainable success. There are many high-quality print labs available to partner with, all with varying strengths. Choosing the perfect partner for your business can take time as you evaluate its overall offering, including price, products, quality, and reputation.
PhotoDay’s studio management platform seamlessly integrates with several of the country’s most popular professional labs. PhotoDay also makes it easy to choose, test, and change labs at any point. Viewing the lab prices, products, and themes is simple, and studios can also add any—or all—of our lab partners to their accounts.
You can find active members of our photography community all around social media to share their thoughts and answer any questions about the photo labs you are considering.