November 22, 2019
Remember in middle school when you’d get your school photo taken? If your parents were anything like mine, unless it was a special year of school, those forms went straight to the trash. It was an unspoken understanding we didn’t need to spend the money when we could go get things printed at Walgreens or CVS for a minuscule fraction of the cost.
While that might have been true of professional school photos, a lot of that anti-print sentiment has trickled into other areas of photography as well. It might be okay to get your iPhone photos or the photos you took at your niece’s birthday party printed at a drug store, but you might want to reconsider when purchasing images of your family, newborn, or wedding day.
Here’s why it might be worth your while to spend a few extra dollars on the moments that are most important.
The most important things to consider when thinking about print longevity is ink and paper. Archival ink is built to last a long time and works against weathering and fading. Regular ink will fade with time and could completely disappear from a page. Archival ink has a different chemical makeup than regular ink, which eliminates these concerns.
It should also come as no surprise that the paper quality from professional printers such as ProDPI and White House Custom Color (WHCC) are leaps and bounds nicer than any prints you could buy at a drug store. They are fade and dust resistant and meant to last for a lifetime — or even longer. Drug store prints are typically pretty flimsy, and if digging through all my old family photos is any indication, they are certainly not fade-resistant.
Archival paper is produced with pure fibers like cotton or pure alpha cellulose*, which ensures that the paper base is acid-free. Paper that is not archival quality like newspapers, magazines, and, yes, drug store prints contain natural and added acids that cause the paper to become yellowed and brittle over time.
Because professional print labs offer archival ink and paper, when you order prints from your photographer, you are going to receive products that are true to color. Drug store printers do not always — if ever — print your images true to color. There are tons of examples on the internet of how much the color gets distorted from the original image. If you do choose to use a drug store service, understand that the color quality will likely suffer.
On the upside, some drug stores or online print services have options to not color correct the image. If you really want to have your images printed at a consumer level, make sure you opt-out of color correction to get as close a possible to the photographer’s original work.
Another added bonus of working through your photographer is that they will retouch and sharpen your images specifically to look good on print paper. Consumer quality print options will print the image as is, without any detailed retouching and sometimes with a marked loss of sharpness rather than a boost.
At proDPI, the company I order prints through, they use archival ink and paper, which means the prints are meant to last a lifetime. Not just the print itself but the colors are also meant to last 100 years in normal display conditions.
While digital copies of photographs seem permanent, I can’t tell you the number of times past clients have come back after a computer crash or theft to see if I still had their wedding images. (Luckily I keep them for as long as possible.) Digital copies do not last forever. They are damageable and easily misplaced when you upgrade your devices. We all think we will be able to keep up with a USB drive but it’s harder than it looks.
Occasions that are important enough to be photographed also deserve a permanent place in your home.
In comparison to drug store prints, prints from your photographer can seem overpriced. However, when you go through your photographer for prints, you are paying for and receiving the highest quality possible to preserve your memories. High quality archival paper and ink, retouching for print, and a safe, tangible place to display your fondest moments are among the many benefits of ordering directly from the photographer.
Typically photographers, like all retailers, will markup their products because they have to make a profit. But even still, most of the time the prices are worth it. The lowest cost print item we sell is a glossy 4×6 for $3.00, which you might buy multiples of, and the highest cost print item is our 30-page heirloom album priced starting at $330 which you probably will only purchase once.
Listen, if buying your wedding prints from Costco is something you feel you have to do, go for it. Just understand that you are most likely going to have to repurchase those prints at some point down the line or pay to have them restored. I’m on the team that believes important moments deserve more than a computer screen or flimsy print. You want to hang that stuff on your walls or put them on your coffee table to cherish. High quality prints might be more costly upfront but they are the only way to make your most special memories tangible forever.