Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I recently uploaded the same photos to Shutterfly and Snapfish, and then I ordered prints from both sites to compare the quality. I picked up the Shutterfly prints (glossy) at CVS and the Snapfish prints (matte) at Walmart. The Snapfish prints look much better than the Shutterfly prints. The Shutterfly prints are a bit brighter but have noticeably less detail than the Snapfish prints. I'm assuming the glossy vs. matte finish wouldn't have an effect on that. (Shutterfly only allows glossy for in-store pickup, and Snapfish only allows matte for in-store pickup.)

Here are my questions:

  1. Would the quality of the prints would have been different if I had them shipped directly from Shutterfly/Snapfish instead of picking them up at CVS/Walmart? Another thing is that the Shutterfly web site says they use Fuji Crystal Archive paper for their prints, but the CVS prints were on Kodak paper. Would the type of paper used make a big difference in quality?

  2. Both Shutterfly and Snapfish cropped a little bit off the top/bottom/left/right of the photos. The images that I uploaded were exactly 4x6 sized, since they were scans of 4x6 prints, and after I uploaded them I made sure to specify no cropping on the prints. But the prints from both Snapfish and Shutterfly still cropped a bit off all 4 sides. Why is that?

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If you care about quality in any minuscule amount, don't use either if these services. They are certainly at the bottom of the barrel. –  dpollitt Dec 15 '13 at 4:02
    
Depends on what you're comparing to. Since the question is asking about CVS and Wal-Mart, my experience has been that Shutterfly is significantly better than those. –  dbreaux Dec 16 '13 at 13:34
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When you have them printed locally for pick up, you're not really comparing Shutterfly to Snapfish. You are comparing your local CVS to your local Walmart. Quality at those types of places can vary significantly depending on which under-trained employee is operating the machine at the time your prints are made. Which type of paper is used can affect the results, but both Kodak and Fuji C.A. paper are good quality, but certainly not premium quality, paper. One won't necessarily be better than the other, but they will exhibit different characteristics and you may prefer one over the other. At that point it is an artistic decision.

Even when ordering direct from Shutterfly or Snapfish, most direct comparisons rate them near the bottom of the list among national labs in the U.S. Bay Photo and MPix are generally regarded as the top two U.S. Labs. Online site SmugMug uses Bay and online site zenfolio uses MPix for print orders shipped in the U.S.

As to the 1/8" or so that is trimmed from the edges of your prints, that is also pretty much standard procedure within the industry in the U.S. Almost all printers will enlarge the image about 1/8" wider than each edge of the paper to insure there are no blank spaces on the edges of the paper. Obviously 1/8" off the edge of a 4X6 print is a larger percentage of the image than 1/8" off the same image printed at 24X16. Some printers such as MPix (at least when ordering via zenfolio) give you the option to drag the edges of the print past the edge of the image during the ordering process, but that results in white edges on some but not necessarily all sides of the prints.

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