Pro Lab or Consumer Lab: A Print Lab Comparison With Product Examples

Example of consumer lab photo vs professional lab photo

Notice the stark levels of contrast in detail between the consumer lab photo and the pro lab photo!

You hired a professional photographer, got some gorgeous photos – perhaps the best photos, ever! – and then received digital images from your shoot.  You have decided that you want to purchase product for these digital images and you want it to be high-quality.

You now have a decision – order product from a pro lab or from a consumer lab?

In order to make this decision, the following topics need to be discussed:

  • Professional lab advantages
  • Professional lab disadvantages
  • Consumer lab advantages
  • Consumer lab disadvantages
  • Examples of Professional Products I Offer
  • Why I Offer Professional Products

Advantages of Professional Labs

Professional labs use specific paper and products that are acid free and are meant to be kept forever. They also color correct your image to bring the most out of your portrait. If the professionals at the lab deem that something may be wrong with the image, they will call the photographer and let them know. This way, there are no surprises when your product is delivered.

The packaging is also quite sturdy.  There is nothing worse than ordering prints and they come back damaged. 

I also act as a middle man between you and a professional lab.  For example, the image that you wanted printed does not have enough room to become a 24 x 36 print.

We can fix that!

I will resize the image in Photoshop to create a custom sized print to your liking.  This is just one of many examples I can provide. 

Disadvantages of Professional Labs

The only disadvantage is going to be the price.  It simply costs more to purchase from a professional lab.

However, you are paying for quality and longevity.  When you book a professional photographer, you are getting high-quality images that deserve to remain that way.  All that sharpness and detail will be severely affected if you utilized a consumer lab.

Advantages of a Consumer Lab

If you took your own photos (like with a tablet or smart phone) and didn’t hire a photographer, a consumer lab is the way to go.  The photos will not be as sharp or detailed, anyway, so not much is at stake.  You will get them fast and they will look similar to how they were originally captured.

Consumer lab products are cheaper.  If you just don’t have the extra budget for professional products, sometimes it is better to have a physical product then not one at all.  Memories are important!

Disadvantages of a Consumer Lab

Consumer labs print as cheaply and as quickly as possible for the convenience of the consumer. The paper quality is poor for most of the consumer labs. 

I ordered some prints from a consumer lab a couple of years ago and not 2 years later the prints were corroding. The pictures were even stored in a photo album behind laminate.

The cause?  The images had an acidic base that allowed them to deteriorate over time.

Next, most consumer lab printers are not well collaborated for professional, lasting images. So, a lot of prints will come out with distorted colors.

I can’t tell you how many phone calls I get every summer with upset clients saying they printed from cheaper labs and the pictures are horrible.  I print them a complimentary professional print to show the difference in a professional lab vs the prints they received from the consumer lab.

Customer service with these labs leave much to be desired. They are usually unfamiliar with you or the product you are requesting. I ordered a calendar from a consumer lab this past year just to see the quality. It took them 5 attempts to print me the correct calendar with no mistakes. It should NOT take this much effort to get your product.

From my experience, the customer service from professional labs is much better.  How does this benefit the client?

If the product does not come out correct (very rare) I will call the lab and get it reprinted quickly and easily. No waiting on hold forever for someone who says they will fix it but might not. Very rarely do I receive a mistake from a professional lab because they are very proactive at checking products before they are printed and communicating with the photographer.  Because of these bonuses, the client is able to get their product quickly and reliably.

The rate of error for consumer labs is much higher.  Think about it – they usually have a much higher volume of customers.  Because of this, the risk of mistakes is generally higher.  They just don’t have as much time to focus on the customer as a professional lab would.

Products That I Offer

The first is obviously desk prints. These are your standard 4 x 6, 5 x 7, 8 x 10 or Wallet prints from a professional lab.

The next product is framed prints. These frames are custom molded by a professional lab or custom framer depending on product. The glass in these products are UV protected and non glare of the highest quality. Inside the frame is a custom print. They have closed back finishing with mounts ready to hang.

I also offer 1.5 inch gallery wrapped canvases in several sizes. These are high quality thick wrapped canvases with a protective coating to ensure lasting quality.


Destin family beach portrait on canvas

You can choose a single picture or have a custom creative wrap with multiple images. This was my patriotic family Fourth of July beach session. We are a military family who proudly serves our country. I love this quote from the Constitution so I made my vision a reality.

If you want a really awesome product that will make a statement, we can add a frame to the canvas. This really just brings a new form of elegance to an already beautiful canvas. This canvas includes a frame that has a finished backing with mounts that are ready for hanging.

painting portraiture
Baby picture converted to watercolor

This is a digital painting printed on canvas and custom framed.  It is one of my favorite professional products.  It looks so much like a real painting!

I also offer leather or linen bound albums. These are beautiful albums that hold many memories from your session. These are customized to your family needs. We can add text, multiple images per page, or just simply keep them as full page spreads. 


Acrylic photo

The last really cool product I offer is this beautiful desk acrylic print. This is a perfect gift for a loved one or even for yourself to keep. It is very heavy and excellent quality to keep your family with you while you work at your desk. This is a personal favorite of mine as it can also be used as paper weight.

Why I Offer Professional Products

Why am I choosing to start offering these special products instead of just handing over the digitals with no information? I want you to have the best quality products imaginable so that you can view your memories on display – anytime you want – vs temporarily with poor quality products that may not last. That is if you even print them to begin with! I don’t know how many times I get emails and phone calls every year stating something like,

“Hey, can I get the download again for my digitals from last year because I forgot to print them and my computer just died and I lost the images.”

I will always comply and give you your photos but it saddens me that those photos were not in physical form, adorning your wall or desk for your family to admire for years to come.

This is the one thing that really bothers me about the technological age now. When I was little, my family printed so many images of me growing up (because there really was not any other way to keep memories). So now when I go visit I can pull out, at any point in time, boxes of images in printed photo albums.

I can sit and reminisce about my childhood memories and even show my children what I looked like at their age.

I love this.

Now, everything is on social media or stored on a personal computer that may crash at anytime – not counting cloud storage. My concern with this is that those digital items may not be around forever. Then what? How do you explain to your 21 year old that you don’t have any images of them because Facebook or Instagram no longer exists. (It may still be around but that is not a risk I am willing to take.).

My children won’t ask me about their past, like what they looked like as a baby, because they already know. They have album after album of pictures from every precious moment they have had. I want to share this with my clients. Even if it is simply one wall portrait in their home. I want them to see that memory and remember how much fun they had spending time with their family or how cute their baby looked at that time.

I truly care about your precious memories being displayed and cherished for many years to come. I want you to have high quality, lasting products rather than to settle for mediocre or poor quality ones. 

I hope this blog has helped you understand why printing is so important to me. If you would like to purchase your own beautiful work of art, please contact me so we can find something perfect for you.

Have you purchased professional products before and loved them?  Tell me your favorite thing about them in the comments below!

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