8 Things You Should Consider When Choosing a Print Lab

Overwhelmed with all of the print lab options out there? Not sure where to start in choosing the best lab for you and your clients? Start here.

This post is made up of just small part of the info included in one of our past Advanced Concepts webinars on Choosing the Perfect Product Mix for your Clients. Click that link to view the replay.

One of the most common things we hear when talking with photographers about selling physical products is that there are just too many options out there to choose from.

Many of us fall into "paralysis from analysis" when trying to choose labs and products - there's just so much to look at that we decide to give up and go with the easiest option.

So, I wanted to make a quick list of the things I think you should consider when choosing the best print lab for you and your clients.

Keep these things in mind while going through the list:

  • Your lab choice can give you a competitive edge in your market. You might have better prices, faster turnaround or even a better pitch because your products are "green".
  • Choosing a lab is about finding a balance between the factors we're about to discuss. Figure out which factors are the most important to you and put more weight on those things.

Factors to Consider when Choosing a Professional Print Lab

Here they are, in no particular order...

1. Price

This seems like a good place to start - how much do their products cost when compared to other pro labs?

Your costs will impact nearly every bit of your business, so be sure to choose a lab that suits your price point.

Also, don't forget to take add-ons into consideration, things like:

  • Hanging hardware
  • Textures and finishes
  • Corner/edge treatments

2. Shipping Costs

This one probably should have gone with "Price" above, but it's so important (and often overlooked) that I decided to give it its own bullet point.

We have a 3'x7' (yeah... 3-foot by 7-foot... you read that right) canvas hanging in our living room.

One lab wanted $250 just to ship it to us because it had to be shipped freight, which apparently means "we have to put this in a ginormous wooden box and ship it to you like an ancient artifact".

Another lab charged us $15 to ship it. $15.

I called back 3 times to talk to a different customer service rep and make sure they others knew what they were talking about.

So yeah... take shipping costs into consideration.

3. Shipping Times

Continuing down this path, find out how long it'll take the average order to get to you. Don't forget to factor in in-lab times and any order processing times. Pretty straightforward stuff here.

4. Location

Wait... didn't we just talk about shipping times? So why mention location now?

This might just be me, but I much prefer working with local companies. If you're the same way and you have a lab that's local to you, this may be something you should consider when choosing your lab.

Quick Wins for a print-selling website

Fill your calendar with clients who want your photos in their homes.

Apply these 5-minute tweaks to your website to:
Attract clients who want more than the digital files
Use social media to encourage print sales
Get current clients excited for printed products
Finally do "show it to sell it" the RIGHT way
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5. Quality

How does their print quality compare to other labs? If you're the pixel-peeping type, this may be the most important factor in choosing a lab, for you.

You also might want to avert your eyes while I say this next blasphemous sentence...

Don't get too hung up on quality. The things we see as glaringly obvious changes in color cast, temperature and black point are not even noticeable to the average client. Choose a pro lab and move on.

Note, I said to choose a pro lab. I'm not talking about the difference between WHCC and Walmart here. That's obvious to anyone with eyeballs.

Your average client won't see the difference between print quality from one pro lab to another.

Still, if this is an important factor for you, be sure to order sample prints from each of the labs you're considering so you can pull out your loupe and get down and dirty with some pixels.

6. Environmental Impact

Is the lab you're looking at a "green" lab? Do they use sustainable processes and materials. Do they try to offset their carbon footprint with clean energy sources?

Does this matter to you at all?

Maybe even more importantly - does it matter to your clients?

7. Product Mix

Pretty simple one here... does the lab you're considering offer all of the products you'd like to offer?

This one's not a big deal if you're open to mixing products from multiple labs (I'd recommend staying with one lab for each product type, i.e.- all canvases from one lab, all metals from another). But if you're doing all of this other work to choose the perfect lab, it makes sense to get as much as you can from that one lab.

8. Mass Market Availability

Simply put - can your clients purchase these types of products in a similar quality from consumer print labs?

Ready for more blasphemy? Here we go...

Don't get hung up on this either. If the only thing you have to offer your clients is stuff they can't get elsewhere, then you're doing it wrong.

Sell the fact that it's done for them, by a pro who knows what they're doing and knows what will look good. Really play up the "leave it all to me"... you know... the actual service, rather than the product.

Time and convenience are worth far more than money sometimes. Sell that.

So Now What?

The last point I want to make is for those who are just starting out and worried about putting price over quality...

The choice you make right now is not set in stone.

As with everything else in business,

Make it work. Then make it better.

Choose something right now. Anything. Then use the money you make from your first sales to pay for better quality products. Or green products. Or products your clients can't get elsewhere.

It's much easier to choose something then make minor tweaks and course corrections along the way than it is to sit in your indecision waiting for everything to be perfect. So pick something, then make it better as you go from here.

Now go forth and choose a lab! Not sure where to start? Start right here.

Did I forget anything? Let me know what other considerations you'd add to the list in the comments!