Online photo printing for the holidays (and anytime)

Smartphones have made it easier to share photos with family and friends, but images are often fleeting – soon buried in text strings or inboxes. Digital printing services offer evergreen options from cards to individual prints to selected albums.

The best of these services produce truly excellent quality images. They use fine papers of your choice and offer easy-to-use online interfaces that allow you to easily upload, edit, annotate and organize your photos. They combine the portable, instantaneous power of smartphones and digital cameras with the permanence and beauty of print.

Wirecutter, the New York Times company that reviews the products, has a team of photo experts who have tested several printing services and enlisted the help of other experts to judge the results. Here’s what they recommend.

Of the photo card services Wirecutter tested, Simply to Impress came out on top. The company offers a range of tasteful, easy-to-customize designs and high-quality photo reproduction, as well as a quick turnaround that saw cards delivered to Wirecutter’s New York office within a week – packed. in a gift box with a personalized note. .

Wirecutter editors particularly liked the website’s user interface, which features clearly defined options and a handful of basic but useful image-editing tools. You can upload images directly from your computer or select images from your social media accounts or cloud photo services. At checkout, the site gives you a detailed list of all the options you’ve selected and links to each so you can check them out and, if necessary, change them again.

Back when people paid for prints of every photo they took, it made sense to put them all in big binders. It now makes much more sense to create personalized photo albums with just your best images. A printing service can make as many photo books as you need, for yourself and for gifts.

After testing eight photo book services, Wirecutter found that Shutterfly offered the easiest way to create a book with a clean design, combined with photo quality as pleasing as we’ve seen with services costing twice as much. The Shutterfly app has intuitive keyboard shortcuts, making it easy to design your book.

To judge the quality of the image, we took the Shutterfly book and the others we ordered to Shamus Clisset, a master printer at Laumont Studio who made fine art prints for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA) and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Although Shutterfly’s impression wasn’t perfect, it said it was the best of the services we tested. Commenting on an image of volcanic smoke, he said: “The whole print is very smooth in color, which is hard to do.”

Suppose your cousin falls in love with a photo you took of Grandma sipping a piña colada at the last family reunion and he wants a nice 8 by 10 inch print, but you don’t. don’t have a photo printer. This is where online printing services come in handy. They allow you to order individual prints and send them to anyone who wants one.

Nations Photo Lab offered the best combination of print quality, fast turnaround time, reliable delivery, and reasonable price in Wirecutter’s tests. The service scored high marks on color accuracy and sharpness, and delivered the prints well protected from damage, slipped into plastic sleeves that were themselves sandwiched between cardboard panels.

Nations has also made it easier than other services to process images of various aspect ratios. Aspect ratio, or the aspect ratio of an image, differs between smartphones (usually 4:3) and the more common digital camera format (3:2). Nations let us print 4:3 smartphone images in their entirety, with nothing cut off at the top and bottom.

The main downside of Nations is that it doesn’t have an app to allow you to upload images directly from your phone. If you want that option, consider AdoramaPix instead.

One last tip: all the services mentioned here regularly offer coupons or discounts. If you’re planning on using one of these and you’re not on a tight deadline, sign up for the service’s mailing list and wait for a deal to come along. Usually it won’t take more than a week. And what’s one more week when you create memories that will last (almost) forever?

A version of this article appears at wirecutter.com.

Elaine F. Brim