What the best digital photo printing services have

For the most part, all digital photo printing services offer the same features. Where the differences lie is in user experience and details. Other than simple personal preferences for site navigation and features, here are a few things you'll want to consider before deciding which is most vital for your needs.

  • Low cost. You'll almost always spend less on your photos using commercial service than you would by printing at home, but there are wide price differences between services. Check out retail discount offers, shipping prices and costs for items other than basic prints.
  • High storage limits (or no limit). Our top picks, Snapfish and Shutterfly, offer free unlimited online photo storage. SmugMug charges an annual fee, but also has unlimited storage of high-resolution files. Note that some services, like Kodak Gallery, will delete your photos if you don't buy a specified number of prints or products within a certain time frame.
  • Photo editing. Some users prefer to use their camera's software, or any number of photo-editing programs like Photoshop Elements or iPhoto, to manipulate photos before uploading them for printing. If you don't have access to these tools, you'll want to find a photo printing service with robust online photo-editing capabilities. Most offer simple adjustments like red-eye correction, cropping and rotating, but there are also sites that allow you to adjust color, contrast, brightness and spot healing, and add effects like captioning and filters.
  • Photo gifts. Most online services will let you print your images onto calendars, coffee mugs, photo books, stickers, mouse pads, cards and invitations, but if you're looking for a more specialized item like a jigsaw puzzle, T-shirt or playing cards, make sure you choose a site that can do this for you.

Know before you go

Do you have photo-editing software? Most experts agree that photo-editing software is more effective than the online tools available on a digital photo service. You'll get better results if you tweak your photos before you upload them for printing. See our report on photo editing software for our top picks.

Can you calibrate your monitor? Don't expect a photo service to fine-tune the quality of your images. Unless you are using a professional lab and paying for color correction and retouching, what you submit for printing is what you'll get back. You should calibrate your computer's monitor to match the color output from your photo printing service. A simple way to do this is by holding a sample photo from the first set of prints you receive from the digital photo service up to your monitor, and adjusting the color to match as closely as possible. The photo-enthusiast website CambridgeInColour.com offers a useful tutorial on monitor calibration.

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