Is better photo printing worth it? (and fotoflot review)

Posted by Tejus Parikh on December 24, 2009

The holiday season is in full swing, which means shopping, lots of eating, some traveling and lots of pictures. If you’re not 80 years old, every photo you you take is now digital. Of course there are always a few each year that you really want a physical copy of, and maybe one that you would love to see blown up hanging on your wall.

There’s no shortage of digital photo printing options, all touting different benefits and prices. I’m not exactly what you’d call a professional photographer. There’s a lot of subpar pictures on my Flickr account. Therefore, I’ve generally gone with more consumer grade printing services, thinking that it’s not really worth the extra cash for some of the more professionally oriented printers. You can get a 20”x30” blowup for $9.99 at Costco’s photo center. Even if the picture sucks, it costs less than lunch.

I had a picture that I really liked and decided to spend the cash to get it printed at a real printer. A friend of mine suggested FotoFlot. They’ve got a unique system that prints on high-quality photo paper then fuses it to an acrylic backing. It comes with a mount that secures the pictures via magnets, making it trivial to swap out pictures as you desire. All the coolness comes with a hefty price tag. The same 20”x30” print that costs $9.99 at Costco will cost you $185 at FotoFlot.

I went ahead and ordered at 15”x30” crop at FotoFlot and, out of curiosity, a 20”x30” blowup from Costco. I had expected the FotoFlot to be better, but I was surprised at how much better.

The first obvious difference is the the color. For best results, you can include your color profile with FotoFlot and they will make adjustments to their printing process. With Costco, you upload just the original image and they do the normal big-box color correction.

[flickr]4211375100[/flickr]

In this picture, I’ve overlaid the FotoFlot print on the bottom of the Costco print to capture the difference. The grass is much greener in the FotoFlot print, while both made the mud redder. Personally, I like the richer green, even though it’s not as bright in the source print.

Far more important than the color differences is the difference in detail. Take a look at the close up of the Peugeot (FotoFlot on top, Costco on the bottom).

[flickr]4211375196[/flickr]
[flickr]4210609865[/flickr]

You can see that the lines on the Peugeot in the top frame are far crisper and sharper. A zoom in comparison of the Peugeot badging on the side of the car really highlights this difference.

[flickr]4210610497[/flickr]

In the top frame, almost every letter is legible. Only the P, U, and G are clear in the Costco print.

[flickr]4210610635[/flickr]

The definition of objects is clearer when looking at the Mazda6 sign. It’s bold and clear in the FotoFlot, but faded in the Costco print.

[flickr]4210610823[/flickr]

In the FotoFlot print, the individual pieces of rubber are clearly visible. On the Costco print, only the very large chunks appear. The rest blend into the track. Even more troubling on the Costco print are the vertical lines left by the printing process. The FotoFlot doesn’t have any introduced artifacts of the process.

While the price difference is as large as the differences in photo quality, I think getting large prints printed professionally is completely worth it. The details that made the picture interesting are simply lost in commodity printing. If it’s good enough to put on a wall, then it deserves a quality printer. I see myself using FotoFlot a lot more in the future. I couldn’t be happier with the results. If you would like to see all the images associated with this review, you can find them in this Flickr Set.

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Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter: