Confession time... I've never printed my own work. (GASP!)
Ok that's not entirely true. I've printed a few times at home for my kids' school projects or 5x7 gifts for grandmas. But that doesn't really count. I've also printed a couple larger portraits at a place which is primarily considered a pharmacy. I don't count that either. Easy-button shops have their place... but they are definitely not labs of a professional caliber, and the prints prove it.
It's not that I don't recognize the value of quality prints. Quite the opposite. If I had some, I know they would number among my most valued possessions. But I'm picky. So I've been on a quest to find a good lab I can "partner" with. This turned out to be no small task. Some names came up over and over, such as Bay Photo, Whitehouse Custom Color and Adorama. I know of many pros who swear by these companies and I'm sure they're great... but they didn't quite fit with what I had in mind. Other (perhaps lesser known) services I found only made me cringe with websites and product listings that were cluttered and confusing.
I wanted a lab with a clean UI, simple pricing, and a reasonable set of expertly crafted products to offer clients (and to put on my own walls of course). I also wanted a choice of materials that were environmentally conscious, without compromising quality. In addition to that already tall order, I wanted a lab with strong customer service values. The print process is a little foreign to me, so I'll need some hand-holding for a while. ;)
Anyway shortly before I went to Photoshop World, I saw the name Miller's come up on the Clickin Moms forums. Mentally filing it away, I planned to investigate further after the trip. Then I saw their booth at the Expo. It was love at first sight.
Not only did their displays look gorgeous (I was especially drawn to the canvas and metal prints), but the staff were so helpful. One guy spent at least 20 minutes with me, patiently answering questions. We talked about their ordering software, shipping policy, how to care for various prints depending on the material used, and more. When I let him off the hook because my head was swimming, he gave me some brochures to take home and invited me to look around their website and call if I had more questions later. Even the vibe of their branding lined up with what I want to portray in my own business. I was sold.
Long story short, I finally got around to setting up an account and ordering test prints last week. They arrived yesterday, and I am so excited! It's like being a kid again. I'd forgotten how nice it is to have actual prints in hand!
So after all my questing... what do I think about the samples and the manner in which they were provided? Honestly, I'm a little giddy. Miller's not only sent two sets of four images (color corrected and uncorrected), but they did it free of charge, including shipping!
Along with my samples they sent a catalog, a thank you note, a coupon, a "what's next" card and a stack of 3x4 samples of all the different paper and card stock they carry. Way beyond what I expected. I'm extremely happy with the quality of the prints as well and plan to order more than just samples very soon.
I've always felt that having tangible products to show and share is so important. When I still shot film, I was very consistent with making prints (at least small ones), often ordering doubles to give away to friends and family... yet I'm guilty of letting most of my images from the past 6 years rot on the hard drive.
No more! Prints are the legacy we hand down... not some silly JPG files. Now that I've found a professional photo lab I can put my trust in to deliver (for myself and clients), I'm hooked.