I have just completed an experiment. I ordered 3 12X18 prints of the same color photo.
1 glossy print from Costco for $3.27
1. “Lustre” print from Costco for $3.27 and
1. Semi-gloss, Giclee, archival grade print from Panda Lab for $47.64
Here’s what I learned.
Panda Lab is staffed with extremely passionate, trained craftspeople who know their business well. They are utter photo geeks and at the same time happy to educate and help clients like myself who have no vocabulary or training. The folks at Panda took some time to check the fidelity of my colors and they even printed 2 3X5s for me. One with their suggested minor change in density and one with my original. While I ended up choosing my original I was grateful for another set of eyes and for the collaborative experience. The Panda Technician then walked me through the differences of several types of paper, several levels of gloss, and suggested one type of pint (the gliclee) which would age better after contact with UV.
At Costco I asked 3 or 4 questions and got “I have no idea” as answers, before the irritated twenty something literally walked away.
Costco likely has a Fuji Frontier printer which is the gold standard in massive and massively expensive printers. I have no idea what kind of printers the Panda folks have but they offer several types of print from different printers.
The proof is in the puddin’ though right?
The prints from Costco were really good. Full stop. The glossy is really really nice and shows off the 3D like rendition that my fucking awesome Zeiss lens with witch the photo was made. The Print from Panda Lab was a little bit better. The photo I printed covers really wide dynamic and color range. When side by side. it is clear that the Print renders the color in a slightly more pleasing way but most importantly the darker areas of the photo reveal more details by, say, 10%. Is that a big deal? Sometimes. In this particular example it’s a huge deal because there is real drama in the shadows.
So. Where will I order my prints from in the future?
Honestly it depends. There may be some lower dynamic range shots that I know are bang on that I will have printed at Costco. I will certainly continue to experiment with printing there. It’s just too inexpensive not to and in certain situations it will probably be fine. That said, If I really want too put my best foot forward, which I almost constantly do, Its Panda all the way. I also really appreciate all the feedback and advice I can get from the serious artisans at Panda.