Home > Color Correction, Product Info, Rants, Raves > The Big Lab Throwdown – Final Results

The Big Lab Throwdown – Final Results


Here it is, more than a month in the making! Many thanks to the people who helped make it possible by either supporting with donations or suggesting labs for testing.

First before I start into the results. Please do remember that the color results are based on the personal preferences of myself and independent “judges” in a blind side by side comparison. Personal preferences for color vary so some people may prefer a different set of images as being the best for color. (The variation of scores will reflect this in many cases.)

For my own points ratings in the color comparison, I am looking for a deep rich color without being over saturated, under saturated, too flat, too contrasty, loss of highlight or shadow detail, no banding or other color artifacts and overall good realistic skin tones. (See Part 3 for individual remarks on each image tested.) Points for each print were deducted for defects or other problems including poor color. My ratings system was a base 10 points were given and points were deducted for flaws in each print.

The independent judges compared each image for overall look and ranked each print from 0 to 10 with 10 being best. The judges points are taking into consideration the best overall color and no color artifacts disregarding print defects or my own personal preferences.

The skin tone reference image was printed without lab corrections to compare uncorrected images to my calibrated displays. (Not ranked by the independent judges.)

All prints were viewed on color calibrated light tables designed for critical color viewing.

Each print was hand inspected for print defects including trim errors, emulsion damage, edge or corner damage, white showing on edges, dust or other marks and any other damage that may make the print unsellable and would require a reprint to be ordered. Any defects found are noted below.

All orders were placed through a professional account with each labs standard ordering software (excluding Ritz and Costco which were placed online and Evolution Photo was dropped off on CD).

Lastly, one image from each set was weighted, measured for size and viewed under a 10x loupe for sharpness. (All prints were nearly equal in sharpness when viewed without magnification except Collages which was visibly sharper without magnification.)


Points Scale: Perfect = 10 / Very Poor = 1

Image Number Reference

Image Number Reference

Here are the results in alphabetical order:


American Color Imaging:

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

5

5

5

7

5

Modified Points

9

8

10

9

9

8

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $2.13

Print Weight: 11.7g

Measured Print Size: 8 x 10″

Paper Type: Kodak Endura Professional

Sharpness: Very Good

Ordering Software: Roes

Profile Mismatch: Pass

Notes: Customer service was very helpful during the ordering process. 1) Slightly Desaturated 2) Cyan 3) Very Good 4) Slightly Cyan 5) Slightly Cyan 6) Slightly Cyan


Bay Photo:

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

4

4

9

4

4

Modified Points

7

5

7

7

7

8

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $3.50

Print Weight: 11.7g

Measured Print Size: 8 x 10″

Paper Type: Kodak Endura Professional

Sharpness: Very Good

Ordering Software: Roes

Profile Mismatch: Pass

Notes: Images seemed washed out. One print had white edge showing. 1) Slightly Desaturated / Washed Out / Slightly Green 2) Washed Out / Green 3) Washed Out / Slightly Green 4) Slightly Washed Out / White on Edge 5) Washed Out / Slightly Green 6) Slightly Cyan/Green


Black River Imaging:

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

8

7

1

9

1

Modified Points

6

8

7

8

7

9

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $2.15

Print Weight: 11.7g

Measured Print Size: 8 x 10″

Paper Type: Kodak Endura Professional

Sharpness: Good

Ordering Software: Roes

Profile Mismatch: Fail

Notes: Prints were packaged on cardboard and wrapped in plastic wrap which proved difficult to remove without potentially damaging the prints. 1) Blocked up Shadow Detail / White on Edge 2) Green / Banding in Shadows 3) Very Red 4) Slightly Yellow / Blocked up Shadow Detail 5) Cyan/Green / Blown out Highlight Detail 6) Slightly “Soft”


Buckeye Color:

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

3

2

6

3

8

Modified Points

8

4

9

7

8

10

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $3.35

Print Weight: 12.2g

Measured Print Size: 7.94 x 10″

Paper Type: Fuji Professional

Sharpness: Good

Ordering Software: Roes

Profile Mismatch: Pass

Notes: Some appear over corrected for color. 1) Magenta/Red / Crossover in Highlights 2) Very Light / Very Contrasty / Very Magenta/Blue 3) Slightly Blue 4) Slightly Yellow / Very Strong Contrast 5) Slightly Cyan / Banding in Highlights 6) Very Good


Collages Color:

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

7

3

4

2

7

Modified Points

7

6

5

7

7

6

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $2.75

Print Weight: 11.7g

Measured Print Size: 8 x 9.94″

Paper Type: Kodak Endura Professional

Sharpness: Excellent (Visually the sharpest of all tested prints.)

Ordering Software: Roes

Profile Mismatch: Pass

Notes: One print was slightly skewed with white showing along one edge.It is my understanding that Millers prints Collages Color prints. 1) Desaturated 2) Light / Desaturated / Noticeable Banding 3) Light / Very Cyan 4) Light / Slightly Blue 5) Green Tint to Highlights / Banding in Highlights 6) Light / Cyan


Costco:

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

1

6

8

5

9

Modified Points

5

8

6

7

9

10

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $1.49

Print Weight: 10.2g

Measured Print Size: 8 x 10″

Paper Type: Fuji Crystal Archive (non-professional grade)

Sharpness: Good

Ordering Software: Online

Profile Mismatch: Pass

Notes: Overall washed out look & under saturated. All images were printed WITHOUT color corrections. Pickup prints at your local store. 1) Very Desaturated / Washed Out / Cyan/Green 2) Washed Out 3) Washed Out / Desaturated / Cyan 4) Washed Out / Desaturated 5) Slightly Washed Out 6) Very Good


Evolution Photo:

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

2

9

7

6

3

Modified Points

7

10

8

9

9

8

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $4.50

Print Weight: 12.2g

Measured Print Size: 7.94 x 10″

Paper Type: Fuji Professional

Sharpness: Good

Ordering Software: CD Drop Off

Profile Mismatch: Pass

Notes: Smallest lab tested, very local to me. 1) Washed Out 2) Very Good 3) Slightly Light / Slightly Cyan 4) Slightly Light 5) Slightly Cyan 6) Slightly Cyan


H&H Color Lab:

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

10

10

10

10

10

Modified Points

9

10

9

10

10

10

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $3.21

Print Weight: 12.3g

Measured Print Size: 8 x 10″

Paper Type: Fuji Professional

Sharpness: Good

Ordering Software: EZSuite

Profile Mismatch: Pass

Notes: Overall best color on either paper type. Best color on Fuji paper. 1) Slightly Saturated 2) Very Good 3) Slight Tint to Shadows 4) Very Good 5) Very Good 6) Very Good


Millers Professional Imaging:

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

6

1

3

1

2

Modified Points

8

7

5

6

8

6

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $3.50

Print Weight: 11.7g

Measured Print Size: 7.94 x 10″

Paper Type: Kodak Endura Professional

Sharpness: Very Good

Ordering Software: Roes

Profile Mismatch: Pass

Notes: Prints through Millers Professional, not Mpix. One print was missing from the first order but was replaced quickly after contacting customer service. Long wait on hold for customer service. 1) Slight Crossover in Highlights / Slightly Yellow 2) Washed Out / Green 3) Very Green/Yellow 4) Very Yellow 5) Slight Green/Yellow Tint / Blown Highlight Detail 6) Green


Ritz Pix:

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

0

0

0

0

0

Modified Points

3

0

5

5

5

4

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $4.99

Print Weight: 10.2g

Measured Print Size: 8 x 10″

Paper Type: Fuji Crystal Archive (non-professional grade)

Sharpness: Good

Ordering Software: Online

Profile Mismatch: Pass

Notes: Overall, completely unacceptable prints by any measure. Printed WITH color corrections. Most expensive print service. Pickup prints at your local store. 1) Very Strong Contrast and Saturation (causing detail loss) 2) Blown out Highlights / Very Strong Contrast / Very Cyan/Green / Very Light 3) Washed Out / Slightly Red 4) Washed Out / Yellow 5) Very Cyan/Green 6) Washed Out Color / Very Contrasty


White House Custom Color (WHCC):

Image Number

1

2

3

4

5

6

Judge Points

9

8

2

8

6

Modified Points

10

9

8

9

9

8

Cost per color corrected 8×10″ print (not counting tax or S&H): $3.20

Print Weight: 11.7g

Measured Print Size: 8 x 9.94″

Paper Type: Kodak Endura Professional

Sharpness: Very Good

Ordering Software: Roes

Profile Mismatch: Fail

Notes: Best overall color on Kodak Paper. Prints packaged well for shipping. 1) Very Good 2) Slightly Cyan 3) Very Magenta/Red 4) Slightly Blue 5) Slightly Cyan 6) Slightly Cyan / Light


Overall points totals:

Lab: Judge Total Score: Modified Total Score:
American Color Imaging 27 53
Bay Photo 25 41
Black River Imaging 26 45
Buckeye Color 22 46
Collages Color 23 38
Costco 29 45
Evolution Photo 27 51
H&H Color Lab 50 58
Millers 13 40
Ritz 0 25
White House Custom Color 33 54

Please do remember that your results may vary due to any number of factors. Needless to say, today the winner overall is H&H Color Lab (www.hhcolorlab.com) with a perfect judge score and near perfect score from my comparison. Second Place overall goes to White House Custom Color (www.WHCC.com). Some of the biggest upsets are Millers with only 13 judge points and Ritz with NO judge points. (The Ritz prints were simply unacceptable at any price.) Many of the other labs had mixed results with several good prints and one or two bad prints holding them back. Even then, some of those prints may still be acceptable quality to some people.

With the testing done, I’d like to thank Ken “Grayphoto” and Brett “Longhorn” for donations to help cover the expense of the 66 8×10 prints required for the test. I’d also like to thank my independent print judges who know who they are. And heck, I’d like to thank you for following along with the test this long.

Links to previous parts:

Part 1: https://modifiedphoto.wordpress.com/2009/08/07/put-your-lab-to-the-test/

Part 2: https://modifiedphoto.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/the-big-lab-throwdown-update-2/

Part 3: https://modifiedphoto.wordpress.com/2009/09/04/the-big-lab-throwdown-update-3/

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  1. September 27, 2009 at 11:08 am

    I am grateful for your hard work and will probably try H&H just to have a comparison.
    I admit to using Costco up to now, so I have a couple follow up questions. Costco has several printers. Some better than others. They also have online profiles. And now my nearest Costco has a 7800 Epson for 16×20 and 20×30. The advantage is if you don’t like the print you don’t pay. The main disadvantage is lack of paper choices. They use a ‘luster’, not my favorite.

    So some tweeking can be accomplished , but I doubt it’s as good as H&H, so I’ll have to prove that soon too.

    Thanks again.

    Mark

    • modifiedphoto
      September 27, 2009 at 1:43 pm

      I think the biggest difference is the experience and “care” of the technician working on your order. Large labs don’t want to remake your prints if they don’t have to so they do the best they can the first time around. The Costco near me also got a large format Epson recently for “poster prints” but as with most retail printers, they simply train someone how to operate it, nothing more.

      Going with a pro lab like H&H does cost more but generally the overall quality of the image produced as well as finishing options (textures, coatings, mounting, etc) make it worth the extra cost in the end, thus you can increase your pricing enough to cover the added cost. (and then some)

  2. October 5, 2009 at 1:26 am

    I have gotten good and bad prints from every lab I have used. Whitehouse CC repeatedly screwed up an order right before Christmas a few years ago that I decided to print them all at Costco for the very quick turn-around and low cost. The only things I print anywhere are those that require special paper or texture, or larger than 12 by 18, the largest my local Costco can print.

    Paul

    • modifiedphoto
      October 5, 2009 at 10:13 am

      All labs are prone to some mistakes during the most busy season of the year for them. (I’m not defending WHCC, but we are all human and we all make mistakes while under pressure.) Obviously most good labs would either catch those mistakes before they ship or make it a priority to reprint the order and reship it only after being double checked for errors. I’m assuming they replaced those orders at no charge to you?

      Obviously all Costco printers (the physical machine) and printer technicians will vary from location to location so the quality of the color WILL vary as well. However, I really do prefer the weight and feel of the professional grade papers over the Fuji Crystal Archive which is somewhat flimsy. (Non-professional grade Kodak papers are flimsy feeling to me as well.) I also order textured and mounted prints almost 100% of the time for my own clients so that kills any chance of going with Costco for me anyhow.

  3. Tony Crowley
    October 5, 2009 at 11:41 am

    A pity you missed the best lab in the US – ProDPI. I’ve used WHCC and ProDPI’s wide color gamut on their Fuji PD type lustre paper is outstanding.

    • modifiedphoto
      October 7, 2009 at 12:18 am

      The Fuji PD is the same Fuji Professional paper used by H&H Color Lab, Evolution Photo and Buckeye Color. It is a luster finish, professional grade paper. I do tend to prefer the color of the Fuji paper over the Kodak Professional papers.

      Although I missed quite a few very good and large labs, I tried to get a selection of labs from across the country. Ideally I would order prints from every lab and make comparisons but cost and time was the main factor in picking the ones I did. In the future, I may select a number of new labs to test and toss in the top two labs from this test for comparison sake.

  4. October 16, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Awesome blog!

    I thought about starting my own blog too but I’m just too lazy so, I guess Ill just have to keep checking yours out.
    LOL,

  5. October 17, 2009 at 2:52 am

    any updates coming ?

  6. Carl
    October 21, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Wow!! I’d love to know who the judges are? I’ve been a Millers customer for years and have never had a problem.

    • modifiedphoto
      October 23, 2009 at 12:48 am

      I’d say, but i’m not sure they would want me to or not. (And I know at least one of them does read this blog from time to time.) The Millers prints were perfectly fine prints but the corrections that were made were taking the color out of the range I prefer. Of course color is subjective so to another person, many of the prints may have looked fine perhaps.

  7. John Patrick
    February 4, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Just curious, but when did you send the files to WHCC? I believe they now print AdobeRGB files, provided that the embedded profile matches. A profile-less JPEG is, of course, asking for trouble.

    • modifiedphoto
      February 4, 2010 at 8:17 am

      The files for the tests were sent to labs in early September. Many labs will accept files with most any embedded profile but some of the software systems seem to disregard the embedded profile and some apply it correctly. Regardless, the profiles are still converted to a machine specific profile that matches the characteristics of the printer and paper combination which may have a smaller color gamut than the files submitted.

      I have found that although digital presses are still not quite up to the same level of photo quality as a traditional print, digital press prints can utilize a wider color gamut due to a solid ink or toner that can result in very vivid, nearly neon colors at times. (Which is sometimes a good thing, sometimes not. I guess that would depend on if you wanted bright colors and expect that result.) Giclée (ink jet) prints also frequently have a wider gamut and can utilize a file with brighter colors that requires a wider gamut color space such as aRGB.

  1. January 1, 2010 at 12:08 am
  2. January 2, 2010 at 12:28 am

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