Three years ago, I tested more than half a dozen photo printing companies online — Adorama, Snapfish, drugstore programs like CVS and Walgreens— to find the best places to print vacation photos. But I’ve since had to face the truth: My pretty prints were in a pile collecting dust because I never managed to find somewhere affordable and convenient to get them matted and framed. The rare times I bothered to do it, it was a costly hassle and, in the end, I never got quite what I wanted.
And so this year, I explored a few companies (including one that had just been founded when I was testing all those printing services) that allow you to upload a digital photo, have it matted, framed and delivered to your door in a matter of days. After the first framed photo arrived in the mail, I knew I’d never go back to just plain old prints.
Below, a look at a few companies that offer printing and framing. And for those who just want a few prints to pin to a cubicle wall or post on a refrigerator, I’ve included some apps and websites that will print your photos for less than a dime and, in some cases, free (though you pay for shipping).
The company that won me over was Framebridge, which is based in Washington, D.C., and has factories in Maryland and Kentucky. It specializes in printing and framing photos, with Instagram photos printed at 5x5, starting at $39.
The process is easy. I began by clicking the “start framing” button. Then it was time to upload a photo and crop it. The photo sizes you’re offered are based on your photo’s resolution. (If you already have a print and want it framed, Framebridge will send you prepaid packaging so you can ship it to them.)
Now it’s time to choose a frame. If you want some advice, one of the site’s designers will suggest some mat-and-framing combinations (a free service), or you can choose your own frame and mat. Then you’ll see a preview of your framed art, along with the price. If you want to make changes to the mat and the photo size, you can do so from this page. Once you’re happy, you simply add the project to your shopping cart.
Shipping is where a lot of photo websites dent your wallet, but I was delighted to find that shipping through Framebridge was included in the price. It also makes you feel like you’re not being nickeled and dimed.
My gallery frame arrived at my doorstep nine days after I ordered it, faster than the delivery times of certain companies that only print photos. (If you want expedited shipping, it’s $15 to $40, depending on the size of your art.) I opened the package, which was well-padded, to find the image just as I had hoped it would be: in a crisp, white mat and a white wood frame, ready to be hung on the wall. My printed photo, a 14x18 frame, mat and shipping was $79, and worth every penny.
Another printing company, Artifact Uprising, based in Denver, offers a number of photo gifts through its app and website, where you begin by selecting your frame type such as a gallery frame (starting at $65), deep-set frame or float frame. Next, you pick a backing style (like paper or bend points) and the frame finish and size. Then you upload your desired image and — voilà — you’re done.
There is shipping and handling, which varies depending on the price of your order and how fast you want it. Shipping a 14x11, deep-set, $99 frame to New York ranged from $18.99 for the least expensive option to $41.99 for the most expensive.
Many popular photo printing sites also frame photos. Nations Photo Lab, for one, is a favorite of The Wirecutter, the gear-and-gadget recommendation site that is a New York Times company. In March, The Wirecutter wrote about online photo-printing services they tried and loved (and some they didn’t) and said that Nations offered “the best combination of quality, price, options, and service, delivering good-looking prints in secure packaging.” For framing, Nations offers a variety of frames and mats, and asks users to download ROES ordering software. That said this isn’t necessarily the right option for you, if, like me, you want as few steps as possible; a clean, uncluttered interface; and don’t want to download software.
But let’s say you don’t want a frame. On the other end of the photo-printing spectrum are small, cheap prints you don’t think twice about putting pushpins through. And there are plenty of places to get them.
Shutterfly is among the usual options. A dozen 4x6 prints were $1.80. Economy shipping (five to 10 days) was $2.67 and 40 cents tax for a total of $4.87.
That’s nearly $2 more than Printage, a website and app that’s offering unlimited free 4x4 and 4x6 prints. You pay only shipping and handling, which varies by how many photos you order. For instance, a dozen prints were $2.97; 85 prints were $9.95 for standard shipping (five to 13 days). Expedited shipping (four to eight days) was an additional 99 cents.
The app requires access to the photos on your phone, which may be a deal breaker for some. The desktop version allows you to drag an image onto the page so that Printage doesn’t have access to all your photos. You’ll have to sign up with an email address or through Facebook if you want to continue after that. A dozen 4x6 prints were $2.83 and 14 cents tax for a total of $2.97.
Yet even those low prices didn’t beat Amazon Prints, the retailer’s photo-printing service. A dozen 4x6 prints were 9 cents each for a total of $1.08. There was no tax and standard shipping (about two weeks) was free for Prime members, which is one of the best deals around: a dozen vacation prints for about a dollar.
Bottom line: Cheap, though not necessarily fast, prints are but a few taps away if you’re not a stickler for professional-quality images. If you want your vacation photos framed on your wall, give a printing and framing site a try. My framed photos take me right back to those special trips. Now I just need to get around to hammering some nails.