The familiar Shutterfly photo-printing service offers probably the widest array of products you can grace with your photography, but its photo image quality for standard prints falls short of the competition’s. The company will merge with the also-well-known Snapfish in the coming months (Shutterfish? Snapfly?), so all that may change. Shutterfly is not the least expensive of the services, but its packaging is better than most lower-cost printing services.
Pricing and Starting Up
Prints at the 4-by-6-inch size cost 15 cents each at Shutterfly, which is middle-of-the-pack compared with the competition. Snapfish and York Photo Labs charge just 9 cents for the same size, while Nations Photo Lab charges 32 cents. Walgreens Photo and CVS Photo charge 33 cents for 4-by-6s.
Shutterfly lets you print your photos on a multitude of surfaces: cards, stationery, calendars, personalized gifts, home décor, and more. Beyond the expected mugs, magnets, and posters, you can choose flowerpots, blankets, cellphone cases, pillows, shower curtains, and even pet food bowls. Cards for every occasion—holidays, graduation, wedding, birthday, and many more—are also available, starting at a mere $1.39. One thing I did not see among Shutterfly’s offerings was a necktie, which York Photo Labs offers. But other than that, if you need an unusual object to print your pictures on, Shutterfly should be the first place you look.
Books in particular are a strength. The professional custom-designed Make My Book option starts at $29.99, but for just $15.99 you can get a 7-by-9 in softcover. Snapfish’s starting price of $19.99 is for an 8-by-8-inch softcover book. Snapfish doesn’t offer a design service, but, really, I expect that most people who get to the point of uploading their photos will want to choose the pictures themselves for their photo book. The service offers two routes for this: a Custom Path and the Simple Path. The former gives you complete control over layout and the latter simply pours your chosen photos into a template. For Shutterfly’s Make My Book service, you need to submit at least 60 photos.
Uploading and Organizing Images
Shutterfly has improved its uploading and ordering interface since I last reviewed the service. You can upload photos directly from your PC or import them from Facebook, Google Photos, or Instagram for printing. The initial upload tool now supports drag and dropping photo files onto its window, and no longer requires the Adobe Flash plugin. Once you’re in one of your galleries, you can click Get More Photos. Only JPG files are allowed; Nations adds the more pro-level TIFF format, as well.
After uploading photos to your online gallery, you discover that Shutterfly’s editing options are more limited than those you find in Snapfish. With Shutterfly you can only crop and rotate. You don’t get any lighting adjustments like you do with AdoramaPix and Mpix. Shutterfly makes adding and changing print sizes easy; it shows all photos and size choices on a single page. You can even select multiple sizes for all the photos in your order in one place at the top.
A nice touch is that you can enter text to print on the back of your photo—very handy for remembering distant relatives or travel locations. I didn’t see this option in most other services, though it is an option in AdoramaPix. There are also some interesting photo size choices, including 5-by-15, 8-by-24, and 12-by-36, for panoramic shots, but Nations also offers those sizes, though Walgreens Photo does not.
When checking out, you can pay with MasterPass, PayPal, or Visa Checkout, which is more convenient that Nations’ credit-card only method. Shipping is pricier than for most services I tested, however. For my order of 27 prints including 4-by-6s, 5-by-7s, and one 8-by-10, shipping started at $9.23 for eight-day delivery; for $16.73 I could get five-day delivery; and four-business-day delivery costs a ridiculous $38.85. By comparison, Snapfish offers four-day delivery for just $7.99. After completing my order, the Shutterfly site didn’t tell me the expected ship date for my order using ground shipping, as Snapfish did. Shutterfly lets you pick up your photos at Walgreens Photo, Target, or CVS, but I chose to have my order printed at the company’s labs and mailed; the local pickup options would test a store’s printers, rather than Shutterfly’s.
Shutterfly also offers a decent mobile app, which lets you upload photos from your device for printing. The app lets you see any photos you’ve uploaded from a computer, too. From the app, you can not only order prints, but also mugs, iPhone cases, canvas prints, cushions, and other items. Unfortunately, the mobile app doesn’t let you edit photos or share online galleries. Those are things that the Snapfish app can do, however.
My photos arrived in the best packaging among the budget services I tested. The 4-by-6s, 5-by-7s, and 8-by-10 each came in their own separate sleeve, with an overnight-style outer envelope protecting everything. This is definitely better than York Photo Labs’ and Amazon Prints’ thin paper envelope and an improvement on Snapfish’s and Walmart Photo‘s loose 8-by-10 in a cardboard overnight envelope.
Like several of the services I tested, Shutterfly uses Fuji Crystal Archive paper, which is of good quality, though on the thin side. It yields a sharp image, but the colors tend to be oversaturated. AdoramaPix, Mpix, and Nations Photo Lab use the more-professional Kodak Endura paper. One thing I like about the Shutterfly photos was that the filenames were printed on the back, even though I didn’t specify a title to print there. I also appreciate the contact sheet that came with each size-group of prints.
Frankly, the images on my Shutterfly prints are not up to snuff. Color and lighting are fine, but the photos lack the sharpness of Snapfish’s and other competitors’ prints. In fact, one coworker mentioned that the only real difference he’d noticed among all the photo prints scattered around my work area was the inferior print image on the Shutterfly pictures. If you click on the sample print scan images here to pop up a larger version, you should be able to see the softness of the Shutterfly prints. Look in particular at the light beige mountains in the distance in the shot below to see the difference in sharpness among the services. In the red hat portrait below, Shutterfly’s colors, brightness, and contrast are also just fine, but on closer examination the sharpness pales in comparison with the better competitors.
Shutterfly also offers online sharing of photos and galleries you’ve uploaded to the service. You get your own Share site, and can post events, such as birthday parties, and sports events. You can specify that viewing your gallery requires a sign-in, or you can make it publicly visible. You get a variety of site designs, including seasonal option, and the resulting site can play full-window slideshows of the included images. And of course, people viewing the mini site can order photo prints from Shutterfly.
Snap the Shutter!
Shutterfly has a few feathers in its cap, but it’s only a middle-of-the-road service. Print and image quality is below average, pricing is average, and the website experience is neither wonderful nor terrible. The feathers are excellent packaging, online shareable galleries, and the filename or photo title printed on the backs of the photos. If those things are paramount to you, then Shutterfly is worth a look. For the best image quality, however, look to our Editors’ Choice photo printing services, AdoramaPix and Mpix at the premium level; and for value photo printing, Snapfish and Walmart Photo.