In the last decade, printing your images out on real paper seems to have fallen out of fashion. As digital has conquered the world of film, many photographers–professional or personal–no longer print out their photos. Whenever I tell people about printing out my images, they act confused; “Why would you print them out?” Yet every time I give physical photos as gifts, my friends and family absolutely love them.
Many people don’t have photo printers at home, as they can be pricey to buy and stock regularly. That’s why I’ve fallen in love with the world of printing apps; why pay bucket loads for special paper and expensive ink when someone else can send you gorgeous prints with no hassle?
There are a lot of printing apps popping up, so I’ve compiled my favorites to help you choose the best option for you.
The Most Gorgeous Prints: Parabo Press
If you want stunning square prints, fresh off your Instagram feed, on thick paper with some weight to it, then Parabo Press is about to be your new obsession. The company was started by photographers – many of whom work for Photojojo – and has a design-oriented approach. They know that we want our photos to look good, that we want quality paper and that we aren’t just looking for plain ol’ 4×6" prints.
My favorite selection is the 4×4" square prints, which are perfect for your Insta-snaps. You can directly pull images off your feed by easily logging in and you won’t have to worry about having to pay special prices for the odd crop. The first set of these square pictures will run you nothing at all, other than shipping costs, and they’re a great test run to see if you’ll be a fan. Trust me, you’ll be a fan. I’m currently on my third order with no signs of stopping.
If you love Parabo, then you’ll also love that you can create custom photo books, larger fine art prints, metal prints (my absolute favorite!), calendars, gift cards and a lot more. Everything is reasonably priced, but a better quality than almost any other printing app I’ve found.
The Best Bang for Your Buck: Free Prints
Finding the Free Prints app felt like discovering some sort of dirty little secret. It’s seriously the best deal out there—really, nearly 100 4×6" prints per month for the price of shipping?—and the prints aren’t half bad either.
It’s incredibly simple; you open the app, select photos you’d like to print and make sure you like the crops. I love that it can connect with Dropbox (along with many other storage options), which makes uploading non-phone photos easier. You get 85 free 4×6" prints each month, which is a ton of photos delivered to your door. However, there are a couple of catches to be wary of before you get too excited. First, if you want a second copy of a print, you’ll pay $.09 a pop. If you want to select a specialty size (like 5×5", 5×7" or 8×10"), you’ll be paying a higher cost per print. Shipping is the last extra cost, but it’s only $7.99 for standard. If you keep it simple, with no upgrades or special crops, that’ll be the only cost you pay; that’s a sweet deal.
The prints themselves are pretty good, but can’t touch Parabo in quality. The paper is thinner and the coating default is glossy; they recently added the free option to switch to matte and I highly recommend it. I’ve also noticed that the color can be off for some photos, depending on whether they’re iPhone photos or images I’ve uploading from my computer.
All told, you can save a lot of money by using Free Prints, and the amount you can print per month is amazing. If you’re sending images to family and friends, or sliding them in scrapbook pages, then this is an incredible option. If you’re looking for fine art prints for a lower price, then look to Picabo or our next entrant, Shutterfly.
The Most Print Options: Shutterfly
Yes, I’m talking about the same old Shutterfly—it runs almost exactly the same service in an app as it does in your desktop browser. Shutterfly is hard to beat for a lot of reasons; you can pull from your existing account online, they have insane amounts of print options, the cost is pretty darn low, the deals are never ending and they love to throw in free goodies. The biggest bonus is that the app is incredibly simple to use with a lot of great features, like the ability to click-and-select multiple images to select off your Instagram feed.
The best parts of Shutterfly? You get unlimited 4×6" or 4×4" prints on good glossy paper. They allow you to upload images on your computer and then access them on the app. You can save your photos into albums for faster selection. They always have a “free with purchase” offer for really fun add-ons. They offer customization for just about every item you can dream up.
The worst part of Shutterfly? Their shipping costs are about twice as much as all the other printing apps out there. For 100 prints, the shipping cost was close to $18—over double what Free Prints charges. If you order anything other than flat prints, the cost goes up exponentially.
For me, Shutterfly is worth the shipping costs if you’re looking for unique gifts and more options than any other app out there. When you order your free 4×6" prints, you can also add in business cards, photo phone cases, monogrammed wine glasses and pillows with pictures of your dog on them. If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for Christmas, this app can be your best friend.
Too often, we let our images fall into forgotten realms of digital storage. The best part of whatever app your choose to use is that you’re actually printing your photos. With as little as $7.99, you can hold your own images in your hands, no computer screen involved. Ship them to faraway family members, pass them off to friends as happy reminders or keep them over your desk for a daily dose of memories. Don’t let your images slip into oblivion!
All of the apps discussed here are available for free for iOS and Android devices; Picabo and Shutterfly will also work from your PC or Mac browser.