We will take more than a trillion photographs, primarily on mobile phones, in 2015. Most of the pictures will die when you throw out your phone, many others will live forever on Facebook and Instagram and only a tiny proportion will actually get preserved with ink and paper.
No matter how many digital images you have stored in the cloud, there's no substitute for a printed image that you can touch and feel. We've taken a look at all the options for bringing your digital masterpieces and stupid selfies into the tangible world.
Despite only being a tiny proportion of total photos taken, there are still billions of images printed every year and, as a result, it's a very crowded marketplace. We've taken a look at some of the biggest players and compared them in terms of price, convenience and quality.
Snapfish has been printing digital pictures since 1999 and has been owned by Hewlett-Packard since 2004. It is probably the cheapest option on the market. The standard price for 6x4-inch photos is nine cents per print, and you can often get even cheaper deals using coupon codes that are just a Google search away (at the time of writing there's an offer of 99 prints for 99 cents). You'll also get 100 free prints when you sign up. Like many sites on the market, Snapfish also allows you to create photo books, calendars, cards, T-shirts, mugs and more. These features are all great, but I've found that, in practice, the time required to arrange a photo book isn't worth the hassle — you're better off just getting the prints and then you have the option of framing them or putting them in a book.
Snapfish say it takes two to four business days to produce your pictures, then standard shipping ($0.99) is three to five business days, so for the cheapest option, you may have to wait up to two weeks for the prints. Two-day shipping costs $8.99 and overnight delivery will set you back $10.99.
Alternatively, you can pick up prints at Walmart, Walgreens and Duane Reade outlets across the United States. Prices and production times vary depending on the store. In Brooklyn, same-day delivery was available in a number of Duane Reade stores for 29 cents per 6x4-inch print. Walmart pick up is a little cheaper at 19 cents per 6x4 print. There have been reports that the quality of prints from drugstores doesn't quite match up to photos delivered directly from Snapfish.
Another veteran of digital printing, Shutterfly, has been going since 2000 and went public in 2006. Like Snapfish, it offers a large repertoire of products from prints and photo books to T-shirts, pillows and phone covers. It's a little pricier than its rival. Prints start at 15 cents per 6x4 photo and you only get 50 free prints for signing up.
There are a number of delivery options. For $1.89, you can get economy delivery in an estimated five to nine days. Strangely, standard shipping costing $5.99 promises only six to eight days. Then, you have guaranteed options of expedited (five days for $11.99) and rush (four days for $19.99).
Again, you can pick up your prints in-store within an hour at CVS, Walgreens, Duane Reade or Target outlets. As with Snapfish, the price is 29 cents per 6x4 print in the drugstore and 19 cents at Target. However, again, beware as the in-store prints might not be quite the same quality as those delivered in the post.
Really, Shutterfly doesn't offer anything more than Snapfish and is 50 percent pricier. The other problem with Shutterfly is the software. The interface is extremely clunky and slow and, quite frankly, was painful to use.
CVSphoto.com essentially offers the same service as the in-store pick-up offerings from Snapfish and Shutterfly. You can upload pictures from your computer or import them from social media sites like Facebook, Instagram or Picasa. Prints start at 29 cents for 6x4 photos or 19 cents if you order 50 or more. The software is pretty slow, though, and uploading could take an age, so if you're in a rush. It's probably better to head down to the store and upload into the self-service kiosks directly from your memory card or USB stick.
Walgreens undercuts the other drugstores on price. In-store prints are 29 cents or 20 cents for 50 or more, but there is also a delivery option. You can get home-delivered 6x4 inch prints for 12 cents each. Delivery times and prices are very similar to those offered by Snapfish. The software is powered by Snapfish and works much better than the CVS interface, and upload times were much faster. Again, there are deals on offer, as at the time of this writing, Walgreens was offering 10 cent prints if you ordered 75 or more. As with any of these sites, it's worth doing a quick Google search for coupons.
Walmart, as you might expect, competes on price. Like Snapfish, it offers 9 cent 6x4-inch prints via the home delivery service. The same prints are available for one hour in-store pick-up for 19 cents each. Walmart photo software is powered by Snapfish and, as a result, offers pretty fast and seamless uploads. Essentially, you are using Snapfish with a Walmart logo.
AdoramaPix offers professional quality prints posted directly to your home. Like its competitors, it also offers the full suite of products from photo books to mugs but it is the quality of the prints that makes it stand out. The software is also a little cleaner and upload times were sufficient. The color and crispness of the prints is definitely slightly better than the big name competitors. You also have more scope for customization. Prints are available in glossy, matte, luster, silk, metallic or deep matte finishes and there are more print sizes on offer.
It's a little more expensive, however - 6x4 prints start at 24 cents each and there are fewer special offers and coupons available. Shipping is also a little pricier; the standard seven day estimated delivery starts at $3.95 and the fastest delivery estimate of five days will set you back $23. For New Yorkers, you can pick up in the Manhattan or Brooklyn stores for $2.
If you're ordering a few special shots, it could be worth looking at AdoramaPix. On the other hand, if you're ordering a few years worth of snaps and only want 6x4-inch prints, you will probably barely notice the difference in quality and it'll cost you twice as much.
Owned by Miller's Professional Imaging, this photo-printing operation has been around since 1968 and is among the largest professional labs in the nation. Like AdormaPix, Mpix offers a higher quality print than the likes of Snapfish or Shutterfly. Again, you have calendars and gift cards, but the quality is the real selling point. Mpix offers 6x4 economy prints for 19 cents each, but the site shows economy and standard pictures side by side, and anyone looking at them would plump for the 29 cent print. The software is simpler and easier to use than any of the others tested here and upload times are comparable with the competition. You have a number of customizable options, such as luster coating, metallic finishes or the ability to have the image mounted or framed. There are also retouching options that allow you to remove stray hairs or whiten teeth.
Delivery times are slower than the competition. Economy delivery ($3.95) takes at least 10 days and standard delivery ($7.95) will take a minimum of five days. Mpix does, however, offer an overnight signature-required service for $14.95. These times are on top of the production time, which can be less than a day if all the prints are on the same type of paper and up to three business days for mounted prints.
There is huge choice for anyone wanting to print pics and, as with most products, you get what you pay for. If you're just looking for the best deal you won't do better than Snapfish; if you're in a rush you should run down to the drugstore; and if you want really good quality, use one of the more professional services. Whatever you do, make sure you print your photos somewhere. We think we have a record of everything in the digital age, but in reality, unless you transform your precious snaps into something tangible, the memories will likely be forgotten in a giant mass of digital data.
Photo: Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon | Flickr