Sure, you can buy the digital files and have your prints made at an inexpensive local lab, or a big box store. It sounds better...less expensive. But from personal experience, and the experience of some of my clients, this is not always as good as it sounds. When you have gone through all the effort of having professional photographs taken, why would you then have your finished piece of artwork made at a place that also sells diapers and toilet paper? While this may be an okay option for your iphone snapshots, you might want to rethink this if you are going to make wall art for your home, or have the intention of creating an heirloom album.
I recently conducted my own little experiment. I sent the same image to three different labs and compared them on price, ease of ordering, and print quality. The price varied between these labs quite a bit, as did the ease of ordering. That's actually a big factor. If you don't know your way around pixels and jpegs you may have a difficult time placing your order. And the print quality also varied. Widely! As you can probably guess, the lab that came out cheapest had the absolute worst print quality. I was showing my test prints to a friend of mine, compared to a print you would get if you ordered it through me and she was amazed at the quality difference. The paper quality and the rich, saturated colors made a huge difference. The old saying is true. You get what you pay for.
So, I found this video online to share with you. It's a behind the scenes video from the lab I use to order my prints from. I've worked in a small photo lab, and a medium sized local pro lab, so I know what it's like. What really impressed me in this video is the size of the lab, how many different people are involved in processing my orders, and the streamlined system they have. It just goes to show that they are specialists in what they do, and they are very good at it. I've been extremely impressed with their print quality, and their customer service, so it's really neat to see how they operate behind the scenes. I though you might enjoy seeing this too.