Photo calendar printing services mini-review

Joined
Dec 21, 2005
Messages
8,291
Location
Central Virginia
I wanted to produce a limited number (20-25) of photo calendars for Christmas gifts. Printing and binding myself looked to be expensive and time consuming, so I auditioned three on-line services by having one copy printed by each before deciding where to have the balance of my copies printed. The calendar format was 11” x 17” bound in the center (other sizes are available). I used the same images for all three services.

Service: Mpix (www.mpix.com)
Cost per calendar: $20.00 for single calendar orders; an order of 11-50 calendars lowers the unit cost to $17.30
Shipping: to U.S. ($4.95 flat rate via USPS Priority Mail) and Canada ($14.95 flat rate via USPS Ground) only. My order arrived in three business days
Calendar creation: to create calendars, you download a free application called Mpix Press, compatible with Windows or Apple OS X 10.3 or higher. The program (which is actually published by Digilabs (www.digi-labs.net) which also sells a full version of the software and offers printing services) is similar to a desktop publishing app. The version distributed by Mpix only outputs to an order to Mpix; you can’t print a proof but you do generate a .pdf proof file before placing the order. Working from your choice of a number of templates, you can resize and reposition your photos, add captions, borders, configure fonts, add graphics in the calendar grid, add custom holidays, etc. Full bleed (printing your image to the edge of the page) is supported. The software seems to have a few minor bugs but overall works well.
Overall calendar quality: good. The paper is fairly heavy, and printed elements are sharp and showed up just as I configured them in the software
Photo reproduction quality: disappointing. The printed output was a poor match for the soft proof created at the time the order was place. Regular prints I’ve had made by Mpix in the past match my on screen colors closely, but the photos in the calendar seem to have a slight yellow-green cast. The photos have a lost a little contrast and show some grain that that isn’t present in the original files when viewed at 100% on screen. Additionally, streaking that apparently follows the path of the print head is quite visible.

Service: cafepress (www.cafepress.com)
Cost per calendar: $14.99 for single calendar orders. The price per calendar goes down to $9.74 for orders of twenty.
Shipping: Standard shipping to my location for one calendar is $5.00 and $13.35 for 20. Cafepress ships internationally. It took three business days for my order to arrive.
Calendar creation: is via your browser. The only configuration option is for the height of images size; the aspect ratio is fixed. Holidays can’t be configured (U. S. holidays are automatically used), nor can fonts, colors, etc. You can’t even add a title on the cover page, so I added title text to the image I selected for the cover. Full bleed image printing is supported; template images to assist in image sizing and cropping for full bleed are available for download. Calendar page previews are small, but a large image of each page can be viewed in a pop up window. Both page previews show a pulsing border at the perimeter of the image page to indicate image areas that might be lost with full bleed printing.
Overall calendar quality: good. The paper is a little lighter than from Shutterfly and Mpix, but acceptable, and the printed elements are sharp.
Photo reproduction quality: fair. Colors are fairly faithful. A little grain and streaking are visible, but somewhat less than the Mpix calendar. The photos are all brightened a little, as though auto levels are applied (there’s no option to avoid auto corrections when creating the calendar), causing a little lost detail in bright areas like clouds. Also, in some of the photos, some foliage has taken on a very soft, almost watercolor-like appearance. Not unattractive, but not like my originals.

Service: Shutterfly (www.shutterfly.com)
Cost per calendar: $19.99. If you pre-pay for 25 calendars, the price drops to $11.96 each.
Shipping: Standard shipping to my location for one calendar is $4.99 and $27.99 for 20 calendars. Shutterfly ships to 200 countries. Standard shipping is via UPS Mail innovations, a combination of UPS and USPS. In the case of my test calendar, UPS transported the calendar from California to a Mail Innovations center in New Jersey in two days. USPS took over from that point and in one more day got the package to the main post office in my area, where it apparently sat for 10 days (6 business days). Total time from order to delivery was 14 days (9 business days)-not particularly good service at the price.
Calendar creation: is via your browser. A plug in for IE facilitates uploading photos to an on line album, and other browsers including Firefox and Safari are supported. The browser interface is fairly snappy over a good broadband connection. You can save a calendar for future editing or orders. Far fewer configuration options are available compared to Mpix press, although you can add standard holidays from many countries and religions and also create custom holidays. Adding borders and captions to photos causes cropping in ways you may not intend, so I’d recommending adding these in Photoshop before you upload. Shutterfly applies automatic color and contrast corrections by default, and you have to specify photo-by-photo if you don’t want these automatic corrections made. Only a small preview of calendar pages is available. Full bleed is not supported.
Overall calendar quality: good. The paper stock is the heaviest of the group, and the printing is clear and sharp.
Photo reproduction quality: good. Colors are more saturated and faithful than on the calendars from Mpix and shutterfly. The photos have a little more contrast than when viewed on my monitor, so a little shadow detail doesn’t show to best advantage, but overall the appearance is pleasing. Overall, the quality strikes me as being a little less than that of a decent quality ink jet print on good paper.

Conclusion: I decided to place an order for the balance of my calendars with Shutterfly, because the photo reproduction is the best of the group and the unit price for an order of 25 is acceptable. I upgraded the shipping from standard to priority shipping, because it took so long for the initial calendar to arrive.

I’d welcome comments from those who have used similar services or who’ve created calendars in other ways.
 
Joined
Nov 11, 2005
Messages
3,185
Location
Westchester County, NY
Haven't used the ones that you have tried, but I can tell you that I have used

http://www.photogiftplace.com/ProductJmp.aspx?JType=Calendarjump

with excellent results. Top quality heavy stock paper, great photo quality and the ability to choose all sorts of special dates. In addition to "standard" US holidays, you can opt for different religious observances and even select your special family birthdays and other special days.

They will print pretty much anything that you want on any day you choose.

Excellent customer service as well. I had a problem uploading my 13 images (12 months + cover) since I had shot with my D2x and the files were huge. I emailed customer service, got an immediate response telling me to just order the calendar online the way I wanted it configured and to mail them a CD with the huge files.

Can't ask for better service.

A big winner in my book.
 
Joined
Jul 14, 2005
Messages
1,265
Location
Smack dab between the Wolverines and the Spartans
I ended up using the Kodak Easyshare Gallery for my calendars. I was very hesitant to do so, because I hate their photo books (poor quality IMO.) Had I realized mpix did calendars, I would have used them, because I use them for everything else. But since I didn't, I tried Kodak and was pleasantly surprised...so much so that I ordered another batch after the first.

They ran about $19.99 a piece, but there are always discounts out there for a percentage off or free shipping. Plus if you shop through upromise or FatWallet, there are cashback percentages there. The color and contrast on the calendars is dead on (which is quite different from their photo books, where the photos came out flat and faded.) If anything, they tend toward being a smidge too contrasty, though it's not an objectionable amount. The calendar photos are a bit grainy, but they're fine for the family photos the calendar contains. Had I been doing landscape shots, I probably wouldn't have been happy with the Kodak output...scratch that...I know I wouldn't have been happy with it for landscape shots.

What makes the whole thing work is the dark blue background I chose for the calendar...it's glossy but if you look closely is pretending to have a photo matte texture. At first glance, that texture just looks like a bit of grain, and so the grain on the photos doesn't stand out at all...the whole thing just looks a wee bit grainy overall. And though I noticed it immediately, my extended family won't. Had the blue background been solid and glossy, the grain on the photos would have stood out a lot more.

Anyway, for a fun family calendar, Kodak worked great. I wouldn't recommend them for fine art, but that probably doesn't surprise anyone :biggrin:
 
Joined
Mar 26, 2006
Messages
793
Location
Dayton, OH
Dave,

Thanks for the excellent comparison!

Does anyone else have any experience with getting calendars printed?

Has anyone printed their own calendars? If so, what software did you use?
 
Joined
Aug 1, 2006
Messages
13,855
Location
Massachusetts
I've used, with excellent results, Photoworks. They have several different styles of calanders to choose from. I went with an 11x16" calander, which has two pics per month, and they were around $25ea, but when I ordered 5, they came down to $20.

Print quality is excellent, paper is very heavy, you can add in customized data to the dates. Set up is done by uploading photos to their site and then drag/dropping them into the month that you want. It's very simple.
 
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