Do Wedding Photos Have to Be Printed on Archival Paper?


But seriously, why are there so many options for printing photos?

Archicval Paper Wedding Photo Printing

Q: Hello APW!

I have a few questions about wedding photos that I’d love you guys to weigh in on. First, do you have to send your photos to a lab, or can you print them at home yourself? I have a high-quality Epson photo printer and plenty of photo-specific paper on hand. It seems to me that I have two big pros in my favor for just printing what I want at home: it’ll save me money (because I already have everything I need), and I get the instant satisfaction of having my photos (yay for not having to wait!). However, I’m worried that maybe I really do need lab-quality archival paper, and that if I print the photos at home I might regret the decision in the long run.

Second, what in the world is the difference between a digitally printed album and a flush mount album? I feel like the wedding industry is always telling you that you have to keep spending a ton of money, even after the wedding is over, or your photos won’t last or you’ll regret it. Help?

Did you print your wedding photos on your own, order the photos from your photographer, or send the digital files to a photo lab? If you opted for in-home printing, what gear do you have? If you used a lab, how did you figure out who to use? And seriously: when it comes to wedding albums, what are the differences?

 If you want the APW community’s two cents, send it to QUESTIONS AT APRACTICALWEDDING DOT COM, and we’ll do our best to crowd source you some answers!
Staff Picks

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • Kayjayoh

    Embrace “and”. You can print your photos at home, and if you have them as digital files you can *also* have some sent to be printed professionally. There is no “have to” in any of this. No archival prints are fine. They won’t last forever, but that might not be your priority.

    One of the beauties of photos and photo printing is that you can do multiples and do whatever works best at the time, for your purposes, and for your budget.

    • StevenPortland

      The great thing about digital files is that you can print them at home now, and if in 1 month, 1 year or 1 decade you don’t like how the photos look, you can easily re-print them — or decide at that point to have them printed professionally.

    • Kayjayoh

      “However, I’m worried that maybe I really do need lab-quality archival paper, and that if I print the photos at home I might regret the decision in the long run.”

      Specifically: if you make sure that you keep the files backed up and every now and then make sure that things are not corrupted or obsolete, you can always print more/again later.

      • Kayjayoh

        But for the love of god, back up your files. Back up your back-ups.

        • Eenie

          And don’t store all your backups in the same space! If you have a fireproof document safe (highly recommended) or a safety deposit box, those are both great places to save them. Otherwise family/friends may be willing to keep your backup thumb drive of wedding photos.

          • Kayjayoh

            Yup. I have the CDs in a fireproof safe, the files on a computer and some portable drives, and I have a service that backs up my computer any time I am online.

            Pondering uploading them to Google Drive, too. Just for extra caution. :)

  • I really objected to the look of the albums my photographer (and most photographers) offered, and the crazy crazy cost. I had my photos printed by Adorama in NYC (and shipped to Boston) and then I put them in an archival paper blank album myself (I had my custom made by a bookbinder, but there are lots of nice and simple options available at good arts and crafts store if you don’t want to go that route). So I received lab quality but at a cents per print, not dollars per print cost. Assembling my own album took some time, getting the photos straight on the page with those little photo corners takes a little practice and patience and a good eye and level hand. That said, I was so much happier with the cost and look of the end result. I would also check out photo book places. I used Lulu and printed an everyday book to be able to share without worrying about exposing the photos to light and finger prints regularly and as able to print the books (with their first time customer promo) for about $12 a book. We made one for ourselves and printed one for each parent and grandparent, which was a big hit.

    • StevenPortland

      The album wasn’t cheap, but last month I had our wedding and reception photos made into a book by http://www.montagebooks.com. I cannot tell you how happy I am with the result!!! The software is what sold me on the experience. After you upload all your photos, the software automatically groups them and then sets up pages in the album with related photos. You can press a button to have the format “shuffled” into another one, and you can swap in and out photos. After the software made the initial draft of the album I spent no more than 2 hours tweaking it. It was so easy and looks so good!

  • anneschwal

    I did the layout myself and ordered an album from http://www.artisanstate.com/. It was WAY less expensive than ordering from a photographer and it looks fantastic, much much nicer quality than something from Shutterfly. They also do framed prints and I will probably order from them again after we buy a house and are ready to hang up more photos!

    Also, my parents have a big high quality digital printer and they printed some of our photos themselves to frame and hang up, and they look great as well.

  • sara

    We went for the expensive/fancy flush mount album from our photographer. I will say it is AMAZING – the pages are more like thick cardboard, and the photos look fabulous. But, it was also EXPENSIVE – I do not think we would have purchased the album if we hadn’t had significant family help with wedding expenses.

    That said, as long as you are careful about backing everything up, I see no reason why you can’t print some at home now, see how you like them, and print more using a more expensive method in the future if/when you desire to do so! I have some good friends who never really got ANY wedding photos printed because they were busy with other stuff (especially having a kid!) and we were chatting about it recently – basically they felt like they loved their photos, but were in no rush to print and maybe would get around to it in the future. I don’t think they regret it because they are happy to be spending their time/money on other stuff (again: baby!) and they still have the option open to create a book or get some fancy prints done at some point in the future if/when their lives calm down. :)

  • Yikes, I reeeeally need to make sure our wedding photos are backed up!

    I’ve done a couple of print runs (typicals 6x4s) and also got a lay flat photo book (with thick cardstock pages) done by Mixbook (reviewed here http://nzmuse.com/2015/07/the-photobook-wars). I do worry about how well photobooks age! But as everyone says, as long as you have the files…

    • Lawyerette510

      For backup I use a combo of dropbox and backblaze. Dropbox I only use for YNAB (so it can be synced to multiple devices) and pictures/ videos, while backblaze I use to back up 100% of what’s on my computer. Dropbox is nice because I can easily access the files individually and pull down instantly, backblaze is great in case of total loss (theft, damage, etc) or something else requiring a full restore.

  • snf100

    I opted for a middle of the road option, I took my digitals to CVS or Walgreens (honestly where ever I had a coupon) to print up to an 8×10 size print and I am pleased with the quality. I didn’t spend too much and if in 5 years I want a different picture to display or the colors look weird or faded I can always print another one. If I ever want to do a massive print I think then I would go through either our photographer or a higher quality photo lab to have it printed. For our album I went through Adoramapix they have lay flat pages and print on digital paper, its nice quality and will last me well enough.

  • Katie

    I also am looking for recommendations for a photo book that’s reasonably priced and bit higher quality than Shutterfly or Walgreens. My photographer mentioned Mpix. Has anyone used it? I’m hoping to make photo books for parents and in-laws for Christmas, too.

    • Alicia

      I used Blurb, based on a post on this site, and I really loved it.

      • ML

        Yes, I use Blurb for all my photo books and really like the print quality. I highly recommend getting one of the higher end papers, especially for bigger sized books. The best thing about Blurb is their customer service. Any time I have a quibble with a minor imperfection, I just snap a photo and they send a new one no questions asked. It makes me feel confident ordering from them and paying a lot

      • kate

        mentioned above, but be ware the time it may take you to resize with blurb. it’s probably similar with other services, but it was a lot more than i expected, although i’m really happy with the results!

    • Laura

      I’ve used Mpix for enlarged prints, not a photo book, but I was very pleased with the quality. I’ve had issues with Shutterfly and Snapfish in the past, but Mpix was a pleasant surprise.

    • Lawyerette510

      I used Mpix and it was fine. We did a few small soft-cover books and they turned out nice.

    • Phoebe

      I love Mpix for prints! Very nice quality. Haven’t had a chance to get album from there yet. I got our album from My Publisher and was very impressed. Plus they offer a lot of buy one get one free and other deals so you can gift to both sets of parents

    • Allie Moore

      Artifact Uprising bas beautiful photo books!

  • Zoe

    As a quick note on paper choice for printing at home, the term “archival” gets thrown around a lot and doesn’t always mean what you think it should. Look for paper that’s labeled as PH neutral or acid free instead. I can’t speak to ink choices, but printing on decent paper is going to keep your photos in good condition longer.

    • pajamafishadventures

      Yes. You don’t need to get them printed on “archival” paper, but you should be getting them printed on acid free paper so that they last longer. But I’m an archivist so I think everything should be acid free.

  • Katie

    I had photos printed with mpix.com. The paper did actually make a difference, but I only printed photos we gave as gifts or displayed, not all of them. To find them, I read lots of professional photographer’s blogs for who they recommended as a non-industry printer. Mpix got high marks for quality, and their prices are good.

    I did our albums myself with Blurb. They turned out great, and they had an AMAZING black friday sale that I took advantage of, BUT. They were and ENORMOUS PAIN IN THE ASS. You need to set aside a lot of time to build the album, and be prepared to do lots of sizing work of your photos, especially if they are professional an in raw format. It probably took me 20 hours of work. I guess that’s a good reason professional albums cost so much!

    • kate

      yeah, blurb was thrown around here recently as a really quick way to do albums and i too found the necessary resizing work to be VERY significant (and i’ve only uploaded/resized enough for one small album so far). they don’t accept photos over 10MB (which a lot of full res pro photos are), so anything over that you’ll have to manually resize before you can use it and even though our photographer handily gave us the option to also download lower “web res” versions of everything, those were all a little too small for many of the layouts.

      once the resizing is done though, the upside is the interface was pretty easy to use, the prices seem to be very good for what you get, and once you’ve done one album, it is very easy to duplicate and make small changes if you want to, for example, customize slightly different albums for different family members.

      • ML

        Interesting feedback! My husband and I take professional quality photos for trips, and used our wedding photographer’s photos for our wedding book with absolutely no issues and no need to resize. Does it depend on what software version you use maybe? I use BookSmart. In regards to what Katie said, I am surprised by a pro offering you RAW files and not converting them first. I don’t know many book making softwares that can use RAW files. I could see why that would take some extra time and effort.

        • kate

          ours weren’t RAW formatted and i’m no expert in photo formats/sizing, so i don’t know if this is common, but most of the jpegs were just over 10MB in the full res versions we got, so we had to size them down to work with blurb. it may just depend on the photographer and how they process everything/what equipment they shoot with. jealous now that others didn’t have this problem… ;)

      • MC

        In Blurb, if you download the BookWright desktop tool/app, you don’t have to resize your photos!

        • kate

          oh man! so good to know! i only just started playing with it recently and had no idea that was the case. good thing we only did one album so far….
          thank you :)

        • Katie

          I don’t remember why, but BookWright wouldn’t work for what I needed to do. Maybe it was because I’d uploaded all my photos to a photo sharing site… I can’t remember? I know it had to do with where the photos had to be in order to use them in the application.

  • Meg Keene

    My two cents (GET IT?!) is that you can order prints for $0.30 (that’s about what I pay at my local printer for small prints, I maybe pay $5 for big prints). And they print them on a machine that probably costs…. way way more than my car costs. The quality is A++++ and I don’t have to pay for ink. So I’d rather spend the $.30 or $5 for quality on a machine I could never afford (paper is neither here nor there…)

    Bay Area folks: Montclair One Hour Photo has AMAZING quality, as good as any of the professional photo places. I order from them and from places like SmugMug pretty equally, and their quality is just as good. They’re cheap and fast and a local business. Four thumbs up.

  • Ellen

    Question: A lot of our photos were taken with film – our photographers scanned the images, so I have digital files. But I’m curious about printing them – can you? has anyone? Do I need to have them develop and print all the images?

    • CMT

      I’m guessing that digital prints from the scanned negatives will be fine, but not as high quality as photo prints directly from the negatives. The problem is finding somebody who can make prints from negatives; there aren’t a lot of places that do that these days.

    • As long as you have permission, you can print the digital film files you have just like any other photo file. I’m assuming your photog gave you finished edits, ie they are already developed (twice actually! developed from film to digital, and then “developed” in digital editing). Anyway if it’s a jpg you’re good, just print it haha. :)

  • Caroline

    I sort of nerded out on this and ordered test prints from 8ish companies. They ranged from amazing to terribly unacceptable in quality (color, sharpness, paper quality, etc). My favorites were from MPix, actually. (There were several professional labs included in the list, but mostly they didn’t win). Bay Photo was #2 and would have been my choice for an album had we made our own, but my mom gave us one through the photographer. It’s nice, but I’m not sure it was worth the money. The paper isn’t as nice as I expected, it feels a little like it was printed, rather than feeling like a photo. So were I to have a do-over, I’d make my own for 1/2 the cost, but that said, I like having a really nice album and ours is nice.

  • Kara Davies

    In my opinion, you’ve paid up big for those gorgeous images so you should definitely get them professionally printed! I am not a photo printer, I paid for experts to do their thing and I got gorgeous prints. I do not have the design program access nor skills nor contacts to design and print a professional album, so I got my photographer to do one for me (it was in my package). It came out beautifully!

    That said, I’m a mad keen scrapbooker. I put a few of our professionally printed images in with prints done at my local printer. I’ve backed up all the files, and other family members have copies too (just in case).

  • Rachelle

    Professional prints are relatively inexpensive, but as others have mentioned, if you have all the digital files backed up that’s a decision you can make at any point down the line. I got mine done with MPix and LOVED the quality – the colors are pretty exquisite and I’m not a photographer who would typically notice the difference.

    I actually first designed and ordered a photo book through MyPublisher which was… fine. The design process was pretty easy, but I just wasn’t super thrilled with the quality even though I got the thickest lay-flat pages. They now offer flush mount albums which I can’t speak to! I ended up ordering a flush mount through a small website (Inspired Album Designs). She did the design for me and was super responsive and helpful through the editing process. I got the cheapest option – budget thin page flush mount and it’s great! Just want to say that I did regret going the photo book route and highly recommend the lovely book feel of a flush mount album!

  • Jane Patterson-McGuire

    The first thing I would do is actually assess how archival the photos from your Epson are — their Pro line is the gold standard, and while I doubt that’s what you have on your desk, some of their consumer ink+paper combinations are also highly rated. This is one of those areas where which paper matters a lot, some are more archival than others. And for this purpose, name brand inks vs the cheap refills.

    A print that is going to live on someone’s refrigerator probably doesn’t need to hit the highest standards of archivalness, since it could easily reach a sorry, soggy end in a food/weak magnet based accident (or maybe that’s just my house…) and is going to be exposed to the twin devils of sunlight and humidity that shorten the life of every photograph, no matter how it is printed.

    A digitally printed album usually means dye-based ink on paper, usually without a thick backing between the pages, where a flush album is true chemically printed photo prints. (It gets fuzzy in the high end, where there are flush albums that are using high-end pigment ink printers on special fine art paper, which are more archival than real photographs according to current testing, although obviously they haven’t actually been around for 150 years to check.)