How Does One-Hour Photo Printing Compare to Ordering Prints?

If you’re looking to turn your digital photos into physical prints, you might be wondering how one-hour photo printing compares to ordering prints from a professional photo lab.
Both options have their pros and cons, and I’ll tell you all about them in this article.
Not only that – I’ll tell you about some other choices you have to print your photos, such as a photo kiosk and online services that are less expensive than a professional lab.
There isn’t one solution that fits all situations – it all depends on your needs.
That’s why, in this guide, I’ll give you some pointers as to which option might be better depending on your budget, time constraints, and more.
I’ll even include a comparison chart you can use as a cheat sheet to easily decide which service to use each time you need to print your pictures.
While we’re on the subject, I’ll also talk briefly about using the developing and printing services from local drugstores and retail stores.
I won’t go too in-depth into this topic as the article is dedicated to printing digital files – but I’ll link you to our other articles where you can find out more.
Just know that, by the end of this article, you’ll have a better idea of the choices you have for printing your photos and how to choose the best one.

What Is the Best Place to Get Photos Printed?
Credit: George Milton
In the era of digital images, there aren’t as many printing options as there were back in the days of film photography.
This is because we don’t print as often, given that we can see our images on our phones, computers, digital frames, and even the TV.
Still, we have enough choices for things to get a little confusing. Let’s see what options are there and review their pros and cons.

Using a Photo Kiosk
Kodak photo kiosks at Imageworks. Credit: Credit: Hi-res uploaded by WillMcC to Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo kiosks are self-service devices available in stores, pharmacies, malls, and other locations.
To use the kiosk, you need to connect your device to it. They usually offer multiple choices, such as a wireless connection, using a USB cable, or plugging directly into a memory stick. Some of them even support a CD or DVD.

Immediacy. You can order your prints and receive them immediately – it’s almost like taking cash out of the ATM.
Autonomy. This is a self-service printing option, which allows you to go at any time that’s convenient for you and keep your privacy.


Not all printing sizes are available. In some cases, you can order large printing sizes at the photo kiosk, but they will be delivered at a later time at a pickup desk or via delivery services.
Usually, you can’t choose different types of paper.
You often need help from a service attendant because of some malfunction. You can find plenty of forums where customers complain, as well as the employees who have to help them.
Pricey. The cost per print is often higher than other services with similar quality, such as online printing services.
The quality may not be the best.

One-Hour Photo Printing (at a Drugstore)

Some drugstores (CVS and Walgreens) and retail stores like Walmart offer a one-hour photo printing service. This is a different service from the photo kiosk they may have.
To order your prints in this manner, you can use their app or website. Alternatively, they often have a desk where you can order the prints at the store.

Fast. While not an immediate service like the kiosk, your photos may be ready within the hour.
Order online. To avoid the one-hour wait, you can order from the app or website wherever you are and then pick up the photos when they’re ready. This also avoids any connection issues, having to download your photos to a pen drive, or any other inconvenience.
Pay at pick-up. While you can order your prints online, there’s no need to pay online. You can simply pay when you pick up your prints, which gives you more flexibility.


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Not all sizes and products are available for a one-hour service. While you can order everything in the same way, some products have a same-day pick-up or even a 3-5 day at-home delivery.
The quality of the prints is similar to that of a photo kiosk. Generally speaking, professional photo labs offer higher quality.

Ordering Prints From an Online Service
Credit: Snapfish
Online printing services have a wide range of print sizes and photo books, metal prints, products, etc. Beyond printing regular pictures, you can make a perfect gift for your friends or loved ones.
They usually don’t have a physical shop – everything is handled online and shipped to your home.

They have a wide range of products and services. You can print anything, from wall art to photo books to water bottles.
They often have promos with discounts or free shipping.
Their websites may serve as a free cloud storage service.


You may have to pay shipping costs on top of the printing service.
The web interface is not always easy to use.
There’s no in-person customer service.
The quality may be inconsistent.

Ordering Prints From a Professional Lab

Professional labs guarantee high-quality prints. You can ask for a proof print, color correction, and other professional services to ensure your photo prints look the best.
This is why they’re the best choice if you need to print artwork. They may have a store where you can go in person or offer online services.
They offer the widest variety of paper types, including fine art. However, they don’t print photo products for gifts, such as pillows or coffee mugs.

Highest image quality.
Excellent customer service.
You can print from a variety of file formats.
They have a wide range of paper options.


While they offer good value for money, the price will be higher than any of the other options on this list.
They don’t offer all the services and products that other one-hour photo labs or printing websites have.

Ordering Prints vs. Drugstore 1-Hr Photo Prints: How Do They Compare?

As you’ve seen, there are multiple printing options, and all of them have their pros and cons.
Of course, this means that an option that’s best for a certain situation may not be best for another.
If you’re concerned about color accuracy, sharp details, thick, acid-free paper, and the overall quality of your print – then you should definitely go to a professional lab.
However, these services are expensive. So, if you want a photo book from a recent family trip with photos you took with your phone, there’s no need to break the bank. In this case, an online printing site will do just fine.
When time is of the essence, and you don’t need the highest quality – then visit a local drugstore and use a photo kiosk or the one-hour service.
I made a chart summarizing the options in this article so you can easily determine which one is the best choice for you.

In short, if you have the budget, a professional lab will always deliver the best result. However, there are times when convenience and price are your priority – and that’s OK, too.

Should I Order Prints Through My Photographer?
Credit: Rdne Stock Project
If your images were taken by a professional photographer, then yes – your best option is to order prints from them.
There are several reasons for this. The first one is because they want their work to look their best, so they will make sure that the prints are top-notch.
Professional photographers have a relationship with their print lab. This is because they know the quality of their photo prints, and they trust them.
They also know which color space to use and how to optimize their photos specifically for that print lab.
The photographer is also the one who edited the photos and knows exactly how they’re supposed to look.
So, if the photo prints have a different color or something looks off, they’ll know it and solve it directly with the printing service before it even reaches your hands.
Alternatively, they’ll do their own photo printing, which will offer similar advantages.
On the downside, this may be one of the most expensive options. However, the value for the price is usually fair.
In many cases, the photographer offers a package where the price of the session includes a few prints – buying them this way makes them more cost-effective.

Should I Develop Film at a Drugstore
Credit: Viktoria Alipatova
Developing your images at a local drugstore may seem convenient, but it’s not always advisable.
One of the biggest problems with using a drugstore development service is that they won’t give you back your negative.
In exchange, you’ll receive your printed photos – usually 4×6″. You’ll also get a CD with the scans.
Unfortunately, the scans are very low quality, and without the original negative, you won’t be able to choose bigger print sizes or a higher-quality print.
Of course, they do have their positive side. They’ll often have a location close to you, the prices are very accessible, etc.
If you want to know more about the pros and cons of developing film at different drugstores, check out our articles about Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens.

The 3 Best Online Printing Services for Professional Quality Photos
If you want good-looking prints, here are some of the best online photo printing websites.

Nations Photo Lab – Ranked as the best photo printing company by the New York Times Wirecutter. They offer excellent quality at competitive prices. They have an easy-to-use website and a wide variety of products, and their packaging protects your photos during transport.
Printique – This printing website is owned by Adorama, a shop that sells cameras and photographic gear for amateur and professional photographers. The same quality and reliability that they offer at the store is offered for photo printing.
Mpix – If you’re looking for quality prints as well as photo products to gift, this is a great option. They offer basic retouching, and you can upscale the packaging.

For more options, visit our roundup of the best online printing services.

How does 1-hour photo printing work?
In most cases, you upload your photos via an app or website. Then, you choose the number of prints, print size, and whether you want a glossy or matte finish.
Once you send your print order, you’ll receive a confirmation email. After an hour, you can go pick up your printed photos at the location you chose.
Who has better quality photos: Walgreens or CVS?
The photo printing quality may be different according to your location. However, gathering the overall online rates and reviews for both services, Walgreens is better.
Which drugstore has the best photo print quality?
The three most popular drugstores in the US where you can print photos are CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens. The quality between them may be different in each location. However, CVS seems to be the best one – although they have the highest prices among them.
Are online services like Shutterfly good quality for photo printing?
For most people, the print quality from photo printing websites like Shutterfly is good enough to make a photo book, preserve their memories in a photo album, hang them on a wall, or make a gift.
However, if you need fine-art quality for an exhibition or because you’re offering high-end products to your clients, these websites might not be the best choice.

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