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Category: All About Photography : Digital Photographic Discussions - Imaging Basics : Printing Digital Pictures

Photography Question 
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/8/2007

Photo Processors

I have recently been getting my prints made at Costco. Their quality is good, and their prices are unmatched by anyone I've seen yet. The only problem is that the prints always appear darker then my JPEG file. The Costco representative told me that to resolve this problem I need to calibrate my monitor to their printer. They showed me a Web site that I could use to get it down. However, it's very confusing. Isn't there another way to resolve this? Any help out there?

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6/19/2008 3:13:13 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005

You face a rather difficult problem when dealing with the "quickie" develop houses.

You COULD simply raise the overall brightness of your images to compensate; but at the risk of blowing out some hi-lites. It really depends how much darker they are printing what you are submitting. Half stop darker?..Full stop?

What they are referring to is really not that difficult. It is essentially (their) program for a WYSIWYG.

For photos you desire enlarged and that you feel have a lot of aesthetic value, I suggest using one of the many pro internet digital photo developers. They are NOT that much more than the 1 hr places, and you will find their work to be far superior, not only in color accuracy, but also you will have a far greater selection of paper styles.

Most post processing editors such as Adobe, have the ability to load a (ICC Profile) " International Color Consortium" This is nothing more than a standard that various printing machines use to assure consistancy in both color and exposure. Different equip uses different ICC Profiles.

I'm sure if you dig deep enough, Costco also uses some particular ICC Profile. You might have to ask the photo operator to ask the equip rep what it is and how to down load it. Once downloaded, it is a simple matter to tell Adobe or whatever you use to "Load ICC Profile."
Once that is done you will see exactly how your image will look once printed, assuming you have calibrated your monitor. This is the preferred method for total control.

Assuming you DON'T want to do that, why not make a "guide print" yourself and then ask the operator to come as close as they can to what you have. The one hr operators DO have the ability to play with exposure some, they're just lazy and don't want to. LOL

Finally, if you decide to use ICC Profiles; remember, not all commercial printing use the same ICC Profiles, so what may look great from company A, will look horrible from company B.

all the best,


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6/19/2008 6:32:54 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/8/2007
  Thank you Pete. This is very helpfull

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6/19/2008 8:08:35 PM

Sarah G   Just tagging this for the info.

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6/20/2008 6:59:19 AM

Alan N. Marcus   Believe it or not, equipment employed by photofinishers (both amateur and professional) has evolved leaps and bounds. The real breakthroughs started in the mid 1950ís. This is when printing machines acquired electronic logic coupled with auto-adjusting lamp-houses filters. That was the start whereby the printing machine was vested with ability to assist the operator to correct shortcomings in color balance and density. The success and popularity of color negative film is testimonial. You see, the printing process is actually a re-exposure process. The re-exposure is the printing exposure; it transfers the image to photo paper. This step provides the opportunity to correct errors made during the first exposure (the picture taking session exposure). The technological advances in photofinishing far exceed advances in the chip logic of the camera due mainly to the availability of vast computing power incorporated within the printing machine. I can attest to these facts first hand. Let me add, these technological advances fully apply to the printing of digital files on photo paper or via ink or dye sublimation or whatever.

All imaging editing software, worth its salt, includes routines to adjust your monitor. One of the best commercial sites is found at

Let me add that photo prints on paper are composed of dye or pigment on a white substratum, usually clay. When we view, light enters the structure of the paper, transverses the dye, strikes the substratum, reflects back and transverses the dye for a second time. The dye is Cyan (blue-green) Ė magenta (red-blue) Ė yellow (red-green). Whereas, light from a monitor emanates from glowing phosphors (CRT) or red-green-filters blocking florescent generated light (LCD). No one has yet to make the two technologies match. You can get close if you apply due vigilance. Itís a containing battle, not just a one time affair.

The real test is the prints themselves. Do you like their color and density? If you cultivate a rapport with the photo lab, they can customize a color and density profile just for you. Thatís a real advantage.

Alan Marcus (marginal technical gobbledygook)

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6/20/2008 8:34:48 AM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/8/2007
  Alan.....thank you for taking the time to offer this information. It is very helpful.

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6/20/2008 10:45:54 AM

Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
The question of getting prints to match is a heady one ... one that I answer all the time in my From Monitor to Print course ... And books are written on the subject of color management spanning 500 pages. That is, a short response here won't do it all for you. However, the important things:

- Calibrate your monitor
- Create a custom ICC profile (usually part of #1)
- Decide on a sensible workflow (handling of color and color spaces from camera to print)
- Make the most of your corrections (correct your images to look their best)
- Embed your working space profile (some suggest specific printer profiles or other things, but generally these would only be helpful in situations where you have converted to CMYK)
- TEST. Don't go right for that 28x20 print ... get the service to print 3x5 or 5x7s as a test on the SAME MACHINE.

Each service will be a bit different, as will each paper and each machine they use.
As Alan says, there are inherent differences in CMYK and RGB, and you see in one and generally (with variations) print in the other. You will not get them to be identical, but you can get them pretty close with "normal" images. I like the idea and results I get with Laser Light printers (also sometimes called LED or CRT), which project light to expose paper which is then run through a photographic process ... no ink. The printers themselves are really expensive and you wouldn't likely own one, but services often do and can make your inkless prints for a bargain.
A lot of what you hear about working spaces and profiles is junk. Your workflow needs to make sense more than conform to sRGB, AdobeRGB, ProRGB, or whatever. It is often the "making sense"' part that people leave behind as it is the biggest pain.
I calibrate with a hardware device on any machine I correct images on ... I use a ColorVision Spyder. You can get away with the Express model.
About changing images to get better results in print independent of the way they look on the monitor ... I suggest trying to avoid that, and using it only as a last resort. There are lots of services and some will be better than others - regretfully better on certain days (depending on the technicians).
Hope that helps.
Richard Lynch

PS - I'm taking a few months off from teaching BetterPhoto courses, but will be back in September!

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6/21/2008 6:50:39 AM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/8/2007
  Thank you always, very helpful. And for free :-)

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6/21/2008 10:18:15 AM

Dennis C. Hirning
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Something that I have found with Costco is to make sure that they don't "auto correct" your image. This can be done on line but you probably need to tell the operator turn it off if you take your images in for printing.

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6/24/2008 6:27:41 AM

Debra Booth
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/2/2004
  The Costco in my area does great work, but they have a couple of employees who have been in the business for a long time.

I learned how to use printer profiles from the Dry Creek site, this page in particular:

Use this page to find the profile to use for your Costco:

Good luck!

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6/24/2008 7:15:27 AM

Beth Verser
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/14/2007
  I don't know what you are using your prints for but I have always used millers. They have a upload and ship that day for any one wanting to use the service and shipping is $5.00 but the prints are cheap it is
They also have one I use when reselling my prints or events that I do it requires you fill out a questionaire and get accepted it is they have multiple services they offer

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6/24/2008 7:25:33 AM

Beth Verser
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/14/2007
  I am sorry the website for millers lab is the prints run $1.00 higher but the process within hours of getting your order and they ship free overnight fedex

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6/24/2008 7:31:16 AM

Nancy Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/6/2004
  This is problably too simple an answer! I corrected my photos and then took them to Costco and asked them to "not" do any touchups. When they cam back they were a perfect match. I know my monitor and theirs match. This works for me.

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6/24/2008 5:34:08 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/8/2007
  Thanks to all for your feedback and suggestions.

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6/24/2008 5:54:20 PM

Jeffery Haws
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/4/2004
  Hello Dennis, ditto on your printing situation with Costco, coming out dark, etc. I just gambled with my pictures and hoped that they were still good enough to use. One of the members of my camera club told me how to fix it for Costco, or any place that prints photos. You just need to find the exact model of printer they use. I also agree that Costco has great paper, quality and prices.

If you use Windows this will work, if not, use whatever file folder that you would use if you have an Apple system. Download the ICC profiles that Debra C showed you to your desktop. Then if you have windows, copy it to windows\system32\spool\drivers\color. When you get to the color directory, you will see many icc codes that are already on your computer. You will just add these to the list. This will allow you to see and select them when you click on the edit column in Photoshop while working on your photos. Notice how your open photo changes, when you select the Costco profile that you want to use. If you have a version of Photoshop that allows you to assign a profile to the file you are editing, you just assign that photo to that the Costco profile you want to use, the Lustre or Glossy. It will go dark, just like they turned out when Costco printed them before. Then edit the photo to your liking and it is going to be extremely close to what you expect, if not right on. I used this method now and I am very happy with my photos I send to Costco. I hope this is of value.

FYI, Keep a favorite on the page that has your profile, because it gets updated periodically and you should replace it when needed.

Good luck

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6/24/2008 11:46:11 PM

Mary E. Heinz
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/23/2005
  I just read through briefly so hope my
"two cents" makes suggestion:
look up WHCC/ White House Custom Color
for ordering your prints. I love their
service...yes on editing program make
sure you have ICC checked...but they can
also help you with settings when you setup an acct. for them. You'll love it !
any questions feel free to email Mary at

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6/25/2008 12:00:25 AM

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