White House Custom Colour: For Professional Level Photo Finishing
Jan 19, 2005
Several months ago I started shopping around for serious digital print services for my photos. I was getting to the point where I had a few engagement photos I wanted to print as well as some people/pet portraits and I needed prints that looked as if they had been done professionally, the prints I was getting from the "regular" stores like Ofoto, Shutterfly and Snapfish just weren't cutting it. The colors were off and the paper wasn't professional quality. Someone recommended White House Custom Colour to me, so I decided to give them a try.
About White House Custom Colour
WHCC, located at www.whcc.com is a very small photo finishing organization that began in the 1970's and has since moved to online, digital-only finishing work. Their products and services target the needs of professional photographers looking to produce work for their clients or to display their work in galleries.
Navigating the Website/Becoming a Customer
To become a customer you fill out a basic form which is then sent to someone at WHCC to create a new account for you. Account creation isn't instantaneous - you can't log on, create an account and just order prints. It isn't that simple. After you fill out the short form to create an account you are contacted by an account representative who instructs you on how to process and order your first test prints.
... About the Test Prints ...
Standard photography lab customers are used to online sites offering them ten or fifteen free 4x6 prints as a way of hooking them into the service. WHCC offers test prints for a different reason. Because professional photographers need prints that color match precisely with their monitor, WHCC sends ten "test prints" before completing the creation of your account so you can verify your monitor calibration and as a way of giving you the confidence to use them for serious work.
Unlike Ofoto or Snapfish, WHCC provided me with 10 free 8x10 sized "test prints" as my test prints, free shipping included. At $2 a pop for normal 8x10's, I thought this was an excellent way to check my monitor's calibration, verify the quality of WHCC's work and get an excellent deal on ten free prints to boot.
Once you've received your test prints along with an account setup and user guide, you're finished creating your account and you can then proceed to order regular prints through WHCC.
Uploading and Ordering Prints
Here's where WHCC really shows a bit of dating. The customer guide that I received was a gorgeous bound booklet with sample prints and a slew of very specific, very useful instructions. They have to be specific because WHCC actually still uses FTP to get prints from customers. In an era where most digital print processing companies let you simply browse to your photos on your computer and upload via a form from their website, having to get an FTP client, use a unique account number, and name your prints in very specific ways to get them to print correctly is almost completely unheard of.
As someone who has been on the Internet since the 1980's, back before the "web" had even been created, I am no stranger to FTP. Still, I find the ordering process with WHCC rather cumbersome. I don't order prints from them every day so every time I do order from them I find myself grabbing that old instruction booklet and rereading what format I need to use to name each print in order to get the results I want. While this is one negative aspect of using the company, though for me not a major one, I think that it's entirely possible that WHCC has deliberately left their account creation and ordering process convoluted to keep a small, but seriously dedicated, customer base.
But it's not over there. In order to use their "Thrifty Digital Output" you have to format your files very specifically, cropping them to the exact size that you want at 300DPI output in Photoshop, saving them as level 10 JPEGs and making sure that you use sRGB colorspace to ensure the best match to their printers. If you attempt to order "Thrifty" style prints without formatting your photos properly, you'll get charged for the "Deluxe" service, where they do retouching, color correction and other small tweaks for you, but charge a little extra.
After you have FTP'ed your files up to the WHCC FTP server you're still not done. There's an order form to fill out at the site, under a specific link that they send you when your account is created. Only then are you done.
What They Offer
Okay so phew!, the ordering's done. What can you expect to get?
Well, WHCC offers free UPS two-day shipping on all of their orders, which is a really nice touch. It eliminates that feeling of getting ripped off when you've paid for everything and suddenly a whopping S&H charge is added to your order. And they charge your credit card the Friday after you process your order.
A wide variety of photo finishing services and packages are offered. If you're just looking for standard prints you have three main options:
° Thrifty Digital Output: This is the most economical way to order single or small quantity prints. Service starts at 65 cents for a 4"x5" print, up to $45.25 for a 30"x45" print. With this service 5"x7" prints run about $1.10 each and 8"x10" prints run $2 each. To use this service you must format your prints specifically for their printers.
° Deluxe Digital Output: This is where WHCC does color correction, cropping and retouching for you. I don't think serious photographers would use this service much, as serious photographers tend to be control freaks (hey, I'm one too) and don't want anyone mucking about with their photographs before printing them. However, if you're brand new to the world of digital imaging this is a valuable service and WHCC will help you learn a little bit along the way so that soon you can be creating images that you don't want anyone messing around with either. Prices are only a few pennies more expensive with this service. ($1.15 for 5"x7" prints and $2.10 for 8"x10" prints.)
° Quantity Digital Output: This is for those people who want to produce six or more of each print. This is the most economical option on a per print cost basis. You name your file to reflect the quantity of prints that you want from it and WHCC does the rest. (87 cents each for 5"x7" prints and $1.58 each for 8"x10" prints.)
So that covers the world of normal photo printing, but many photographers need to go beyond just prints. WHCC can do that too.
° Proofs and Proof Books: They offer a "Thrifty Proofing Output" for clients such as wedding photographers who need to put together proof books for their customers. Their 3.5"x5" proof prints start at twenty-four cents. In addition to proof prints, they'll also sell you a proof book starting at $20 that you can give to your client that's bound with multiple images on each page.
° Thrifty Greeting Cards: Like everyone else in the world, WHCC offers greeting cards, starting at 42 cents each.
° Pick A Pack: You know these, they're the little packages you get of your son's soccer photos or your daughter's dance photos. (Or your son's dance photos and your daughter's soccer photos, either way.) You can organize up to 18 different kinds of packages featuring custom sizes and quantities for each package. This is perfect for photographers who shoot class photos or school events.
° Competition Mounted Prints: Finally, WHCC offers competition mounted prints for the prints you want to display for competitions or professionally.
WHCC also provides finishing services: Special coatings, mounts for your images and embossed texture for your prints. Their glossy and lustre prints are printed on Fuji Crystal Archive paper and their metallic prints are offered on Kodak Endura Metallic paper.
As much as companies want you to think it's all about the neat little packages and prints, what it really comes down to is quality. No photographer wants to present a client with a print that's off-color, cheap or sloppy. WHCC delivers on this count very well.
The test 8x10's that I got from WHCC were gorgeous, perfectly matched to my monitor's calibrated output. The colors were the deep saturation that I was looking for and one that I had edited and changed to black and white came out with a deep range of blacks, greys and whites.
When I give people their final prints from WHCC they always ooh and aah over the color and quality of the prints. These days print paper for standard commercial portraits tend to vary little so the real win with using WHCC comes in the vivid, true colors and the sharpness and details of the prints. If you've ever received a nice set of prints from a portrait studio in a lustre finish, that's what you can expect from WHCC. Want to make sure for yourself? Simple - just place a test print order and you can sample the quality before you start using them for your business.
As I wrote earlier, I have used WHCC to deliver engagement photos and portraits, but I've also used them to make prints for publications who have required hard copy prints from me. Their work is stellar and it has always reprinted very well.
Customer Service & Policies
I have been a WHCC customer for well over a year and during that time I've had to deal with their customer service on only a few occasions. I have always gotten a quick response from them, whether I contacted them by e-mail or by telephone. You know that "yeah right, I'll never hear from them" feeling you get when you have to leave voice mail for a company's customer service department? Well, these guys really do call you as soon as they get in each morning. And they're always the nicest, most helpful and polite people you could imagine speaking to. Because this is a small shop they know what they're doing. This isn't a fly by night Kinko's organization that hires people who don't understand photographic printing and finishing services.
If your prints are damaged WHCC will either credit you for them or reprint them for you. They keep your order on file for thirty days so you don't have to go through the ordering process again to get the images corrected.
Is WHCC the cheapest? No. If you want cheap you can go to any number of photo processing sites. Is WHCC the easiest to use? Absolutely beyond a doubt not.
So why do I keep using WHCC again and again? Simply put, it's all about the quality. I know what I will get from WHCC every time. Colors match perfectly to my calibrated monitor and there are no surprises. In one year and dozens of prints I have never had a single order disappoint me, which is more than I can say for places like Ofoto or Snapfish, where getting a good color match is a total crapshoot and the prints are flimsy.
White House Custom Colour produces 5-star perfect prints, but they do have a few shortcomings in their cumbersome ordering process, so I have to factor that into my evaluation as well. Still, if you're a professional photographer in need of a professional photo finishing company, or even if you're just in need of professional and perfect prints for your own personal needs, I highly recommend checking out WHCC to see their quality for yourself.
White House Custom Color
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Local: (651) 646-8263
Toll Free: (800) 252-5234
Many thanks to Joubert and Amykhar for adding this store to the Epinions database so I could review it.
Read all comments (3)