What are the best photo printing apps?

Having a child means taking a lot of pictures. Knowing this, and knowing our then dinosaur of a camera to take subpar photos, my husband and I added a camera and lens to our baby registry. Shortly after D was born, my husband gave me Henry Carroll's Read This if You Want to Take Great Photographs

With good equipment and great advice on how to use it, I have been taking gorgeous photos of D. But I have not been making great prints of those photos. iPhoto (now replaced by Mac Photos) makes passable prints, but I prefer a matte finish and more vivid colors. Switching photos out of frames exposes their glass to peanut-butter-and-jellied-fingerprints and exposes the kiddo to potentially broken glass. And that's just when I remember to print photos. Because Photos requires me to use my computer to place an order, most of my photos never make it to the refrigerator. 

One answer to my photo problem is the great new crop of printing apps. I recently made small orders from a number of different apps, and am amazed at the differences in the prints from each. What follows are reviews of three of my favorites. All three of these apps specialize in square printing, which provides a nice alternative to the typical 4x6 photos and makes it easy to print photos from Instagram. 

PostalPix: $$

4x4 prints from PostalPix.

4x4 prints from PostalPix.

Of the three apps described here, PostalPix looks most like more traditional digital photo publishing, with a range of sizes priced individually (4x4 and 4x6 prints are 49ยข each, while 5x5 and 5x7 prints are $1.49 each). The photos that come from PostalPix also look the most like traditional printed photos. They have a slight sheen and are printed on lightweight photo paper. 

Parabo Press: $$$
iOS, Android

4x4 prints from Parabo Press.

4x4 prints from Parabo Press.

Parabo Press is ultra-traditional in that you can't print photos al a carte. You can purchase sets of 25 4x4 prints for $16, which transports you back to the days of film photography when you paid for the whole roll. 

But Parabo Press is ultra-modern in almost every other regard. The prints themselves are on heavy stock, making them thick enough to be tucked into a mirror without warping. The white borders make the prints look so polished that they can stand on a shelf all on their own, which makes it easier to change your decor and have your kids help you do it. Of course, you aren't limited to prints. You can order glass prints, risographs, accordion zines, and engineer prints (which are 4ft. x 3ft.!), among other options. 

No matter what you order from Parabo, you're going to be eagerly watching the mailbox (or updating your deliveries app), because the packaging is gorgeous. In a big step up from those yellow Kodak envelopes, Parabo sends your prints in thick plastic resealable sleeve supported with cardboard. That sleeve comes inside a beautiful printed brown paper box. 

2x2 prints from Social Print Studio.

2x2 prints from Social Print Studio.

The minisquares from Social Print Studio make this my favorite printing app. The sets of 2x2 prints, priced at $15 for 48 and $6 for every additional 24 prints, come on wonderfully thick paper with a white border. I was skeptical about the value of such small prints...until I held these in my hands. They can be slid into frames, paper clipped onto twine, stood up on scrabble trays...the decorative possibilities are endless. At their low price point per print, they also make terrific stationery for lunchbox notes. 

Of all the apps reviewed here, Social Print Studio offers the greatest variety of print options. You can purchase square prints (2x2, 4x4, 5x5) or rectangular prints (2.125x3.375, 4x6, 8x10, 11x14, 16x20, 20x30, and panoramic). You can also purchase magnets, metal prints, canvas prints, and photo strips. 

The packaging is much simpler than that of Parabo Press (my prints arrived in a stiff cardboard envelope), but what they save on shipping materials they spend on whimsy. My prints came with a multi-color edition of the "Social Print Times," which included details about other products as well as fun photography stories. 

All of these apps offer great discounts for first-time users, so be sure to check their facebook pages, instagram accounts and retailmenot for promo codes. I recommend ordering the same photos from each of the three apps so that you can compare the styles directly. If you use promo codes, you'll have beautiful photos for your home as well as extra photos for holiday cards or framed gifts.