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The truth behind Shutterfly’s unlimited free prints offer

Shutterfly unlimited free prints deal

All the 4×6 prints you can imagine for free! All you have to do is order your prints through the Shutterfly app. Sounds great, right? Almost unbelievable.

What would you do with unlimited prints? Here’s a few ideas:

  • Mural: Take lots of close-up photos of the sidewalk. Tile the prints together to make a huge mural.
  • Book: not the most original idea, since people already put their photos into a photo album. But instead of sliding your photos into an album, just take the entire stack and three-hole-punch your photos. Thread some binder clips into the holes, and you have an instant book.
  • Public art: leave your photos around town. Make a statement. Ask a question.

How can Shutterfly give away free prints?

Shutterfly must be offering these unlimited free prints because they want to grow their user base of the Shutterfly app. Make an incredible offer and get a ton of people to sign up. Sure, there’s the cost of offering all these prints for free, but now Shutterfly has these people using their app. Once someone learns how to order prints from their app, they would be more likely to continue to use the app. Get those new users hooked!

So this deal has got to be legit, right? Well, let’s look at the fine print (bolding is mine):

*Offer valid for a limited time only. Offer is good for unlimited free 4×4 and/or 4×6 prints through the Shutterfly apps only. Taxes, shipping and handling will apply. Not valid on other sizes, other products, prepaid plans, prior purchases, orders placed for in-store pick up and purchases made on and our mobile-friendly site. Each order can only contain a maximum of 250 photos. Please start a new order for adding more items. Cannot be redeemed for cash or combined with other offers or credits. Not valid for resale.

Prints must be ordered through the app.

Ordering through the app isn’t too bad, especially since you can quickly select photos by just dragging down your screen. Pretty cool!

Each order can only have 250 photos.

They had to put some sort of limit on people ordering a million prints. The app does indeed only let you order 250 at a time.

Shutterfly: You can only purchase 250 items at a time.

I seriously was going to put an order in for a thousand prints of the same photo. But heck, I can put in four orders of 250 photos. Sure!

Only 9 prints of the same photo

The quantity field per photo on the Shutterfly app only allows for a single digit. Thus, you can order only 9 prints per photo.

Shutterfly app has a limit of 9 prints per photo

Why just nine prints? Shouldn’t they let people order 250 prints of the same photo? Well, it might make it TOO easy for someone to go crazy and order thousands of photos and wreck this wonderful deal, right? That’s not entirely true. The shipping kills this offer.

You have to pay taxes, shipping, and handling. 

How much is the shipping and tax? I added 250 photos to my cart. Filled in my shipping address. Went to check out. The total is $23.45 ($21.71 for shipping, $1.74 for tax). That’s quite an expensive shipping cost!

Shipping cost for 250 Shutterfly photos

Shutterfly’s unlimited free prints offer ends up costing 9.3 cents a print.

For 9.3 cent a print, you might as well get your prints from Walgreens. They often have 9-cent print deals. Right now they have a 50% off deal that effectively makes 4×6 prints cost ten cents per print. Plus, whenever you order from Walgreens, you always get a receipt that asks you to take a survey at where you can win $3000.

Walgreens versus Shutterfly

Walgreens photo center:

  • 9 or 10 cents per print
  • This deal is pretty much always available
  • Order as many prints as you like
  • Chance to win $3000 through survey
  • Get your prints in under an hour

Shutterfly app:

  • 9.3 cents per print
  • Deal available only for a couple days
  • Maximum of 250 prints per order (and a maximum of nine prints per photo)
  • No chance to win money through a sweepstakes
  • Your prints arrive 6 to 9 days later (with economy shipping)

And hey! If you want your Shutterfly prints to arrive faster, you can pay even MORE for shipping. The shipping charges for my 250 prints are:

  • Economy (6-9 days) $21.71
  • Standard (7-8 days) $24.21
  • Expedited (6 days guaranteed) $31.91
  • Rush (5 days guaranteed) $39.91

Why is the shipping so much? Obviously, Shutterfly wants to make some sort of profit off their prints during this special offer. Maybe when the offer is done, they lower their shipping prices back to normal.

Nope. Shutterfly provides a handy chart of all their shipping costs for 4×6 (and 4×4) prints.

Shipping costs for Shutterfly 4x6 prints

Since Shutterfly has this chart published, these indeed are their regular prices for shipping. When there is no “free” offer, prints cost 15 cents each. Tack on the 8.7 cents shipping per print, and that’s a total of 24 cents per print!

What’s really happening here with Shutterfly’s deal, is that they are selling prints at Walgreens-based prices at 9 cents a print. When the deal goes away, you have to pay 24 cents per print. That kinda sucks. But get this, not only is Shutterfly selling prints for nine cents each, calling it “free”, they are deceiving people into thinking these prints are free, so people order the full 250 prints.

People end up buying a monster-load of 250 prints for Walgreens pricing. Would you normally order 250 prints from Walgreens? Probably not. Shutterfly tricks people into ordering a very large quantity at the same price you’d pay at Walgreens.

Walgreens wins. Order as many photos you’d like from Walgreens. Pick them up right away. And get yourself entered to win $3000.

30 Responses to The truth behind Shutterfly’s unlimited free prints offer

  1. Matt Maldre June 22, 2017 at 9:27 am #

    Now a good deal is Shutterfly’s free 8×8 hardcover photo book. You only have to pay shipping which is $7.99. Compare that to Walgreens’ 8×8 photo book $24.99, plus $6.99 shipping.

  2. Fred Buttz July 12, 2017 at 5:33 am #

    Thanks for exposing another ‘too good to be true’ modern day snake oil hustle.

    • Deborah Mele June 25, 2019 at 11:25 pm #

      I have ordered several for shipping only. Well prepared. My beautiful pictures look great. Over twenty books and counting. For European / Israel trip
      I ordered bigger ones. Love them. Also the mugs for shipping Coast are wonderful.

  3. ckw September 21, 2017 at 7:48 am #

    Shutterfly isn’t my favorite photo lab, I prefer Mpix & even the cheaper Mpix economoy 4×6 pics, Miller’s or Nations to any, but you pay for the quality. Target has far better print quality than Walgreens & even Snapfish, which seems to rank pretty low usually comes out ahead of Walgreens. In most comparisons I’ve seen on the internet & in my personal experience, Walgreens prints come in at the bottom when it comes to image quality & color accuracy. I totally agree that the shipping negates the “free pic” deal, but when comparing their prints to Walgreens, its apples & oranges.

    • Matt Maldre September 21, 2017 at 8:02 am #

      That’s a great point, ckw. Shutterfly may cost more, but they also can give better quality.

  4. Me November 3, 2017 at 5:16 pm #

    Your an idiot , it’s convenient. Upload from any where . It’s the future .

    • Matt Maldre November 13, 2017 at 11:38 am #

      Thank you, Joel. I love being called an idiot online. Makes me want to go out and do some idiotic things.

    • Abigail N June 18, 2018 at 10:14 am #

      Thank you for sharing and please disregard the hater 🙂

    • Molly December 8, 2017 at 11:20 am #

      “You’re,” not “Your.”

    • Ashley Ann February 24, 2018 at 11:17 pm #


  5. Diana November 27, 2017 at 8:39 am #

    The Shutterfly prints are a much better quality in my opinion. I hate the glossy look which is only what Walgreens offers in store, so if you want Matte you have to have it shipped either way, and Shutterfly wins in that department.

  6. Carrie P December 11, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

    I just spent several hours organizing thousands of photos from jump drives, my computer and my phone. I was going to order my entire digital library since the website stated they only charge $24 something for shipping 251-99,999 prints. Then it told me I could only order 250 at a time. That was annoying, yes. But at only a $1.88 to ship 250 prints, it was still a steal… it would just take longer to order. Went to check out with my first 250 order and the shipping was over $27. I was so irritated!!! I’m glad to see you wrote this post. This company is a joke!

    • Lea April 3, 2018 at 8:16 am #

      I did the same thing. I spent a LOT of time getting my order ready, and then was shocked at the shipping cost. At that point, however, I went ahead and ordered because I had invested so much time organizing everything. I won’t forget, however, that Shutterfly punked me with a bait and switch. I won’t order next time.

    • Matt Maldre April 3, 2018 at 8:55 am #

      Lea, I’m sorry you had this experience. I’m glad you shared with us to warn others.

  7. Sara December 16, 2017 at 12:16 am #

    I ordered my prints with my Christmas cards which qualified for free shipping so got my whole order for free shipping! So, it really was a great deal for me.

  8. Brittni December 20, 2017 at 5:53 pm #

    You should check out FreePrints. Way better UI, same (if not better) print quality, better customer service and they give 1000 free prints a year.

  9. Jessilee January 7, 2018 at 9:11 pm #

    As much as I agree with your logic, my taste for Walgreens photos diminished when they swapped their amazing Fuji printers will real photo paper to the new non-photosensitive paper. (Forgive me, I have forgotten the name of that printer, possible Noritsu) Their new paper is awful. It is environmentally friendlier, but the product looks awful. I miss the old Fuji glossy prints. I don’t want to pay for those new paper prints.

  10. jessica January 17, 2018 at 5:09 am #

    I agree with you, Matt, but shutterfly’s deal is much better when you want several prints and another item which then you can apply the shipping code. For example, for my wedding, I printed over 250 prints (576 and i stopped on my own). With this you are correct, the shipping was ridiculous, some $45. But there was also a code that said free shipping if the order cost over $49 “SHIP49” . I also wanted to buy a canvas photo which was closer to $50. I applied the code and got my free prints and ended up only paying a short amount for a large canvas and 576 prints.

    • Angela March 1, 2018 at 2:23 pm #

      Jessica it only allowed me to do one 250 order at a time, I couldn’t order more than 250…how were yout able to?

    • Matt Maldre April 3, 2018 at 8:57 am #

      If you want to order more than 250 prints, you have to make multiple orders. They try to make it hard for you to order lots of prints.

  11. Monica March 16, 2018 at 3:18 pm #

    This entire thing was so incredibly presumptive I can barely stand to read it. The “free prints” is probably a big part of their business model. It’s definitely what peaked my initial interest in them, and I doubt they do away with it anytime soon (there are article years old with them offering the same service). The quality is better than Walgreens and if is costs the same price (or potentially .7¢ less per photo, delivered), why wouldn’t I use them? You’ve made up pricing based on what they could potentially do, not what they’re actually doing, and discouraging them based on that. Forgive me, but I don’t understand that logic. Free prints got me in (and don’t seem to be costing me or them much more than Walgreens) but I buy other stuff from them, which is probably the point.

    • Matt Maldre April 3, 2018 at 8:56 am #

      Monica, thank you for expressing your concerns with me. I’m glad you find their quality better, and thus worth your effort using Shutterfly.

  12. Rose July 7, 2018 at 9:43 am #

    Thank you for breaking this down for me. I had no idea how Shutterfly worked. I knew there had to be a profit or they would not be millionaires.

  13. Andre Colmenares August 1, 2018 at 9:15 pm #

    Walgreens prints are garbage. Color shifted blue or green all the time.

  14. Jeremy I Hill September 7, 2018 at 11:46 pm #

    My shipping only cost $4.

  15. kim October 25, 2018 at 9:05 am #

    i find it ashame that people have to be greedy to get people to buy there products.i feel sorry for the ones who jump on shutterflys offer instead of doing there research.because the offer sounds good people jump on it then they see the out come at the end result..thats people fault if you don’t do your research then you have no reason to get i done my research i seen this on commercial i liked the idea i was going to just jump on the offer then i thought better against it…it will not cost 21.00 to ship 250 photos not to my location anyway so the rest is shutters Pocket money thats why they offer what they do people don’t think they forgot how……this is one person who they will not empty my pocket….

  16. blerg December 7, 2018 at 11:54 am #

    Like others mentioned, my jaw dropped when I saw the shipping & handling charge at checkout for these allegedly “free” items, but after having spent hours trying to navigate Shutterfly’s system I bit the bullet and just paid the exorbitant charge…

    What really irks me, though, is that they could have shipped my order standard First Class mail and still made a hefty profit on handling, but they apparently sent it via the cheapest, slowest route possible to make a few extra bucks. My shipment (which still hasn’t arrived) gets stalled for days at every departure and receipt point, which tells me they used bulk rate commercial mail.

    It’s a bad business model because they certainly aren’t cultivating repeat customers by gouging on shipping… it’s blatantly obvious they’ve simply shifted the cost of the “free” items into the handling charge, so the items aren’t really free at all. That being said, I won’t be the least bit surprised to see Shutterfly taken to task at some point by the FTC for deceptive/false/misleading advertising practices.

  17. Jennifer December 7, 2018 at 6:27 pm #

    I prefer the glossy prints available online but sometimes use the APP for the free matte prints. Either way, I like the convenience, the quality, and cloud file storage of my pictures. It isn’t a scam, just a choice of service. I never go to Walgreens so that would be very inconvenient.

  18. Liz B January 12, 2019 at 9:35 am #

    I live in the Yukon (Northern Canada) and my shipping through the app came to $71, needless to say I cancelled that order pretty quickly!

  19. Deborah Mele June 25, 2019 at 11:34 pm #

    I love Shutterfly. When the mailman put my order of an 8 x 11 photo in a puddle,
    Shutterfly replaced it for free. I have gotten about 20 books. The only problems are mistakes I have made. When I have had a problem, as I am today, they always solve it and give me the sale price. Had pencils made, shot glasses . . . Beautiful phone cases. 16x 20 prints!
    Speaking politely and being patient always ends well.

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