1. Choose an Image
If you're enlarging a digital image, you're all set. If you're starting with a conventional film print, you'll first need to have it scanned, or digitized. FedEx Kinko's Office and Print Center (fedex.com for locations) will do this for around $17, and they'll put the new digital file on a CD for you to have printed wherever you want. When quality really matters, or when you have a negative or slide to digitize, go to a shop or photo lab that will do both the scanning and printing; this allows the printer to compare the scan to the original to make sure the colors are accurate.
2. Choose a Size
The size of the original image determines how much you can enlarge it. "With a 4-by-6-inch original, you can go to at least 16 by 20, and possibly 20 by 24," says Bryan Chandler of San Francisco's Blow Up Lab. "It depends on the clarity of the image." A reliable standard: Don't enlarge more than four times the original size. "The issue is pixels," says Jay Buckley, the owner of MegaPrint, in Plymouth, New Hampshire. While you can go online and order 20-by-30-inch enlargements of something you shot on a 2-megapixel camera, the pros have higher standards. "A picture from a 4- or 5-megapixel camera should look pretty good at 16 by 20," Chandler says. An untrained eye may be less exacting -- and each enlarger will offer its own guidelines.
3. Choose a Frame
Online framers invariably use Plexiglas instead of glass, which would likely never survive shipping. Indeed, if your frame is larger than 30 by 40 inches, Plexiglas is recommended no matter what. Depending on how and where you plan to hang your art (in a busy hall, for instance), some framers start advocating Plexiglas at the 16-by-20-inch mark. If you're dead set on glass, a local brick-and-mortar framing shop is the place to get it.
Giclee: A giclee ("sprayed") print is made with an ink-jet printer. Its quality may surpass that of a traditionally processed photo.
Gloss: Shiny finish with true, vivid colors. May produce a glare.
Satin or Luster: Less shiny than gloss. Good color.
Matte: Softer, less vibrant look.
Canvas: Excellent color reproduction. Ask for heavyweight artists' canvas, pigment-based dyes, and an ultraviolet-protective coating.
Duggal: A helpful if somewhat more expensive site, Duggal will do a 24-by-36-inch blowup for $160. The company shows you a test print before it makes the final.
Shutterfly: This company creates posters of up to 20 by 30 inches ($23) and prints on stretched canvas up to 24 by 36 inches ($150).
Daniel Smith: Its wood frames feature an ingenious interlocking dovetail that lets do-it-yourselfers make a no-hassle frame. A wide selection of sizes.
Graphik Dimensions: This company prints, frames, and delivers. Upload your digital file, order a print (up to 32 inches by 40 inches), then select mat and frame styles, edit the whole package onscreen, and you're finished. Mounted canvas prints are also available ($150 to $400).