Interesting account of how that system works. It all sounds like the basic premises of colour management stood on its head.
When this technology was developed, color management as we use it wasn't nearly as common place, especially in the photographic industry at that time. There was no effort to use color management systems.
The “send us sRGB” workflow was great in 1993, its pretty stupid, at least for those customers working with modern color management aware products today.
Wow, like using Adobe Gamma. Kludge. Now thanks to WHCC, you’ve hosed your display calibration for all other software and output needs. So this is a pro lab or simply Walmart? Sounds like the later (which is great for people like my mom who don’t even have Adobe Elements and wouldn’t know an ICC profile from a pickle).
Actually until recently almost all images submitted to labs like WHCC, mPix, Millers, etc. were in camera jpeg files. Even today, most of the photographers doing portrait and wedding work have no real clue about color management and don't have calibrated monitors. If you are using a calibrated monitor, you most likely will get a pretty decent match.
This is changing, with more photographers becoming aware of color management tools because of the ongoing education from people such as yourself as well as the wide adoption of LR>
I'd love to do my own inkjet printing but can't justify the cost with as few prints as I make (couldn't afford it if I wanted to).
Is there an online service you could recommend?
Actually, WHCC is one of the most progressive labs in this regards. Understand that the technology behind these printers is well over a decade old. They were designed when shooting raw was pretty much unheard of. When they were developed virtually all of the images printed on them were from scanned film, not from digital files. It was a process film, scan film, print scanned film model. If you wanted reprints you brought in the negative, they scanned this. It was virtually a closed loop system. In 1999, Noritsu sent a team of engineers to one of our digital studios in S. Cal. where we met with them and got them to design a simple hot folder front end to one of their processors, until then there wasn't a good way to even submit digital files from a camera and you couldn't buy the printer without the scanner front end.
At this point the good labs are beginning to make changes to incorporate color management tools into their workflows. I believe for the most part this is from third party developers, not from the manufacturers. WHCC is one of those labs.
Also, I believe you'll find if you have a well calibrated device, your resulting prints will be satisfactory. A friend here at work just received his 5 sample 8x10's from both mPix and WHCC, mostly portrait work, and we felt both labs prints were decent matches to his display and quite acceptable. Later today I'm going to have him download the soft proof profile and we'll take a look at that ... has me curious. WHCC assumes most of their customers don't have a calibrated display, thus the recommendation to match the display to the prints, but this doesn't mean the prints won't be a decent match to a calibrated display.