Photo books can be guaranteed crowd-pleasers as gifts and personal mementos, garnering smiles for years to come — as long as the experience of creating them is a pleasure, and you're proud of the final book. Unfortunately, while almost all online photo book services look similar on the surface, we've found they vary widely, both in the software experience and print quality.
After testing 11 of the most popular services, we found that the best photo book printing service is Mixbook's, which not only produced a gorgeous photo book but also has great software and reasonable prices. Coming in a close second is Printique (formerly known as AdoramaPix), which offers the same high quality and versatility but is considerably more expensive. For those on a budget, we recommend Costco Photo Center, which doesn't have the highest quality, but it makes up for that with its low prices, even for nonmembers.
If you're looking for other printed products, be sure to check out our roundups of the best photo cards and best photo calendars. And, if you really want to make your photos look their best, you'll need some good photo-editing software.
Also see our roundup of the best digital photo frames, which make great gifts for loved ones to see photos of you and your family.
Valentine's Day shipping deadlines
Ordering a photo book as a Valentine's Day gift? Be sure to order it in time. Here are the shipping deadlines for various photo book services. We've included links to each site for more details and pricing information.
Walmart: Photo books, Cards, Home & Gifts (Standard, ship to store)
Mixbook: Hardcover lay flat photo books (U.S. Standard)
Walmart: Prints, jewelry & keychains (Standard, ship to store)
Walmart: Canvas prints (Standard, ship to store)
Mixbook: Hardcover lay flat photo books (U.S. Priority); Everything else (U.S. Standard)
Shutterfly: Books, cards and select gifts (Economy, Standard)
Walmart: Cards, photo books, Home & Gifts (Expedited)
Mixbook: Hardcover lay flat photo books (U.S. Express); Everything else (U.S. Priority)
Shutterfly: Books, cards and select gifts (Expedited)
Walmart: Prints, jewelry & keychains (Expedited)
Mixbook: Everything other than hardcover lay flat photo books (U.S. Express)
Shutterfly: Books, cards and select gifts (Rush)
Shutterfly: select gifts, books, cards and calendars (Super Rush)
Walmart: Cards, prints, canvas prints, photo books (same day in-store pickup)
Here are the best photo book services
Our favorite service offers powerful but intuitive software, reasonable prices and a great finished product.
Software Rating: 4/5 | Printed Book Rating: 4/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $29.99 | Book size options: 6 x 6, 8.5 x 8.5, 14 x 11
Our overall favorite — not just for photo books but also for photo cards and calendars — is Mixbook. Its project-creation software is versatile and easy to use, the printed products are excellent and, best of all, Mixbook's prices are reasonable. What we particularly like about Mixbook's software is its great flexibility, which enables you to be creative while still being fun. As a result, your photo book will not only be lovely but can also reflect your style and personality.
Read our full Mixbook review.
2. Printique (formerly AdoramaPix)
High-quality but expensive photo books.
Software Rating: 4/5 | Printed Book Rating: 4/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $47.99 (8 x 8 inches) | Book size options: 6 x 4.5, 8 x 8, 10 x 12.5, 12 x 12 and more
Printique came in a very close second to Mixbook, with flexible, creative, intuitive software that's both powerful and intelligently organized. What's more, the attractive printed photo book is beautifully produced and has very good photo quality. However, Printique's books are significantly more expensive than Mixbook's.
Read our full Printique review.
3. Costco Photo Center
The best photo book service for those on a budget — even if you're not a Costco member.
Software Rating: 3.5/5 | Printed Book Rating: 3/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $19.99 (for 8.5 x 11-inch book) | Book size options: 8 x 8, 8.5 x 11, 12 x 12
Costco Photo Center is our top choice for budget photo books. The book-creation software isn't on the level of Mixbook's, but it does enable a nice amount of personal creativity while being comparatively easy to use. The book itself isn't finely produced, and a critical eye will recognize that the photo reproduction quality is only average, but it's nice enough, and the prices are the lowest.
Read our full Costco Photocenter review.
A mixed bag of good photo reproduction but limited tools.
Software Rating: 3.5/5 | Printed Book Rating: 3.5/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $34.99 | Book size options: 5 x 5 inches to 8.5 x 11 inches
Mpix's book-creation software is flexible and generally creative, and it produced an attractive photo book with lively, appealing photo reproduction. However, the software is uneven. On the one hand, its clip art is attractive and well organized. But it doesn't have a full complement of expected tools, and its libraries of backgrounds and layouts are limited.
Read our full Mpix review.
Good but not great, and it's periodically frustrating.
Software Rating: 3.5/5 | Printed Book Rating: 3.5/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $29.99 (8 x 8-inch book) | Book size options: 7 x 9 inches up to 12 x 12 inches
Shutterfly delivers quality book production, with tight, clean binding and paper with a nice weight. However, the software is a mixed bag of versatility and flexibility, with annoying limitations and workflow bottlenecks. Plus, the photo quality is inconsistent — sometimes very good and sometimes merely average.
Read our full Shutterfly review.
6. Artifact Uprising
Stunning physical book, with a price to match.
Software Rating: 3/5 | Printed Book Rating: 4/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $79 (50-page minimum) | Book size options: 6 x 8, 8 x 6, 8.5 x 8.5, 8.5 x 11, 11 x 8.5, 10 x 10, 12 x 12, 14 x 11
Artifact Uprising's book is simply gorgeous, with fine thick board pages, superb binding and a gold-embossed title on a fabric cover. The photo reproduction is appealing and consistent, though it's not superb. However, the remarkably easy-to-use software is very restrictive, with no room for personal creativity.
Read our full Artifact Uprising review.
Great, creative software, disappointing printed book.
Software Rating: 4/5 | Printed Book Rating: 2.5/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $34.99 (8 x 8 inches) | Book size options: 5 x 4, 5 x 5, 8 x 6, 8 x 8, 11 x 9, 14 x 11, 12 x 12
Picaboo's book software rivals Mixbook's; it's intelligent, creative, flexible and fun. But the photos in our printed book were inconsistent and some were muddy. Also, the book production was less than satisfactory and had messy binding.
Read our full Picaboo review.
Flexible but frustrating software, unimpressive print quality.
Software Rating: 2.5/5 | Printed Book Rating: 2.5/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $29.99 | Book size options: 5 x 7 inches to 11 x 14 inches
On the surface, Snapfish's software is versatile and creative. However, the poor organization of clip art and backgrounds, and other frustrations slow down workflow and limit creativity. What's more, the photo reproduction is of only average quality and the book itself looks and feels cheap.
Read our full Snapfish review.
9. CVS Photo
Cheap book production, average photo quality and limited software.
Software Rating: 2.5/5 | Printed Book Rating: 3/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $39.99 (8.5 x 11) | Book size options: 4 x 6 inches to 11 x 14 inches
It may be convenient to order a photo book online from CVS and be able to pick it up at your local store, but be warned: CVS Photo's Snapfish-based software is similarly frustrating and even more limited than Snapfish's. The CVS book is cheaply constructed and the photos are of average quality. If you do use CVS, be sure not to order from the Same-Day-Pickup options, which were even lower in quality.
Read our full CVS Photo review.
10. Amazon Prints
Limited software, lackluster book.
Software Rating: 2/5 | Printed Book Rating: 2.5/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $17.99 (8 x 8-inch book) | Book size options: 5 x 7 inches to 12 x 12 inches
Like CVS Photo and Walmart, Amazon Print's software is based on Snapfish's frustrating interface, but with even less content than CVS' product. The photos in Amazon's cheaply constructed book have no pop and tend to be undersaturated.
Read our full Amazon Prints review.
Very restrictive software, unimpressive book.
Software Rating: 1.5/5 | Printed Book Rating: 2/5 | Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $21.96 (8 x 8-inch book) | Book size options: 2 x 3 inches to 12 x 12 inches
Walmart's threadbare software is restrictive, with no creative flexibility, inflexible, uneditable templates and few tools or options. While the price of a book is below average, the book construction is cheap and the photos are lackluster.
Read our full Walmart Photos review.
How We Test Photo Book Services
We looked at 11 popular printing services — Printique (AdoramaPix), Amazon Prints, Artifact Uprising, Costco, CVS Photo, Mpix, Mixbook, Picaboo, Shutterfly, Snapfish and Walmart — to see which ones delivered both a great user experience and a photo book you'd be proud to give.
For this year's test, we used stock photos of two families (one Caucasian and the other African American). We edited one picture to be a bit underexposed. This tested the photo services' ability to balance various exposures as well as different skin tones.
We designed a 20-page photo book with these photos. To test the flexibility and creativity each software allowed, our design included rotated and resized pictures and clip art along with angled text. We took advantage of the best each service had to offer regarding templates, layouts, clip art, text and backgrounds. However, we sometimes found it difficult to locate just the right content on those sites whose libraries weren't well organized or searchable.
In rating the software, we used the following criteria:
- Ease of use
- User interface and workflow
- Creative flexibility
- Quality and versatility of templates, clip art, layouts and backgrounds
After our printed photo books arrived, we assembled a jury of print and photography experts to rate the books, using the following criteria:
- Overall appeal and quality of the physical book
- Photo quality
- Color and skin tones
- Dynamic range and exposure
- Focus and clarity
- Balancing of the diverse pictures
- Type quality
- Paper quality
- Quality of the binding
During the judging, all books were identified by numbers rather than brand names. Though the name of some of the vendors is printed on the books, the jury was discouraged from looking at those brand identifiers until after the judging.
If a photo book exhibited obvious flaws — such as misnumbered pages, poor photo reproduction or something else wrong as a result of the printing process — we ordered a reprint to see if the errors were a one-time event. This year, we ordered reprints from Mixbook and Shutterfly.
We rated the software separately from the printed book, then averaged the two for an overall book rating. We also took cost into consideration in our overall rating. In our print ratings, we gave the greatest weight to the quality of the services' photo reproduction, because that's the entire purpose of a photo book.