Whatever the occasion, a personalized photo book always makes a great gift. But where do you begin if you want to turn your photos of a summer trip to Spain or a surprise birthday weekend in the mountains into a beautiful present?
We’ve got you covered with our latest guide to the best photo book services. There’s a lot to consider when making a photo book and a ton of services to choose from. Do you want superior print quality? A great value? Or is ease of use in creating your book important to you? We tested five top print-on-demand companies with these key factors (and others) in mind for this comprehensive evaluation.
When you’re creating a photo book, you’re also telling a story, so the very best photo printing companies allow you to express yourself through their do-it-yourself software. When creating a book, you’ll be able to pick the design you want, select the layouts for the pages, place your photos where you’d like, and add creative touches such as page backgrounds, text, clip art, and other effects. And thanks to the latest automated tools, including AI, you hardly have to do any work at all if you don’t want to. Just upload your photos, press a button, and these services will create a book for you.
For our testing purposes, however, we manually created photo books using software from Mixbook, Printique, Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Vistaprint and then compared the results. Check out our findings to see which of these services we liked the best overall, which had the best print quality, which offered great value and many more pros and cons.
We've also included shipping information where available, as photo books take time to make — and will cost more the longer you wait to order.
The best photo book services
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
Mixbook was the best service overall for making photo books of the five we tested. Its combination of ease of use, top-notch image quality and good value should make it appealing to a broad range of users. Newbies will love Mixbook’s fun and easy-to-use software while more advanced users will appreciate the wide range of customization options to help you get creative. And the image quality of our 20-page, hardcover book came in a close second to Printique.
If you’re intimidated about designing a photo book, Mixbook takes out the stress with clear and fun-to-use software that helps make the process a breeze. At the same time, there are hundreds upon hundreds of ways to customize your book, including 644 design templates alone, if you want to take a deeper dive. Mixbook had among the best-looking and most user-friendly project editing software of the services we reviewed, matched only by Snapfish. The interface offers a myriad of options but isn’t cluttered and optimizes the space by providing a roomy preview of your project.
In terms of image quality, our finished book from Mixbook tied Printique for the best cover while coming in second place for its interior pages. For the photo books we created during testing, we used an image of a waterfall we shot at Yellowstone National Park. The photo was captured at sunset and Mixbook did a great job of reproducing detail in both the brighter light at the top of the waterfall and the shadow areas in the valley below. On the inside pages, Mixbook's default Everyday Semi-Gloss finish produced solid, pleasing contrast. Both light and dark skintones in our portraits were rendered true-to-life.
Other things we liked about Mixbook are its well-designed mobile app that lets you manage your projects on the site or create products from the photos on your phone. And finally, Mixbook’s handy 24/7 chat support is built right into the design interface, so it’s always available if you get stuck while making a book.
If you order a photo book from Mixbook, be sure to check out its shipping information and deadlines.
Read our full Mixbook review.
Best image quality
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
If image quality is your main concern for photo books, Printique is the service for you. While some competing companies have caught up in other ways, Printique still makes the best-looking books around. Their overall stature, however, has slipped a bit, dropping them to second place behind Mixbook after being ranked first for books in years past. What’s changed? Printique’s software feels dated now and is a challenge to use, which could turn off less experienced users. Printique’s photo books are also significantly more expensive than the competition.
For serious photographers (including pros), though, the trade-offs may be worth it. The most distinctive thing about Printique’s books are their very thick, rigid pages, which are similar to what you’d find in a professional wedding photo album. Similarly, even the entry-level books come with a layflat binding that prevents a furrow in the seam between pages, making this design perfect for images that span spreads. The pages display really well with excellent color, skin tone, contrast and sharpness/detail. We also liked the results of a few black-and-white photos we included in our book, which looked dramatic without losing detail.
While Printique’s software offers the most control of the services we tested, we feel it’s better suited to the advanced user than newbies. Seasoned designers will appreciate the variety of rulers, gridlines, submenus, and toolbars offered in Printique’s feature-rich interface, but beginners might be intimidated.
Another barrier for entry is price. Printique doesn’t really have an “entry-level” book that’s comparable to the other services since it only offers the premium layflat binding option with lavish, thick pages, which cost more. This level of quality doesn’t come cheap.
When ordering a photo book, be sure to check out Printique's shipping information and deadlines, so you know how long to expect before it arrives.
Read our full Printique review.
Our expert review:
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
If you think Vistaprint is only adept at making business cards and other marketing materials, think again. The company has expanded in recent years to include a wide range of personal print-on-demand services including photo books. While it’s difficult to find the book-making option on Vistaprint’s vast website, once you do, we think you’ll be pleased with the process and the results, as we were. Plus, the prices can’t be beat, making it the best value of all the services for books.
For testing purposes, we made hardcover books with all the services in approximately the 11 x 8.5-inch, landscape format since we felt that size would appeal to most users. At $30, Vistaprint’s book was the cheapest of the five companies; $5 less than Shutterfly, which was the second cheapest, and a whopping $45 less than Printique, which was the most expensive. As an added bonus, Vistaprint’s entry-level books come standard at 24 pages, while all the competition’s books start at 20 pages.
Given the affordable price, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of our photo books from Vistaprint. Our wraparound matte cover shot of a waterfall had rich detail even in the highlight and shadow areas, showing good dynamic range. The white endpapers for the front and rear inside covers have a classy look and feel as does the well stitched binding. The image quality of the interior pages was inconsistent though, with some of our landscape and cityscape images looking vibrant and crisp, while portraits were flat and overexposed at times.
Vistaprint’s software isn’t snazzy, but it gets the job done. It may look basic and a bit dated but unlike Printique’s complicated and outmoded interface, Vistaprint’s rudimentary software provides a relatively stress-free experience for making photo books. Just don’t expect anything fancy or a vast assortment of editing tools and you won’t be disappointed.
Read our full Vistaprint review.
Other services we tested
Our expert review:
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
Shutterfly is an easy to use and reliable service that does a lot of things right. In particular, the paper quality was great overall, and it did a decent job with its photo printing. Mixbook remains the best photo book service overall for its higher quality and better software, but if you want a relatively stress-free experience in creating solid if not spectacular books from a seasoned brand, Shutterfly is the one for you.
We thought Shutterfly’s software offered a good compromise between providing full control over a project and not overloading you with too much information. If you get stuck while making a product, just click the question mark icon in the lower left to bring up the help overlay. The only downside is we found the software somewhat slow to use; in particular, there was a noticeable lag of a few seconds before images displayed in a layout.
Despite its robust and intuitive software, the resulting photo books were a mixed bag. While the page quality was the best of all the photo books we reviewed, the color was just ok, with some pale skin tones in portraits getting washed out while darker skin appeared oversaturated with a loss of detail.
The default glossy hardcover was quite eye-catching though, and the color of our waterfall shot looked natural with ample detail. But the shiny cover surface is prone to glare. Inside, the pages have a good weight and the smooth matte finish produced minimal reflection. Some brighter images, however, appeared slightly washed out in print. We also weren’t so keen on the binding, which felt flimsy, and cut off the edges of the images in the center crease. So, while Shutterfly did a good job overall, there are enough misses to fall short of the top tier of Printique and Mixbook.
Before ordering, be sure to check out Shutterfly's shipping guidelines.
Read our full Shutterfly review.
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
With how easy and user-friendly Snapfish’s software was to use, we really wanted to like this service more than we did. The process of creating photo books, calendars, and cards with Snapfish was so pleasant, we expected the finished products to be equally satisfying. Unfortunately, its photo book came in last among the services we tested.
The bright glossy hardcover of our book didn’t look bad from a distance, but when inspected closer it lacked detail in the flowing waterfall shot. Not awful but not great either. The print quality of the inside pages is where Snapfish really stumbles. The floppy pages in our standard 8 x 11-inch book were the thinnest of all we created from the various companies. On the other hand, while the stitched perfect binding of the book looked cheap, the crease between pages cut off only a small portion of the images. Comparatively, most of the other books in our testing obscured noticeable portions of photos in the binding.
We wish all of the photo printing brands would emulate Snapfish’s snazzy software. It’s not only simple to use and logically laid out, it turns the process of creating a photo book into a pleasure rather than like pulling teeth. When creating a book, you can scroll through an authentic looking visual representation of the entire book to see all of the pages more easily. Snapfish’s book builder also had the fastest load times of the various companies we tested, with virtually no lag when dragging and dropping images or scrolling through layouts.
In the end, Snapfish is something of a conundrum. While we would recommend it for anyone who might be intimidated by the process of creating products, those with more discerning image quality taste for books should look elsewhere.
Read our full Snapfish review.
How we test photo book services
For testing purposes, we created similar custom-designed books from the five services in our evaluation, Mixbook, Printique, Shutterfly, Snapfish and Vistaprint, which we deemed to be the top companies on the market. We made 20 to 24-page hardcover books with all the services in approximately the 11 x 8.5-inch, landscape format since we felt that size would appeal to most users. The only major difference in the five books was the one created with Printique, which only offers a premium layflat binding and professional-quality, thick pages, even as an entry-level option.
While creating our books, we picked layouts and designs that were similar across the five services as well. For photos, I used my own portraits, landscapes, and cityscapes, which were shot in both studio and natural light. For portraits, the subjects encompassed a variety of skin tones. The three main factors the services were judged on were software, image quality, and value. For the book-making software, we considered both the levels of customization offered and the ease-of-use.
For image quality, we compared photos across the selection of books, as well as against the original digital images displayed on a MacBook Air retina display. Criteria for judging included cover quality, paper quality, color, skin tones, contrast, and sharpness/detail. For value, we took into account both the price of the photo books and the level of quality of the finished product. So, for instance, a good quality book that cost a low price would get a higher value score than a poor quality book at a similar price. The same value scale was used for more expensive books in our testing.
This year, we evaluated Mixbook, Shutterfly, Printique, Vistaprint, and Snapfish. However, in years past, we've also tested a number of other services, none of whom made it into our top tier. If you'd like to read those older reviews, they're listed below. Just bear in mind that the quality of some of these services may have changed since we last reviewed them.
When is the best time to buy a photo book?
Procrastination is a natural human instinct, but it will cost you when it comes to photo books. In particular, if the book is a gift for the holidays or if you just want it quickly for yourself, you’re going to be paying more for rush delivery services, which can increase the cost greatly. And in our experience, fast delivery is the one thing that is seldom discounted by book companies.
So, try to order you books as early as possible. Not only does it save you time, it gives you the chance to look over the book and order a reprint in case there are any errors. Another reason to order as early as possible is that many of the best photo book services offer big discounts throughout the year — up to 50% off in some cases, or with other extras thrown in.
How to choose the best photo book service for you
The most important factor for most people is that their book should look good. But what does this mean exactly? In simple terms, it means the quality of the photos should be great — skin tones should be accurate, lighting should be correct, and details should be crisp. In the best photo books, you should have good contrast, deep blacks, and an overall evenness in color gradation.
A photo book should also be built well. You shouldn't see pages coming free from the binding, the paper itself should have a substantial weight and feel, and images and text should be aligned properly.
If a company has poor software, you’re likely to either not be able to create the photo book you want or grow frustrated with the process and give up. While ease-of-use is a key factor, customization is also important too and our favorite brands offered a good combination of both with their software. You should be able to fully edit the book templates, easily find background art and more, and make fine adjustments to your photos, too.
Price is also an important factor. With the exception of the most and least expensive options, you won't find too much variation between photo book printing services. However, some services offer options like better paper, different-size books, and things like lay-flat binding, which means you can open the book flat on a table, and not worry about breaking the spine.
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Dan Havlik has worked in the photo industry for over decades and is currently editor-in chief of Wild Eye (www.wildeyemagazine.com), a new magazine devoted to the celebration of nature, wildlife, and underwater photography. He was previously the editor-in-chief of Outdoor Photographer and Shutterbug magazines. He has been an editor and writer for a variety of other publications and websites including Photo District News (PDN), Rangefinder, Wired, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Consumer Reports, Maxim, Men’s Journal, Imaging Resource, and LAPTOP. Dan is also an avid runner with three marathons under his belt and has written fitness reviews, including guides to the best running shoes and GPS watches, for Business Insider.