As 2022 winds to a close, it's time to start planning for the new year and order one of the best photo calendars for the next year. While we have calendar apps all over our devices, a physical calendar is a great way to help visualize the time ahead, from events coming this week to holidays that are approaching faster than you realize. Filling a calendar with your favorite photos is also a great way to get some pleasing art and memories onto your (physical) desktop or wall.
We tested the design process and production quality for five popular printing services — Costco, Mimeo, Mixbook, Printique, and Shutterfly — to find the best photo calendars you can buy. We chose centerfold wall-hanging models for our comparison. (Vendors may also offer smaller desktop versions and larger top hanging options.) Sizes varied considerably in this category, which we accounted for in calculating overall value.
The best photo calendar services today
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While Mixbook didn’t win outright when it came to image quality and production, it edged ahead of the competition with its excellent design software, which was both comprehensive and easy to use.
Mixbook's calendar finished in the middle of the pack in our quality evaluation (tied with Costco and Mimeo). Its cover score is just behind Costco's and ahead of Printique's. Color and skin tones are second only to Printique, and Mimeo, respectively. The flat page finish strikes the right balance between showing images well and producing a surface that's easy to write on, without smudging.
Mixbook has our favorite online design software for its mix of clean layout and customization features. You can start from a generous assortment of 139 design templates or create your own look from scratch. Mixbook's software lets you adjust borders, drop shadows, and image opacity. You can tweak photos by applying effects (filters) and adjusting brightness, saturation, and contrast. But there are limitations. Rivals allow greater control of text, and Printique has multiple calendar grid options. Those things aside, it’s still a fantastic service. And, should you run into trouble, Mixbook offers both handy popup tips and live chat support.
If you order a photo book from Mixbook, be sure to check out Mixbook's shipping information and deadlines (opens in new tab)
Read our full Mixbook review.
Printique continues to top our calendar reviews, with the highest overall quality. Its pages earned the highest marks from our judges — although the pages themselves are the thinnest in our review, giving some concern to durability. Printique also came in first on color, contrast, and sharpness/detail. It's just average for skin tones, though. While the glossy finish boosts image quality, it doesn't lead to smudging when you write on the pages.
Printique furnishes the most advanced design software, with fine control over borders, text, drop shadows, and other features. It also provides a huge assortment of background designs and stickers/clip art. All this customization can be applied to the top photo pages as well as the calendar-grid pages (not the case with all services). This includes customizing the calendar's fonts (individually by month, week, day, and event designation), changing the grid's opacity, and adding drop shadows of any color. You can add a photo to any date square by dragging, dropping, and cropping. Printique provides thirteen text-grid patterns to choose from — for the most-configurable grid pages of all competitors.
The only drawback to the software is that it's skewed to advanced designers and might be confusing or intimidating for newcomers.
When ordering a photo book, be sure to check out Printique's shipping information and deadlines (opens in new tab), so you know how long to expect before it arrives.
Read our full Printique review.
Costco's offerings were the least like the others in our review. Its entry-level centerfold calendar is a bit small at 8.5 x 11-inches; and its premium model is gargantuan at 11.5 x 14 inches. But with even the large calendar costing much less than smaller rivals, we chose it to provide Costco in its best light.
The large calendar ties Printique for best contrast, and its cover quality is the highest. The thick, glossy pages are durable and enhance contrast as well as color. Skin tones and color quality are about middle of the pack.
However, Costco's design software is a bit limited. It starts with just 18 calendar templates. (Shutterfly has 80, but Printique has only 11.) You cannot customize or embellish the top photo pages with features such as frames, masks, or clip art. Text is limited to set boxes for the design or page template you choose; and font styles, sizes, and colors are very limited.
Pre-built templates allow you to pick from a small selection of alternative backgrounds for the top photo page, but you can't select any backgrounds if you create your own design. You can't apply backgrounds to the bottom calendar grid pages or change the grid style. In addition to set holidays, you can create your own calendar events, including a custom one adding an image and text.
Be sure to check out the Costco Photo Center shipping guidelines for more information on how long it will take to print and ship your photo album.
Read our full Costco Photo Center review.
Mimeo offers just a single calendar style and size — with largish 13 x 10-inch dimensions second only to Costco's 11.5 x 14-inch premium calendar. Quality is about average overall but varied by criteria. Color ratings trailed only the top-performing Printique and Mixbook products; and skin tones received the highest marks.
Its software excels in overall organization, with exceptionally customizable page backgrounds and text. There are 37 design templates (plus the option to create your own design). You can add photos, a background, and text not only to the front cover but also to the back. (Mixbook also allows this.) But Mimeo's software lacks some typical features of other services, such as stickers and clip art. And customization applies only to the covers and the top photo pages. The bottom calendar-grid pages allow only a generic, default black-and-white design. You can create events (in addition to the default holidays) with configurable text and any image in the respective calendar square.
One standout feature is live chat support to help if you ever get stuck.
If you order a photo calendar from Mimeo, be sure to check out its shipping information and deadlines (opens in new tab)
Read our full Mimeo review.
Our Shutterfly calendar looked pretty good when we designed it online, but the product we got in the mail was in a class by itself for poor image quality. Everything was overexposed and washed out, yielding horrible contrast. And a yellow tint pervaded all the images, making for poor color quality overall and sickly skin tones. In short, the calendar looked like its cover and pages had been left out in the sun. Surprised at how bad the quality was (especially considering Shutterfly's much better photo book image quality), we ordered a second copy of the same design. This one was just a tad less washed out, and just as yellow. This depressing quality would be a nonstarter at any price, but Shutterfly's calendar is also the most expensive we evaluated, at $34.99 for an 8 x 11-inch, 12-month version.
You can safely stop reading now. But if you'd like to know more, we can tell you that the online design software is actually pretty nice — tied with Printique's for second place, although behind Mixbook's. The interface is well organized, including a handy flowchart showing where you are in the overall process, with the ability to jump back or ahead to any step, such as changing the style template or finishing options.
Shutterfly provides a massive selection of backgrounds, stickers, ribbons, and photo frames that apply to the top photo pages and mostly to the bottom calendar grid pages. (You can fully configure any text element on the calendar grids. You can create custom calendar events with custom text and drag and drop an image into any day square (as well as edit the image).
Read our full Shutterfly review.
How we test photo calendar services
For our evaluation, I custom-designed calendars so that they would be as similar as possible across all the services--including features such as image size and placement, page backgrounds, frames, text, and stickers/clipart. I used a combination of stock photography of families - shot under both studio and natural light - and my own portraits and landscapes (some used in previous Tom's Guide camera reviews) shot entirely by natural light. The subjects encompassed a variety of skin tones.
I convened a panel of four expert judges, all with professional experience in photography and printing, including employees from book-printing service Plum Print. (The company is not a direct competitor to the services we evaluated, as it utilizes professional designers, with no DIY option, and often features custom photography.) Judges compared photos across the selection of calendars, as well as against the original digital images displayed on a MacBook Air retina display and a calibrated Samsung television. Judges provided 1-5 ratings across five criteria: cover quality, paper quality, color, skin tones, contrast, and sharpness/detail.
All branding was covered over, with the products identified only by numbers. I also joined the evaluations and participated in the same way, except it was impossible for me not to know which calendar came from which service.
Photo calendar quality scores
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Costco||Mimeo||Mixbook||Printique||Shutterfly|
I judged software in terms of its design options (backgrounds, borders, text, etc.), its capability for customization, and its ease of use. For value, I compared each product's price to the median of all prices to derive a value score, and adjusted these raw scores based on the size of each calendar (as they vary among services).
Final scores were a weighted average, with quality comprising 50 percent of the score, software 30 percent, and price 20 percent.