If you have an upcoming birthday, engagement party, or you're announcing a birth or some other special event, there's nothing more personal than sending one of the best photo cards.
An invitation with your own photos and design makes a real statement, rather than a generic card you pick up from the store. But with so many services offering a dizzying array of designs at a wide range of prices, it's hard to know which is the best photo card service.
To help you choose, we took a deep dive into five of the biggest: Costco Photo Center, Mimeo, Mixbook, Printique, and Shutterfly. We assessed not only the quality of the cards we made but the ease (or not) of making them, and the total cost. We even put them before a panel of photo experts to help determine which is the best.
Costco has shut down its own photo book and card-printing service, but is now offering a similar service via Shutterfly. Costco members will receive 51% off regularly-priced Shutterfly orders, plus free shipping on orders over $49. There are some exceptions, and you must be a Costco member in order to take advantage of this offer. We are currently evaluating other photo book services to take its place.
What are the best photo card services?
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This year featured a tight battle between Mimeo and Shutterfly. They were roughly tied for quality in the holiday greeting and wedding announcement cards we made, but they diverge in other ways. While Shutterfly's assortment of card templates, collections, and supported occasions can be daunting, Mimeo's is the sparest of all the services we looked at. Both offer powerful design software, but Mimeo's ordering process can be a bit cumbersome and confusing. Mimeo triumphs in price, however, with some of the lowest per-card rates.
The other three services are a rung or two below the leaders. Mixbook and Printique produce about average quality, but Printique does it cheaper (surprising, since Printique's photobooks are quite expensive, though also quite good). We saw a big difference in the quality of card types from Costco (though neither was a standout), but the company was consistent in having by far the lowest prices for both the cards and shipping.
To ensure that you don't lose your images, check out our picks for the best photo storage services. And be sure to check out our picks for the best photo books and best photo calendars. Here are the best photo card printing services
Here are the best photo card printing services
Shutterfly's cards and envelops were our judges' favorites, but they come at a price. Our holiday card was a deluxe version with metal foil lettering, rounded corners (the pricier default option), and thick envelopes with graphics and a printed liner. This package won for overall quality, paper and text quality, color, and sharpness, but cost $5.90 apiece (for an order of 25, before discounts that brought it to $3.29). But Shutterfly's more-affordable wedding announcement card won for envelope quality and was second only to the holiday card for paper stock and text quality (and tied for contrast). While we matched the wedding cards as closely as possible in features, Shutterfly's was still the most expensive of the bunch, at $4.23 (with a "sale price" of $2.22).
Shutterfly's design software provides over 700 card templates for occasions including Christmas (and Navidad), New Years, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, Easter, Eid, Diwali, Birthday, Graduation, newborn baby, and weddings. But you cannot design a card from scratch. Nor can you remove the annoying Shutterfly branding on the back of all cards. The interface is intuitive, with one glaring omission: There's no undo button, so you'll have to manually fix your mistakes. If you do get stuck, you can take advantage of Shutterfly's prompt, 24/7 chat support.
Before ordering, be sure to check out Shutterfly's shipping guidelines
Read our full Shutterfly review.
Mimeo's two cards roughly tied Shutterfly's offerings for quality and handily beat them on price. Accuracy of skin tones — across a broad range of subjects — was Mimeo's standout achievement. But contrast, sharpness, and overall color quality were at or near the top, as well. However, the flimsy envelopes scored lowest of the pack.
Mimeo offers the smallest selection of card designs, with just 44 templates, but you can create a card from scratch — which we had to do for our wedding announcement. Unfortunately, all the designs are saddled with a corporate logo that you can only remove if you use the company's plugin for MacOS Photos (not the web interface).
The design software is well organized and has some excellent features, including very customizable backgrounds and text. Yet it lacks other standard offerings, such as stickers/clip art. The software is slow to refresh, especially during the perplexing ordering process. For instance, there is no shopping cart. You have to order each type of item (like different card styles) individually and possibly pay more in shipping since they can't be combined in one box. Luckily, the 24/7 live-chat support was responsive, courteous, and as helpful as possible given Mimeo's shortcomings.
If you order photo cards from Mimeo, be sure to check out its shipping information and deadlines
Read our full Mimeo review.
Printique is a standout service for photobooks and a strong contender in calendars, but its photo cards are just mediocre. Its wedding card ranked seventh and its holiday card eighth of 10 reviewed. Printique's acceptable cardstock defaults to a flat-looking Linen finish that can affect legibility. Matte and Felt finishes are offered for the same price but unlikely to add luster. On the plus side, Printique doesn't festoon its cards with a company logo, as Mimeo, Mixbook, and Shutterfly do. That in itself adds a level of sophistication that could make it a preferred option.
Printique's design software provides extensive customization options, including full control of the size of text, borders, and drop shadows. But all these options can take some time to figure out: Printique's software is the most complex we've evaluated. And all that clutter on the screen (buttons, floating tool bars) can get in the way: for instance, making it hard to click on the handles for adjusting image size. But the biggest shortcoming is the lack of spell check.
Printique offers over 300 card types for over two-dozen occasion categories, such as wedding, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Diwali, Valentine's Day, Mother's day, and a range of Jewish holidays (but no Muslim events, such as Eid). Printique doesn't offer metal foil text, but some card types have options for rounded corners or other edge patterns. If you get stuck in your card-making process, your support options are limited to phone and email during weekdays (Mon-Thu: 9:00am – 5:00pm, Fri: 9:00am – 1:00pm). There is no chat support.
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.
Mixbook had mixed results. The wedding invitation was the second-lowest ranked of all cards, with judges describing the appearance as "muddy," "plain," and "dull." Contrast was the lowest, and skin tones had a grayish cast with the default Signature Matte finish. The holiday card was much better, although still below median for all quality scores. We opted for the Pearl finish, which judges seemed to like more, although they say it obscured details a bit.
As a counterpoint to lackluster quality, Mixbook offers the most enjoyable software experience. Its design interface is powerful, but not as cluttered or complex as Printique's. You can easily adjust borders, drop shadows, and image opacity, and utilize both effects (filters) and basic image editing (brightness, saturation, and contrast) on photos. Mixbook offers more than 3,000 card templates for many occasions including Mother's and Father's Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, 4th of July, Rosh Hashana, Halloween, New Year's, Chinese New Year's, Diwali, and Eid. You can also design a card from scratch, although the option is hard to find. The company logo on the back of all cards is a detraction, but you can eliminate it by making it the same color as the background of the card.
Mixbook's 24/7 chat support was courteous and quick to answer our questions--even providing the logo-hiding hack.
If you order photo cards from Mixbook, be sure to check out its shipping information and deadlines.
Read our full Mixbook review.
Costco's quality results were mixed but generally low. Its wedding invitation ranked dead last overall in our review of 10 cards, rated last or second to last in every category other than envelope quality (which the judges quite liked). Images had a dull, muddy appearance, and skin tones were grayish. The holiday card, however, was about the middle of the pack, with high paper quality and pleasing contrast. The metal-foil text option is a classy touch.
Costco's standout feature is the wide array of card templates, with over 800 covering occasions such as Christmas, New Years, Kwanzaa, generic season's greetings, Easter, weddings, graduation, and the fall season. (And Costco offers handy filters to narrow the selection.) However, some rivals, such as Shutterfly, offer options for far more occasions. And you cannot create your own design from scratch for any events that Costco doesn't offer templates for. Also, options for customizing card templates are slim. For instance, text is limited to just two sizes (13 and 18 point) and three fonts. One free time-saving offering is the option to autofill your return address on the back of all envelopes.
You're on your own if anything goes wrong. Costco offers only a few basic tips, with no human technical support.
If you order cards from Costco, be sure to check out its shipping information and deadlines.
Read our full Costco Photo Center review.
How we tested the best photo card services
For our evaluation, we custom-designed two types of cards: a Happy Holidays version in which we took advantage of any special features each provider offered, and a more-modest wedding announcement in which we configured the cards as similarly as possible. We used a combination of stock photography of families — shot under both studio and natural light — and my own portrait shots (some used in previous Tom's Guide camera reviews) taken entirely by natural light. The subjects encompassed a variety of skin tones: Black, East Asian, and White.
I convened a panel of four expert judges, all with professional experience in photography and printing, including employees from high-end custom book-printing service Plum Print.
Judges compared photos across the selection of cards, as well as against original digital images displayed on a MacBook Air retina display. They provided 1-5 ratings across seven criteria: envelope quality, paper quality, color, skin tones, contrast, sharpness/detail, and text quality.
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 card came from which service.
Photo book quality scores
I judged software in terms of its design options (backgrounds, borders, text, etc.), its capability for customization, and its ease of use. For pricing, we calculated the cost per card for an order of 25, as well as the shipping for the same delivery window, and compared them to the median of all prices to derive a value score.
Final scores were a weighted average, with quality comprising 50 percent of the score, software 30 percent, and price 20 percent. Each of the two cards' overall quality score comprised 50 percent of the company's total quality score.