With thousands of CVS stores throughout the United States — and even some within a block of each other — it's tempting to use them for all your photo needs. However, I suggest that you think twice before ordering your photo books, calendars and cards from them. Yes, they do a nice job on most individual photo prints, but books, calendars and cards are more complex, involving online software, paper quality and print reproduction. CVS does, at best, only an average job on these. That's why if you want the best photo books, best photo cards or best photo calendars, it's worth using a service like Mixbook.
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What I liked
Editable book and calendar templates
CVS doesn't have a large library of book and calendar templates. However, I was able to customize my book and the top section of my calendar. Regardless of the template or my selected page layout, I could add, remove, rotate, reshape and resize photos and text. Editing clip art is limited to resizing and rotating.
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I found it similarly easy to set a photo to full-bleed or to span it over a two-page book spread with a single click of an icon. Obvious book-margin guidelines assured that important areas of a two-page photo wouldn't fall into the crease between the pages.
Easy to add photos and text to calendar date boxes
Although I couldn't add clip art or alternate backgrounds to the calendar's bottom page, photos automatically resize if you drag them onto a date box. Double-clicking on a date opened up a window where I could zoom or pan the photo. That's also where I added my date captions, using a text tool that allowed me to customize the font, the color and even the transparent background ribbon (to make sure the type stands out against the photo). One problem: I never did figure out how to delete a photo that I had added to a date box.
Variable photo borders for books and calendars
CVS gives you control over the width of book and calendar photo borders with a simple slider. This is far better than Shutterfly's and Costco's fixed border widths, though CVS's card interface doesn't have any options for adding borders.
Simple photo editing
CVS's simple photo-editing tools aren't comprehensive. However, they are easy to use and available in all three project interfaces, including for a photo set in a calendar date box. The tabbed window gives basic control over cropping, a handful of filters, sliders for brightness and contrast, and on or off buttons for fill flash, color correction and auto-contrast. But there is no drop shadow.
What I disliked
CVS Photo (like Amazon Print and Walmart Photo) licenses Snapfish's rather frustrating software for its print projects. The CVS software for books and calendars is similar on the surface to Snapfish's. The big difference is that it has less content than Snapfish (though more than Amazon).
Inflexible card templates
CVS has a wider variety of card templates than those for books and calendars. Even so, it was difficult to find one that fit my criteria. That's because clip art, decorative text and placeholders for photos and text on the front of the card can't be moved, deleted or adjusted. So, I couldn't choose a design I liked that was for, say, a birthday party and use it for a holiday party, because the decorative text that said "Happy Birthday" couldn't be deleted.
The back of the card is a bit more editable. I had a choice between two backgrounds, and I could add, move and adjust photos and text. It even had a small selection of alternate layouts available.
Content is poorly organized and has no search engine
As with the other Snapfish-based interfaces, I wasted far too much time trying to find backgrounds and clip art for my book and calendar. (The card software has no optional clip art and only a couple of solid color backgrounds.) Eventually, I just gave up.
The problem is that the content libraries have no search engine. What's more, related items that should be grouped together are spread across a number of categories. And many of the category names, such as Wild Time, Adult Milestone or Artistic Vision, give no hint as to the style or substance of the clip art or backgrounds.
For instance, text art is sprinkled throughout the clip art categories. When I wanted, say, a watercolor-type gradient background, I had to click through almost all the categories to view the tiny thumbnails, and then click to magnify those that I thought might be close.
Incidentally, that "See More" button at the top of the sidebar simply scrolls to the bottom of the sidebar.
One saving grace is that both the clip art and background sidebars have a Recently Used section – though it doesn't hold onto all the backgrounds used in the project.
Rather than using a standard color picker, CVS's colors for text, solid backgrounds and borders are limited to set color blocks. They are unnamed and have no reference values, so I found it very difficult to, for instance, match a photo's border color to the text on the page.
Minimal text tool
The text tool has the barest necessities: font, size (in set increments), alignment and color. Although no bold or italics fonts are available, some of the fonts listed are inherently bolded or italicized. Nor is there a drop shadow. The one nice feature is that you can set a transparent color background for the text box. But it has no slider to control the level of transparency or to set it to opaque, as Picaboo does.
The printed projects
Like Walmart, you can arrange to pick up your CVS printed products from a local store. This may be convenient, but be careful to not order your calendar and card from among the Same-Day-Pickup templates, which are printed in the store, as opposed to shipped to the store. (None of the CVS hard-cover photo books can be printed in a local store.)
Not all CVS stores have the ability to print, and if they do, they may not print the specific product you want. I had to go to two different stores to pick up my cards and calendar. More important, the stores don't have the machinery to produce even average-quality cards or calendars. Instead, it uses flimsy photo paper that might be appealing for a snapshot, but it doesn't come near the quality of even the least of its competitors. In addition, the calendar's tiny month grid was next to useless.
Realizing that comparing these print-in-store items with cards and calendars that other companies produced in printing facilities would be unfair, I reordered the CVS calendar and card and chose premium products that couldn't be printed in-store. While the results weren't brilliant, they were far better.
CVS photo book
The CVS photo book has a feeling of cheapness. Very similar in construction to Amazon's and Snapfish's photo books, it has no end pages, the binding is inelegant, with some glue marks, and the lightweight paper is nondescript. The glossy cover had prominent scratches when I unpacked it.
Photos on the front cover were underexposed, which darkened the shadows so that details were lost. The pictures on the back cover and in the interior were inconsistent. Some had a nice liveliness with an acceptable color balance among the various skin tones, and a number were crisper than Amazon's photo book. But many of the pictures had a magenta shift, and several were too dark with blocky shadows. The cover type was solid but had soft margins. The edges of interior type were a bit jagged, though not as much as Amazon's.
CVS photo calendar
My second CVS calendar was printed on nice medium-weight card stock. Photos tended to be crisp and sharp, with generally good tonality. However, in many, the colors and dynamic range were muted, and in others, the shadows were blocky, particularly in dark hair. Most type was smooth and clean, while others had jagged edges.
CVS photo card
My second CVS card was printed on medium-weight card stock that had a bit of texture, which was pleasing to the touch. The photos have very nice exposure and color. Unfortunately, the pictures appeared a bit soft, primarily due to the paper texture. Their dynamic range was generally good, though some detail was lost in the shadows. While the type had clean edges, letters aren't solid.
Pricing and options
CVS Photo doesn't have a hardcover book close in size to my 8.5 x 8.5-inch, 20-page design that I used with other services. So I created an 8.5 x 11-inch, 20-page hardcover photo book, which cost $39.99. A softcover 8 x 8-inch book costs $19.99. I also had the choice of a custom linen hardback (starting at $19.99), black leather-covered hardback ($24.99) and lay-flat books ($44.99). Other photo books of various sizes from 4 x 6 inches to 11 x 14 inches are available. However, be careful when choosing your template; some print on only one side of the paper, which means the paper is thin and probably flimsy.
The premium 8.5 x 11-inch wall calendar was $19.99. The print-in-store 8 x 10-inch calendar was $15.99. Other size calendars include a 10 x 5-inch desktop calendar for $9.99 and an 11.5 x 14-inch wall calendar for $29.99.
The premium 5 x 7-inch, double-sided card was $1.99 each regardless of the quantity ordered. Envelopes are included; for 10 cents each, they can have your return address printed on the back. A card of the same size printed in the store cost $1.29 each. Other types of cards that CVS offers include folded 5 x 7 inch note cards; one-sided, 4 x 8 inch photo cards; and 4 x 8-inch, double-sided cards.
Other CVS photo products include passport photos, mugs and tumblers, blankets and pillows, ornaments, phone cases, tote bags, playing cards and other items.
The biggest advantage that CVS has is that you can pick up some photo products on the same day that you create them online. However, that's negated by the lack of quality of those print-in-store items. Otherwise, CVS print quality and prices are average for books, calendars and cards, and the software is frustrating. For more creative, easier-to-use software and better print quality, choose Mixbook, which charges less for its books and cards, and a bit more for its calendar — and delivers much better results.