Designing a photo book or calendar can take a lot of work, but Mixbook makes it as pleasant as possible, with a crisp layout and great help functions, including live chat. It's not the cheapest service, but it's not the most expensive, either, which makes it one of the best photo book and best photo calendar printing services. The construction of its products is quite good, but there are some things that could be improved. Make sure to read the rest of our Mixbook review to see if our quibbles are small enough to be overlooked, or if you should go with another service.
Mixbook review: Prices
Mixbook photo books
Mixbook charges $36.78 for an 8.5 x 8.5-inch 20-page hardcover book with a glossy cover and semi-gloss pages. A matte cover costs $5.00 more. Matte pages cost $5.10 more, and low-glare "Premium Lustre" costs $10.40 extra. A softcover starts at $21.38, and lay flat binding starts at $82.48. Other size hardcovers include 6 x 6 (from $21.18) 10 x 10 (from $57.48) and 12 x 13 inches (from $77.98).
A Mixbook calendar costs $28.99 for an 11 x 8.5-inch design. A 14 x 11-inch calendar costs $39.99.
Mixbook review: Software
Mixbook provides a mind-blowing assortment of 644 book templates, grouped into a still-daunting list of 21 categories, such as Travel Photos, Adoption, Holiday, Recipe/Cookbooks, and Yearbooks. It's a lot to get through: Travel alone has 91 options. Meanwhile the calendar section presents 139 options, which you can sort by color theme. Our advice: Just jump on whatever design preview catches your eye after a few minutes, since you'll have lots of customization options once you get in. (We created all our books and calendars from blank slates, so they would roughly match across companies.)
Mixbook has the best-looking project editing software of the services we reviewed, edging out Printique, which is slick but overwhelming. It isn't cluttered and makes good use of space to provide a roomy preview of your project (especially if you use the full-screen option). If you do get stuck, Mixbook has both popup tips and access to live chat support.
You can open a panel on the right to scroll through thumbnail previews of all the pages in your project. On the left are pop out menus of all the tools you'll use to make the project: Photos, (page) Layouts, Backgrounds, Stickers, and Text. Mixbook offers fine control of photos, via a floating toolbar with such options as zoom in and out, rotate, fill page, and flip. There's also an edit button that provides access to adjustable borders, drop shadows, and image opacity. You can apply effects (filters) and even make basic image edits (brightness, saturation, contrast) - the latter a rare offering with these services. You can select shapes, such as a heart, to place your photo into, as well.
Layouts allow you to select preconfigured page designs, if you don't want to place photos (and sometimes text) manually. Mixbook's selection of backgrounds is minimal with just 100 patterns: That's in line with Costco and Mimeo, but dwarfed by Printique's 2,020 options and Shutterfly's 4751. Pre-set solid-color choices are also quite limited. You can create custom colors by dragging a picker through color gradient swatches, but this is clumsy for non-experts and often results in unappetizing hues. If you don't like any of Mixbook's background offerings, you can also upload your own image. It's the only service we've tested to allow that. You can also upload your own images to supplement Mixbook's rich supply of cartoony stickers (clip art).
For text, Mixbook provides a small assortment of font styles, font sizes, and preset colors (with the option to customize). Two nice features are the ability to place a custom (color and width) border around text boxes and to fill the interior with any color.
Many of the same editing options apply to photo books and calendars. For calendars, you can apply backgrounds and stickers to both the upper image pages and the lower month grid pages. But text options are limited. Only the month on each calendar page can be customized, not the days of the week or the numbers or names of holidays/events in each square. Nor can you change the design of the calendar grid, other than by switching to a different template for the whole project. This is a bit disappointing. Several rivals allow you to configure text, and Printique has options for changing the grid. At least you can drag a photo into any day box, and make the usual edits to it.
If you are stuck on a design, or want to show off what you have created, you can invite others to connect online. Mixbook allows you to share a link so that others can view a preview, make edits, or order copies of your projects. Here are the book (opens in new tab) and calendar (opens in new tab) that I designed for this review.
Mixbook review: Print Quality
Mixbook photo books
Unfortunately, we didn't like Mixbook's products as much as the process of designing them. In fact, our panel of judges awarded its book the second-lowest overall quality score - beating only a flimsy, low-cost softcover option from Costco. (Costco's large hardcover beats Mixbook.) In fairness, the differences between Mixbook's book and the two next-best products (from Costco and Mimeo) were slight.
On the bright side, Mixbook's cover tied Printique's for the best of the bunch and beat all the others by a large margin. The matte-finished cover captured a variety of skin tones well in a photo of a family in the autumn leaves, and it didn't produce an overly warm look, as some other books did. The back cover — featuring a pale woman at a Day of the Dead parade — has a dull, chalky look.
That dull look continues to the slightly thin inside pages. Colors appear a little washed out, contrast is a bit weak, and details are muddy. (Mixbook took last in the contrast and sharpness/detail categories, but was middling in color and skin tones.) These pages featured the "Everyday Semi-Gloss" finish — the default and cheapest on the site.
This could be because either we or the Mixbook site accidentally selected the Signature Matte page finish (a slight upgrade), instead of the default Everyday Semi-Gloss. We've ordered a new version of the book with the other finish and will reevaluate when we receive it.
A final glitch appeared in the two-page spreads. In a photo of a family of four, the poor youngest child's face is completely lost in the fold. Parts of other heads are also missing. Mixbook does offer a lay flat binding option. It would add $42.10 to this book's price.
The outlook is better for Mixbook's calendar, which finished in the middle of the pack in our quality evaluation. Judges liked its cover quality, which was just 0.1 point behind Costco's. And in a real reversal, judges gave high marks for color quality. You can see it, for instance, in the purples, reds, and oranges of a mountaintop sunset in winter.
Somehow, the flat finish on the calendar pages didn't hurt image quality quite as much as in the book pages. Or perhaps expectations are different for a calendar. Pen and marker writing on the calendar grid take very well to the more porous finish, with no smudging.
Mixbook's calendar is a bit expensive for what you get, however. At $28.99 it's the second-priciest offering — much less than Shutterfly's poor-quality calendar ($34.99) but a tad more than the category-winning Printique model ($25.99). What's more: equal-quality calendars from Mimeo and Costco are both larger and cheaper.
Mixbook review: Verdict
Given the quality of its software, I wanted to like the Mixbook photo book I created more than I did after seeing the results. The quality isn't bad, per se, but it doesn't distinguish itself from rivals in the same price category. However, the calendar offers quite nice quality. But, what elevates Mixbook above its rivals is its software, which is both powerful and easy to use — not to mention its excellent customer service. The relative ease of creating and customizing the company's book and calendar increases the chances that you will actually get them, rather than abandoning half-finished products.