Mixbook again wins as the overall best online print service, offering the best photo book, the best photo card and the best photo calendar for the money. Its software offers a great combination of flexibility, power, creativity, smooth workflows and ease of use. And the print products are comparatively reasonably priced and quite attractive. While the photo quality of my printed card lagged behind that of my top-notch book and calendar, the difference wasn't enough to change our overall opinion of this great service.
|Overall Product Rating||Software Rating||Printed Product Rating|
What I liked
Great web interface
Mixbook's software is powerful and versatile, providing just about all the tools necessary to enable users' creativity, while also keeping things easy enough for novices to master. The interfaces for creating books, cards and calendars are essentially identical, with just a few project-specific differences, such as managing events for calendars.
A sizable selection of attractive, fully editable templates
Mixbook's attractive templates are fully editable. I could interactively add, move, delete, rotate, resize and reshape photos, text and clip art, as well as any decorative elements on the template. The photo and text placeholders were helpful but unnecessary because I could add text as well as drag and drop photos anywhere on the page.
Large, searchable libraries of layouts, backgrounds, clip art
Mixbook's extensive content is well organized. Clip art and backgrounds are searchable by keyword, though I found the search for clip art more responsive than that for backgrounds.
I found the recently used areas of both the clip art and background sidebars particularly useful. Any graphics that I tried in my book, card or calendar were saved there, so I didn't have to search for them again.
To really unleash my creativity, I could also upload my own photos or other graphics to use as page backgrounds or clip art.
Easy-to-use, comprehensive photo tools
The photo tools ribbon made it a cinch to flip, rotate, zoom in or out, and set my photo to a page or to span two pages (in the book). I could go deeper to edit the picture itself, using sliders for brightness, contrast, saturation or opacity, applying one of several color filters or a drop shadow of any color.
Unlike Snapfish's or Costco's clumsy borders, Mixbook's compact but robust border tool has a slider for width and a color picker that I could use to choose any color I could imagine.
Like Picaboo, Mixbook has a similar, though smaller selection of tools for editing clip art, too. These include the same controls for opacity, contrast, brightness, saturation and drop shadow.
Powerful, repeatable colors
The two windows of the color picker gave me full control over my color selection for borders, drop shadows, text and solid backgrounds. This included a hex value, a recently used section and an eyedropper to sample color from anywhere on the screen. This helped me match colors, like aligning my text color to that of my border or blending it with or matching my clip art.
Greater creative freedom with calendars
Like Shutterfly (and unlike all the other services), Mixbook gave me just about all the features and tools available for the bottom grid page of my calendar as I had for the top page. Therefore, in addition to changing backgrounds behind my calendar grid, I could add clip art and photos behind or in front of the grid. I could even enlarge them so they became the background.
What I disliked
Weak calendar-event management
Any photo I dropped onto the calendar grid automatically resized to fit the date box, but when I wanted to edit the calendar, I couldn't magnify the view (as I could in Printique, formerly known as Printique) or open a window (like in Picaboo) to see the results of my edit choices. So, even though I had access to all of Mixbook's photo-editing tools, it was difficult to see what I was doing.
Nor could I add text directly to the date box. Instead, I had to go into the Events Manager window, where all I could do was create or edit an event name to a specific date. I had no control over the text font, color or size. What's more, the Events Manager has no tools for handling photos.
Some small annoyances
There's not much about Mixbook that I dislike, but I'm surprised that the interface still lacks a drop shadow for text. And Mixbook needs to improve the keyword search in the backgrounds sidebar.
The printed projects
In all the years I've been testing and writing about online print services, juries have rated Mixbook's calendars, books and cards among the best, if not the best. That's why I was surprised by Mixbook's initial results, in which the photos in the book were underexposed and the card overexposed. In consultation with my editor, we decided to get reprints. The photos in the new book were better, though the second card was still overexposed.
Mixbook photo book (4/5)
Mixbook's photo book has an attractive, velvety surface. The binding is tight and clean, with smooth end papers. The pages are a nice medium weight and have an appealing vellum texture.
While the first book had dull photos with no sparkle and blocky shadows, the second was better. Cover pictures exhibited nice color and were properly exposed, with good details in the shadows and highlights, but their dynamic range was a bit suppressed. Interior pictures were lively, with good clarity, appealing tonality, and clear details in the shadows and highlights. However, a couple of the photos of an African American family were a bit overexposed. Type was clean and smooth, with minimal jagged edges.
Mixbook photo calendar (4/5)
The calendar was printed on thicker-than-average card stock and had a nice, smooth texture. Photos were vibrant and well balanced for the variety of skin tones. Details were good throughout the dynamic range. Most pictures were sharp and clean; some were a bit soft. Type was mostly solid and clean but with some jagged edges
Mixbook photo card (4/5)
The card was printed on light to medium card stock that had a bit of sheen. The photos in both the original and reprinted card were colorful and in focus, but the overexposed nature of the images made them look washed out. Type was clean and solid.
Pricing and options
An 8.5 x 8.5-inch, 20-page hardcover book with a glossy cover costs $29.99; with a matte cover, it runs $34.99. If I had ordered the book with pearl-luster paper instead of the standard semigloss, it would have cost $8.40 more. The same book as a softcover would have been $19.99. A premium, lay-flat 8.5 x 8.5-inch book (with either matte or luster paper) would have been $59.99. Alternative covers include a hardcover with a dust jacket for $5 more and a leather cover for an additional $15. Various other size books include a 6 x 6-inch up to a 14 x 11-inch version. One unusual type of book that Mixbook offers is a lay-flat softcover that starts at $24.99 for a 6 x 6-inch book.
I paid $24.99 for my 11 x 8.5-inch wall calendar. A 14 x 11-inch version would have cost $34.99, and a 12 x 12 would have been $29.99.
MORE: Best Calendar Apps
It cost $1.79 for each of my five 5 x 7-inch cards. The price per card goes down the more you order. For instance, 30 cards would have cost $1.53 each, and 100 cards would go for $1.21 each. Blank, white envelopes are included; having your return address printed on the back costs 25 cents per envelope. Mixbook offers several different papers for cards. For instance, printing the above card on pearl finish would cost $1.10 extra per card, premium matte $1.20 and thick "luxe" board $2.10. Depending on the template you choose, other options may include foil (gold, rose gold or silver) and various edge trims, all at additional cost.
Mixbook doesn't have the variety of photo gifts and novelties that Shutterfly offers. Instead, this service focuses on photo prints and posters (including on canvas, acrylic and metal), plus books, calendars and cards.
Mixbook's software is flexible, versatile, creative and easy to use, and the service's print quality typically ranks among the best. If you end up with a less-than-satisfactory print product, ask Mixbook for a reprint. Printique came in a very close second to Mixbook in our tests, demonstrating great software and generally high-quality prints, but Printique was significantly more expensive. For its quality and price, you can't go wrong with Mixbook.