Shutterfly review

An acceptable but not great performer, especially on calendars

Shutterfly book and calendar prints
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Shutterfly does a lot of things right, including great paper quality, colors, and skin tones in books, but it was middling in some other aspects. And the calendar we ordered (and re-ordered, just to make sure) was simply abysmal. So your choice depends to an extent on what product you order.

Pros

  • +

    Top paper quality for books

  • +

    Good search tool for background images

  • +

    Can share online projects with others

  • +

    Huge selection of stickers/clipart

Cons

  • -

    Lowest quality for calendar, in most categories

  • -

    Flimsy book binding

  • -

    Pricey six-color book printing option probably unnecessary

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Shutterfly is a stalwart of the photo-printing business, going back more than two decades (essentially the dawn of digital photography). And that heritage shows in a vast array of product offerings and design features, such as a dizzying array of pre-built templates for books and calendars.

The company is also generous with special pricing offers. For instance, at the time of this writing, the entry-level 8 x 8-inch hardcover was reduced from $29.98 to $22.98. (You can find all the latest on the company's site (opens in new tab), and you may receive even more offers as a return customer.) The company also offers a free Make My Book (opens in new tab) service. Just upload your photos, and Shutterfly's designers will create a custom book for you in 24 hours. (You get to review the design and make changes before ordering.)

Shutterfly came in second-best for book quality (though well behind Printique), despite having problematic binding. Its calendar, however, was rock-bottom in quality. Read the rest of our Shutterfly review before deciding if this is the right service for you.

Shutterfly review: Prices

Shutterfly photo books
An 8 x 8-inch hardcover book starts at $29.98 for 20 pages (Lay flat versions start at $54.98.) Standard hardcover books go up to 11 x 14-inches for $89.98. A softcover book ranges from $19.98 (8 x 8-inch) to $29.98 (10 x 10-inch). Deluxe layflat books start at $144.98 for an 8 x 8-inch with a leather cover.

Shutterfly calendars
An 8 x 11-inch, 12-month centerfold wall calendar starts at $34.99, or $44.99 for a 12 x 12-inch. A desktop calendar (consisting of 12 5 x 7-inch monthly cards and a wooden easel) costs $29.98.

Shutterfly review: Software

Shutterfly offers a rich assortment of 265 photo book templates broken down into 31 categories such as Birthday, Professional, Recipe, Travel, and Wedding. If you can think of it, they probably have, too. But it can be overwhelming making a choice. (You can also create your own from scratch, as I did.) 

Once you have chosen, Shutterfly shows you the backgrounds and embellishments (such as clip art or frames) that you can use while customizing each one. Or you can access the full arsenal of customization options by creating your own design from scratch, as we did in order to produce roughly similar products across all the services we evaluated.

However you arrive at the editing workspace, you will find a well-organized interface, with a two-page spread preview front and center, thumbnails of the photos in the project at the bottom, and menus on the left featuring access to page-layout options, page backgrounds, and "Embellishments" such as stickers/clipart or frames. (You have to toggle the Advanced editing switch on the upper right to have free reign over the design.) A flowchart at the top of the screen shows where you are in the overall process and allows you to jump back or ahead to any step: such as selecting an overall style, laying out images on a storyboard, or selecting options including cover and page type and finish. 

Overall, Shutterfly achieves a good compromise between providing full control and assaulting you with too much information. If you are ever stuck, click the question mark icon in the lower left to bring up the help overlay. You can then click on different parts of the screen to get popup descriptions of what they do. But beware: Shutterfly's software can be glitchy or downright dysfunctional in the Firefox browser (at least on Mac). Best to use Chrome or Safari.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Shutterfly breaks down its vast assortment of backgrounds (4751 options) by cover or interior pages, Occasions (Pets, Sumer, etc.), Style, Day (Aloha Hawaii, Best Mom Ever), and other criteria. You can also do a keyword search. Beware, however: Any background thumbnails marked with an "S" or an "M" (and there are a lot) may involve an extra "a la carte" charge.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Shutterfly offers a similar interface for selecting among its assortment (some in designer collections) of 30,000 stickers, 5,786 ribbons that run across the page or photo (some sold a la carte), and 637 straight-frame types. There are no fancy frames with patterns, woodgrain, lace, etc.

Shutterfly offers about 100 text fonts and a small range of font and color options. It provides nothing like the variety and adjustability of text tools in Mimeo or Printique.

You can't fully edit photos you have imported into Shutterfly, but you can apply one of six filters, as well as rotate images or remove redeye. You can also elect to have the photos color corrected by algorithm.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Shutterfly provides a nearly identical interface for calendar design, with all the same options for editing photos (applying filters), adding backgrounds, stickers/clipart, ribbons, and frames, or configuring text. These features apply to the photo pages and mostly to the calendar grid pages. (You can drag photos into individual day squares and place stickers anywhere.) You can fully configure any text element on the calendar grids: individual month names, year, day names, grid numbers. But you can only change the grid style itself by selecting a different style template for the whole project.

You can share photo book or calendar projects with others online, allowing them to view, like, order, and make customizable copies of your creations. Here are the book (opens in new tab) and calendar (opens in new tab) that I made for this review.

Shutterfly review: Print Quality

Shutterfly photo books
Shutterfly's books are a mixed story. For instance, our judges liked its page quality best of all the photo books we reviewed, but the cover and binding were the worst of the bunch. The pages have a good weight and a smooth matte finish that show images well with minimal glare. We splurged $25 extra for lay flat pages, which don't obscure any part of images in a furrow between pages. Endpapers, including velum at the front, lend a classy look. The back cover also supports a photo, although it's marred by a 2-D barcode in the bottom-right corner.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But even this upgraded binding was problematic. The edge of the cover photos disappears behind a black strip that wraps the spine. And that strip started to crease and buckle with even a few openings — quiet creaky ones, as you can see and hear in the video above. When opening the book or pressing on the black strip at the spine, you can feel and hear it sticking to and then pulling away from the pages beneath. A bit of finishing (about two millimeters wide) along the inside edge of each page slightly changes the tone, as if you had put scotch tape over the page.

Shutterfly book and calendar prints

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Color, contrast, and sharpness/detail were about average for the selection of books we reviewed. Skin tones were a tad better — as we saw in a Black family of various tones who all looked healthy and natural.

Yet this average quality came from the book with the highest price — $71.65 for a 20-page 8 x 8-inch hardcover in the basic lay flat design. Shifting that to standard binding drops the price to $44.97 — just a bit above average (and the figure we used for our price rating).

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

This price is still a bit high because we chose the "Professional 6 Color Printing" option, at $14.99. It augments the traditional cyan, yellow, magenta, and black (CMYK) inks with red, green, and blue. We hardly saw any benefit over rival books printed in CMYK, however. Our professional judges from book maker Plum Print question the value of the extra inks, saying that they get fine results with CMYK only. If we skip the 6-color printing, the price drops to $29.98 - quite reasonable. Assuming that doesn't do much to reduce image quality that was about average to begin with, Shutterfly's book becomes a much better deal. But its at-best middling quality doesn't make it a winner.

Shutterfly calendars
Things go south with Shutterfly's calendar. Judges were unanimous in ranking it the poorest in the lineup. It took dead-last in every quality category, save paper quality — where it tied Costco's large calendar for last. (In fairness, there wasn't a big spread between the scores.) 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The deficit is evident from the beginning, with a faded, sickly yellowish cover that one judge described as looking like it had been left out in the sun. The faded, desaturated, and sometimes yellowish look persists throughout the interior. One judge did find the contrast to be good in mid-tones. To ensure that we didn't just happen to get a lemon, we ordered a second printing of the calendar. But it came out roughly the same — slightly less washed out, and about as yellow.

This bottom-dwelling quality was paired with the highest price: $34.99 for an 8 x 11-inch, 12-month version. To top it off, this calendar came in the flimsiest packaging of any - just a plastic bag in a cardstock envelope that was already scuffed and crumpling when it arrived. (The calendar did arrive undamaged, though.)

Shutterfly review: Verdict

Shutterfly gets some things right in terms of good options and flow for its design software. Its prices are competitive, especially considering all the promotions it runs. (If you see a Shutterfly price that isn't crossed out and replaced with a lower one on thier website, just wait a bit.) But quality is middling, at best, for photobooks and well below average for calendars. At the best, you get what you pay for. Costco, Mimeo, and Mixbook provide comparable or better quality at comparable or lower prices for books. And even quality leader Printique beats it on calendar prices.

Sean Captain is a freelance technology and science writer, editor and photographer. At Tom's Guide, he has reviewed cameras, including most of Sony's Alpha A6000-series mirrorless cameras, as well as other photography-related content. He has also written for Fast Company, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Wired.