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, calendars, and cards.
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; and some cards dropped from 89 cents 76 cents. (You can find all the latest on the company's site, and you may receive even more offers as a return customer.) The company also offers a free Make My Book 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 cards came in first, by a solid margin. The 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.
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 photo cards
Shutterfly offers a dizzying array of card types, styles, and prices, with frequent discounts and a sliding scale that lowers the price per card the more you order. For instance, 5x7 holiday cards start at 98 cents each for 200 or more of the cheapest design and go up to $4.52 for 30 or fewer premium cards with gold foil text. Wedding cards range from $1.09 to $5.33. These are the list prices, though, which you may never pay. Every card we looked at had all its list prices crossed out and replaced with a discount. The holiday cards, for example, started at 74 cents and went up to $2.85 at time of order.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shutterfly's design software works about the same for cards as for books, with one bizarre omission: There is no undo button. You'll have to manually deconstruct your mistakes.
Shoppers offers over 700 card templates for occasions including Christmas (and Navidad), New Years, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Thanksgiving, Easter, Eid, Diwali, Birthday, Graduation, and newborn baby, as well as a range of wedding offerings (save the date, invites, bridal shower, etc.). There are thank you cards, thinking of you cards and special collections including affirmations from Ted Lasso and snark from The Onion. Once you choose a card type, say, Holiday Cards, you can filter the options by 15 criteria, including photo orientation, number of photos, price, trim options, and metal foil or glitter color.
You can share photo book, calendar, or card projects with others online, allowing them to view, like, order, and make customizable copies of your creations. Here are the book , calendar, and cards (opens in new tab) that I made for this review.
If you ever get stuck, the site does provide live 24/7 chat support (although you'll first have to bully your way past a bot that doesn't generally offer useful information).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.)
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 photo cards
Our judges loved Shutterfly's cards and envelops. The decked-out (and expensive) holiday card, with metal foil and premium envelops, easily took top honors for overall quality, placing first for paper and text quality, color, and sharpness. The expensive foil likely helped the text score. The humbler-priced wedding invitation actually took top honors for envelop quality and was second only to the Shutterfly holiday card for paper stock, contrast, and text quality. Color was midpack for the wedding invitation, well behind both of Mimeo's cards. One judge noted that the wedding card colors were attractive, but too warm; another found that Shutterfly's default matte finish (called Signature Smooth) reduced sharpness, contrast, and detail. Shutterfly offers a Pearl Shimmer cardstock for an extra 23 cents.
Shutterfly offers by far the best envelope options. For our holiday card, we chose a thick envelop with broad colored lines and a large box for writing the address in (39 cents more than the included white envelop). And we added an envelope liner with a Christmas tree design (for another $49 cents each). The upgraded envelop includes the ability to have your return address printed on the back. (Otherwise, it's 39 cents extra, at which point you might as well order the premium envelop, too.) If you are sending a lot of cards, you might take advantage of Shutterfly's service to address and mail them for you - at an extra 99 cents (but only for the plain envelopes).
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 its website, just wait a bit.) But quality varies a lot — being excellent for cards, middling 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.