When looking for the best photo book printing service, there are a lot of companies to choose from, and you may be tempted to pick the least expensive. However, before you hit the purchase button, you want to make sure that the photo book you're making is going to be something that you'd be proud to show family and friends.
By its very nature, a photo book is very personal, filled with cherished memories, no matter how small. So it's important that a photo book service not only lets you present your pictures just the way you want them, but reproduces and preserves them perfectly.
Almost all services let you create a photo album through your web browser, but some offer many more options when it comes to the type and size of book you want to create, and give you more choices with regards to photo editing, text, clip art, backgrounds, and more. And, some services are much easier to use than others.
Lastly, there's a huge difference in print quality between the worst and the best photo book services. We've tested the most popular services to let you know which ones are the easiest to use, offer lots of creativity, and make photo books you'll be proud to give to friends and family.
What are the best photo books?
After testing 11 of the most popular services, we found that the best photo book printing service is Mixbook. Our favorite photo-printing service for several years running, Mixbook not only produced a gorgeous photo book but also has great software and reasonable prices. Mixbook has a huge library of backgrounds, templates, and clip art that's easy to search. Mixbook's templates are fully editable, and there are a lot of tools for editing not just photos, but clip art, too.
Right now, Mixbook is also offering a $30 photo book coupon that you can send as a gift to a loved one.
Coming in a close second is Printique (formerly known as AdoramaPix), which offers the same high quality and versatility but is considerably more expensive. Printique also has a large library of fully editable templates, and an intelligently designed interface that was a cinch to use. While we found photo reproduction to be excellent, the printed book itself was a bit less finished than Mixbook's.
For those on a budget, we recommend Costco Photo Center. While it doesn't offer the same level of flexibility and options as Mixbook and Printique, you still get a decent selection of editing tools. Similarly, the quality of the printed book wasn't as good as Mixbook's, but it's still pretty good. And, there's no competing with Costco's low prices, even for non-members.
Read on to see in greater detail what we liked about the best photo book services.
The best photo book services today
Mixbook has been our top pick as the best photo book printing service for several years now. That's because its project-creation software is versatile and easy to use, the printed photo albums are excellent and, best of all, Mixbook's prices are reasonable.
What we particularly like about Mixbook's software is its great flexibility, which enables you to be creative while still being fun. It has a lot of templates, all of which are fully editable. Plus, it has a large library of backgrounds, and clip art, all of which are searchable. Mixbook also puts photo editing tools within easy reach.
Of course, Mixbook produced an excellent photo book, with accurate skin tones and lighting. (The company also makes great-looking photo cards and calendars).
Read our full Mixbook review
Printique came in a very close second to Mixbook, with flexible, creative, intuitive software that's both powerful and intelligently organized. Printique also has attractive templates that are fully editable. However, they weren't quite as extensive as Mixbook's options. Printique does have massive libraries of clip art, backgrounds and frames, all of which are organized into easy-to-understand descriptive categories
What's more, Printique's printed photo book was beautifully produced, with very good photo quality. The biggest knock against Printique is that the cost of its photo albums are significantly more expensive than Mixbook's. When ordering a photo book, be sure to check out Printique's shipping information and deadlines, so you know how long to expect before it arrives.
Read our full Printique review.
Photo books can quickly get expensive as you add pages and features, but for those on a budget, Costco Photo Center is the best photo book service. The book-creation software isn't on the level of Mixbook's, but it does enable a nice amount of personal creativity while being comparatively easy to use.
When compared to Mixbook, Costco's photo album isn't as finely produced, and a critical eye will recognize that the photo reproduction quality is only average, but it's nice enough, and Costco's prices are the lowest. And, you don't need to be a Costco member to take advantage of its photo book printing service. Be sure to check out the Costco Photo Center shipping guidelines for more information on how long it will take to print and ship your photo album. Due to the coronavirus, Costco has suspended shipments to its stores.
Read our full Costco Photocenter review.
Mpix is a pretty good, but not great, photo book service. Its book-creation software is flexible, with fully editable templates, and an attractive and easily searchable library of clip art. However, Mixbook doesn't have a full complement of expected tools, and its libraries of backgrounds and layouts are limited when compared to Mixbook and Printique.
When it came to the actual photo album, the photos in the book we made with Mpix were lively and colorful, but the actual construction of the book could have been better. Here are Mpix' shipping guidelines for more information on how long it will take to print and ship your photo book.
Read our full Mpix review
Shutterfly is one of the most well-known among the best photo book services, but we found that it's not quite as good as Mixbook. Shutterfly's photo book-creation software is a mixed bag: It has a large, searchable library of content, clip art, and backgrounds, as well as fully editable templates. However, its interface — which requires you to open a second window to edit photos — is cumbersome.
Our Shutterfly photo album had tight, clean binding and paper with a nice weight. However, the photo quality was inconsistent. Sometimes it was very good, but other times, it was merely average. Before ordering, be sure to check out Shutterfly's shipping guidelines to know how long it will take for them to deliver your photo book.
Read our full Shutterfly review.
If you want the highest quality when it comes to the actual construction of your photo book, there's no beating Artifact Uprising. Its book is simply gorgeous, with fine thick board pages, superb binding and a gold-embossed title on a fabric cover. The photo reproduction is appealing and consistent, though it's not superb.
However, while Artifact Uprising's software is remarkably easy to use, it's very restrictive, with no room for personal creativity. For example, while its templates are very stylish, they're not editable. Photo editing tools are also very limited, and there's no clip art, backgrounds, or borders available. And, you pay for the high quality of Artifact Uprising: Its photo album is among the more expensive we've tested. Be sure to check out Artifact Uprising's shipping guidelines for when your photo book will arrive.
Read our full Artifact Uprising review.
When it comes to the best photo book services, Picaboo's creation software rivals Mixbook's; it has fully editable templates, comprehensive photo-editing tools, and a large library of backgrounds and clip art — the latter of which are also editable. But what's even better is that Picaboo has the best content search engine, which lets you look for stuff based on theme, style, colors, and keywords.
If only Picaboo's printed photo album matched the quality of its software. We found the photos in our printed book were inconsistent, and some were muddy. Also, the book production was less than satisfactory and had messy binding. When ordering, be sure to check out Picaboo's shipping information to know how long it will take for your photo book to arrive.
Read our full Picaboo review
After Shutterfly, Snapfish is also one of the best-known of the photo book services, and its software is used by a number of other companies. But while Snapfish has fully editable templates and an easy to use photo editor, other aspects of its software are lacking. It has poor organization of clip art and backgrounds, and other frustrations slow down workflow and limit creativity.
What's more, the photo reproduction from our Snapfish photo album was only average. The book itself looked and felt cheap, with glue marks and a lack of end pages. The binding showed signs that it would likely separate easily. If you do order from them, be sure to check out the Snapfish shipping information and guidelines, so you know when to expect your book in the mail.
Read our full Snapfish review.
It may be convenient to order a photo book online from CVS and be able to pick it up at your local store, but be warned: CVS Photo's Snapfish-based software is similarly frustrating and even more limited than Snapfish's. While templates are editable and there are some photo editing tools, there's no search engine for clip art or backgrounds, making it hard to find the best one for your project.
Our printed CVS photo album was cheaply constructed: no end pages, the binding was inelegant, with some glue marks, and the lightweight paper was nondescript. And, photo reproduction was merely average. Many of the pictures had a reddish tint, and several were too dark with blocky shadows. If you do use CVS, be sure not to order from the Same-Day-Pickup options, which were even lower in quality.
Read our full CVS Photo review.
Like CVS Photo and Walmart, Amazon Prints software for its photo books is based on Snapfish's frustrating interface, but with even less content than CVS' product. While it has editable templates and variable-sized borders, you can't search for backgrounds or clip art, there are few color-selection tools, it's hard to navigate, there's no photo editing, and limited text tools.
In the actual photo album, photos had no pop, and tended to be undersaturated, with a red shift, and shadows were blocky. The construction of the book itself was cheap: The spine cover image was off center and wrapped around to overlap the back cover. The glued binding started separating soon after we received the book, which lends doubts to its longevity.
Read our full Amazon Prints review.
This is one photo book service you should avoid. Walmart Photos came in dead last in our testing. Its threadbare software is restrictive, with no creative flexibility, inflexible, uneditable templates and few tools or options. While you can edit photos, there are few editing tools available.
While the price of a Walmart photo album is lower than most, the savings aren't worth it: the book construction is cheap and the photos are lackluster. If you're looking for a budget photo book service, we suggest Costco as an option instead of Walmart.
Read our full Walmart Photos review
How to choose the best photo book
Above all else, the best photo book should look good. This means the quality of the photos should be great — skin tones should be accurate, lighting should be correct, and details should be crisp. In the best photo books, you should have good contrast, deep blacks, and an overall evenness in color gradation.
A photo album should also be constructed well. You shouldn't see pages coming free from the binding, the paper itself should have a substantial feel, and images and text should be aligned properly.
You should also choose a photo book service based on its software. Some, like Mixbook, allow for much more creative options than others, allowing you to fully edit the template, easily find background art and more, and make fine adjustments to your photos, too.
Price is also an important factor. With the exception of the most and least expensive options, you won't find too much variation between photo book printing services. However, some services offer options like better paper, different-size books, and things like lay-flat binding, which means you can open the book flat on a table, and not worry about breaking the spine.
How we test photo book services
We looked at 11 popular printing services — Printique (AdoramaPix), Amazon Prints, Artifact Uprising, Costco, CVS Photo, Mpix, Mixbook, Picaboo, Shutterfly, Snapfish and Walmart — to see which ones delivered both a great user experience and a photo book you'd be proud to give.
For this year's test, we used stock photos of two families (one Caucasian and the other African American). We edited one picture to be a bit underexposed. This tested the photo services' ability to balance various exposures as well as different skin tones.
We designed a 20-page photo album with these photos. To test the flexibility and creativity each software allowed, our design included rotated and resized pictures and clip art along with angled text. We took advantage of the best each service had to offer regarding templates, layouts, clip art, text and backgrounds. However, we sometimes found it difficult to locate just the right content on those sites whose libraries weren't well organized or searchable.
In rating the software, we used the following criteria:
- Ease of use
- User interface and workflow
- Creative flexibility
- Quality and versatility of templates, clip art, layouts and backgrounds
After our printed photo books arrived, we assembled a jury of print and photography experts to rate the books, using the following criteria:
- Overall appeal and quality of the physical book
- Photo quality
- Color and skin tones
- Dynamic range and exposure
- Focus and clarity
- Balancing of the diverse pictures
- Type quality
- Paper quality
- Quality of the binding
During the judging, all books were identified by numbers rather than brand names. Though the name of some of the vendors is printed on the books, the jury was discouraged from looking at those brand identifiers until after the judging.
If a photo book exhibited obvious flaws — such as misnumbered pages, poor photo reproduction or something else wrong as a result of the printing process — we ordered a reprint to see if the errors were a one-time event. This year, we ordered reprints from Mixbook and Shutterfly.
We rated the software separately from the printed book, then averaged the two for an overall book rating. We also took cost into consideration in our overall rating. In our print ratings, we gave the greatest weight to the quality of the services' photo reproduction, because that's the entire purpose of a photo book.