The holidays may be over, but there's never a bad time to make one of the best photo books. It's a great personalized gift that shows your loved ones that you really put some thought and effort into what you gave them.
When looking for the best photo book printing service, you may be tempted to pick the least expensive. However, lesser services make it more difficult to create the photo book that best lets you express your creativity and personality; worse yet, the printed book won't look good. So 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.
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- Mixbook vs. Shutterfly: Which is best?
To review the best photo book services, we go through the steps you would: We take a bunch of photos, upload them to the service, and build a photo book. We then have them printed out, and use a panel of judges to determine which are the highest quality.
What are the best photo books?
This year, Printique edged out Mixbook as the best photo book service overall, but not by much. We found that the quality of its book — both in terms of image reproduction and design — as well as the versatility of its software, were both top-notch. And, while Printique is a bit more expensive than Mixbook, the price difference wasn't all that huge.
Still, Mixbook is a close second, and previously was our favorite photo-printing service for several years running, Mixbook not only produced a gorgeous photo book but also has great software. 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. Mixbook also offers a ton of deals, too.
Not sure which service to use? Check out our in-depth Mixbook vs. Printique comparison.
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. And, there's no competing with Costco's low prices, even for non-members. However, CostCo eliminated one of its best features, its in-store photo centers, so anything you order will have to be delivered to your home.
Read on to see in greater detail what we liked about the best photo book services.
The best photo book services today
Printique is our top choice for photo books. Unlike all the other companies whose photo books we tested for this roundup, Printique’s least expensive hardcover book is a layflat – a style that’s an extra cost option from the other companies. So, to some extent, comparing Printique’s book to the others might be considered unfair. However, the fact is that Printique delivers excellence across the board. The software is fun, creative, flexible and versatile. The photo quality is hands-down the best. And the book is simply excellent.
Sure, the Printique book is more expensive than the rest – unless you compare like with like. For instance, Mixbook, which came in a very close second on photo books to Printique, offers layflat books (as do many of the other services). So, while the Mixbook’s standard hardcover book is considerably less than Printique’s book, Mixbook’s least expensive layflat is considerably more. If price is a concern, go with a standard hardback from Mixbook; otherwise, take a closer look at Printique.
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.
Mixbook was edged out by Printique for producing the best photo book; however, Mixbook is once again our top choice for standard photo books. Mixbook’s software is flexible, versatile, creative and easy to use, with a great depth of functionality. What’s more, Mixbook makes creating a book according to your personal vision lots of fun. Our tests delivered a lovely quality book with photos that are warm, bright and lively.
However, if you want a layflat book, go with Printique, which ties with Mixbook for our favorite photo book software. While Printique delivers great print quality, it doesn’t have standard hardcover books. All its hardcovers are layflat books. (Mixbook has both kinds.) And for layflats, Printique is less expensive than Mixbook.
If you order a photo book from Mixbook, be sure to check out Mixbook's shipping deadlines.
Read our full Mixbook review.
Most people will probably be quite pleased with any photo book they order from Shutterfly. With millions of users, Shutterfly has learned to provide most customers with the quality services and products they want to buy. You might, in fact, have a large library of photos already stored on Shutterfly, because it’s so convenient. However, Shutterfly shares third place in our photo book tests with Costco and Vistaprint. That’s because, while powerful and flexible, Shutterfly’s software has some key limitations. And while attractive, Shutterfly’s book doesn’t have the photo quality of Mixbook or Printique, while costing approximately the same as Mixbook.
Even if your photo library already lives on Shutterfly, it’s worth the time to upload some pictures to Mixbook or Printique, whose software will do a better job of enabling your creativity, and whose photo books will show off your pictures in a better light.
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.
Costco’s photo book is bargain priced, and the book’s photo quality is generally quite pleasant and appealing However, Costco’s book software doesn’t cover all the basics. For example, the straight photo borders and photo editing tools are limited, and you can’t span a photo across two pages.
What’s more, it’s clear that Costco isn’t spending much money on book production. The paper is not great quality, and the binding stitching was already showing after just a few openings and closings. Still, the Costco book is significantly lower than the competitors, which may offset the limitations of the software and physical book. If your budget is flexible, take a look at Mixbook or Printique, for far more creative and attractive book that you’d be proud to show off.
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.
Read our full Costco Photo Center review.
Vistaprint’s photo book is average quality. The photos are generally bright and lively, but the reproduction is uneven, with some pictures exhibiting exposure and color shift problems. Vistaprint’s book software options, functionality and content are limited, including the fact that it has no templates. You start either with a blank book or let the software layout your book for you.
While the physical book is better quality than Costco’s, the cover is plasticky, with air bubbles under the surface, and the binding is cracking. But unlike Costco, Vistaprint’s book is no bargain. In fact, it’s priced similarly to Mixbook’s, which offers far more robust and fun software, and great print quality.
Be sure to check out the Vistaprint shipping guidelines for information on how long it will take to print and ship your photo album.
Read our full VistaPrint review.
Photo book shipping guidelines
If you're planning to order a photo book for a special event such as a birthday or wedding, know that it will take some time to get it printed and shipped.
Below are the links for estimated shipping deadlines for the best photo book services; keep in mind that in many cases, it will take a day to print the book and at least another day to ship it. We recommend ordering a photo book several weeks in advance, just in case there's an error with the book or a delay in shipping.
- Mixbook shipping information and deadlines
- Printique shipping information and deadlines
- Costco Photo Center shipping guidelines
- Shutterfly shipping guidelines
- Vistaprint shipping guidelines
When is the best time to buy a photo book?
Often, we don't order a photo book until the last possible minute — which is natural — but that means you're going to be paying more for rush delivery services, which can increase the cost greatly. If you want to order a photo book as a gift, try and do it as early as possible. Not only does it save you time, but it gives you the chance to look over the book and order a reprint in case there are any errors.
Another reason to order as early as possible is that many of the best photo book services offer big discounts throughout the year — up to 50% off in some cases, or with other extras thrown in. So, if you can afford to wait, you can create a photo book on the service of your choice, and wait until there's a sale that you like.
How to choose the best photo book service for you
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 five of the most popular printing services — Printique, Costco, Mixbook, Shutterfly, and Vistaprint — to see which ones delivered both a great user experience and a photo book you'd be proud to give.
This year, we skipped several photo book services that failed to impress us in years past, but you can see their older reviews here:
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, as well as everyday consumers 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.
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.