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The best photo books in 2021

Best Photo Books
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You were finally able to go on vacation this summer, but now what are you going to do with all the photos you took? Rather than leaving all your cherished memories stuck on your smartphone, why not check out the best photo book services to create a memento that will last for years?

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. 

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?

After testing 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.

Coming in a close second is Printique (formerly known as AdoramaPix), which offers the same high quality and versatility. Printique also has a large library of fully editable templates, and an intelligently designed interface that was a cinch to use. However, Printique can be a bit more expensive. 

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.

We are currently testing a new batch of photo book services, as well as taking a look at our past winners to see if anything has changed for 2021. Stay tuned for our updated reviews.

Read on to see in greater detail what we liked about the best photo book services.

The best photo book services today

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Mixbook review

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Mixbook review

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Mixbook review

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Mixbook review

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Mixbook review

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Mixbook review

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1. Mixbook

Great software, reasonable prices, and a quality product make this the best service.

Specifications
Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $29.99
Book size options: 6 x 6, 8.5 x 8.5, 14 x 11
Reasons to buy
+Versatile, flexible, creative software+Attractive fully editable templates+Generous searchable libraries of great backgrounds, templates, layouts and clip art+Lovely quality book with good photo reproduction
Reasons to avoid
-No drop shadow for text

Mixbook is once again our top choice for standard photo books. The 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
 

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Printique Review

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Printique Review

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Printique Review

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Printique Review

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2. Printique

The best, most creative software, and a gorgeous photo book—but you'll pay for it.

Specifications
Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $47.99 (8 x 8 inches)
Book size options: 6 x 4.5, 8 x 8, 10 x 12.5, 12 x 12 and more
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous photo book+Versatile, creative, flexible software+Intelligent content organization+Large selection of great cutout shapes
Reasons to avoid
-Not for the budget conscious

Unlike all the other companies whose photo books I reviewed 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 shares the top prize for photo books with 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.
 

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Shutterfly review

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Shutterfly review

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Shutterfly review

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Shutterfly review

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3. Shutterfly

Somewhat limited software and good-but-not-great photos.

Specifications
Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $29.99 (8 x 8-inch book)
Book size options: 7 x 9 inches up to 12 x 12 inches
Reasons to buy
+Fully editable book templates+Large searchable libraries of content+Attractive photo book
Reasons to avoid
-Borders have fixed width and colors-No drop shadows

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 rated third in our photo book tests. 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.

Even if your photo library already lives on Shutterfly, it’s worth the time to upload some 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.
 

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Costco Photo Center review

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Costco Photo Center review

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Costco Photo Center review

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4. Costco Photo Center

Worth checking out for those on a budget.

Specifications
Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $19.99 (for 8.5 x 11-inch book)
Book size options: 8 x 8, 8.5 x 11, 12 x 12
Reasons to buy
+Flexible templates+Well-organized (though small) libraries of clip art and backgrounds
Reasons to avoid
-Cheap quality book production-Missing expected editing options and tools

While Costco’s book software is far better than its calendar and cards interface, the 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.

The printed photos in our test photo book were generally okay, though colors were washed out and contrast is diminished. 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 bargain priced, which may offset the limitations of the software and physical book.

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. CostCo has closed all of its in-store photo centers, so anything you order will have to be delivered to your home.

Read our full Costco Photo Center review.
 

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Snapfish review

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Snapfish review

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Snapfish review

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Snapfish review

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Snapfish review

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5. Snapfish

Flexible but limited software, photos that are pleasant but not great.

Specifications
Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $29.99
Book size options: 5 x 7 inches to 11 x 14 inches
Reasons to buy
+Attractive editable templates+Variable size photo borders+Easy to use photo editing
Reasons to avoid
-Unimpressive print quality-No search engine for backgrounds-Limited text and color selection tools

Snapfish's photo book software can be fun to use because it allows for full customization of templates. That means you can add, delete, move about all elements: photos, text, clip art, and so forth. However, you may be frustrated by the poor organization of backgrounds, the restrictive color tools and other software limits The printed book’s photos are lively, generally lively, but don’t have a good depth of color or full dynamic range. The book production is the weak link in all this, with binding glue that’s already separating.

The bottom line is that Snapfish’s book is an all-around average, which might be good enough for some until you compare prices. Snapfish’s merely average book costs the same as Mixbook’s beautiful book, and the Mixbook software is more flexible, versatile and fun. 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.
 

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Mpix review

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Mpix review

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Mpix review

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Mpix review

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Mpix review

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6. Mpix

Mpix’s photo book software is flexible and creative, but limited. The printed book is nice but not great.

Specifications
Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $34.99
Book size options: 5 x 5 inches to 8.5 x 11 inches
Reasons to buy
+Fully editable book templates+Attractive, well-organized clip art+Nice fancy frames with drop shadows
Reasons to avoid
-Unsatisfactory book construction-Uneven photo quality-Limited software

Mpix’s photo book print service is a mixed bag. The photo book software offers flexible templates and nice clip art. So, you can customize the layout of your book to reflect your personal vision. However, the library of backgrounds are mostly cartoonish illustrations. The photo borders are fixed width and only specific colors, neither of which can be adjusted. And it was impossible to match the color of our text to our borders or other design elements. 

The printed book has some good photos but others are unappealing. And while the book looks okay on the surface, with nicely textured end papers, and pages that are a good weight, the book has problems. The paper has a coarse feel, and the binding stitches show between pages. In other words, making a photo book with Mpix can be fun and creative, if you aren’t frustrated by the software’s limitations.

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.
 

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CVS Photo review

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CVS Photo review

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CVS Photo review

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CVS Photo review

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CVS Photo review

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7. CVS Photo

Frustrating software and a cheaply made photo book.

Specifications
Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $39.99 (8.5 x 11)
Book size options: 4 x 6 inches to 11 x 14 inches
Reasons to buy
+Fully editable templates+Easy event date photo reminders
Reasons to avoid
-Poor organization of backgrounds-Limited color selection-Uneven image quality-Cheap book production

We can’t recommend CVS for photo books. The software (licensed from Snapfish) may look good on the surface. In fact, the templates are fully editable, providing an opportunity for personal creativity. However, key features, such as the text tool and color selection, are shallow and frustrating. Even more importantly, the cheaply produced book has below average photo quality.

What is surprising is the CVS’s books are priced similarly to the best companies for photo books: Mixbook and Printique. And those two companies have far richer, more creative software which are great fun to use, their photo quality is great, and their printed books are lovely. 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. 
 

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Walmart Photo Cards review

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Walmart Photo Cards review

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Walmart Photo Cards review

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8. Walmart Photos

Limited software and a lackluster printed photo book.

Specifications
Starting price for an 8.5 x 8.5 20-page hardcover book: $21.96 (8 x 8-inch book)
Book size options: 2 x 3 inches to 12 x 12 inches
Reasons to buy
+Comparatively inexpensive+24-bit color picker, plus HEX and RGB numbers
Reasons to avoid
-Severely limited software-Restrictive templates-Missing key tools and options-Unimpressive printed book

Bypass Walmart for your photo book. Its book creation software is severely limited with no opportunity for creative customization. Templates are restrictive, not allowing you to edit or remove clip art or decorative text. The layouts are boring and few in number. What’s more, you can’t adjust the layout’s photo placeholders, nor can you place additional photos.

Walmart’s software is missing functions and features that are standard for photo book creation. For instance, it has no borders, drop shadows, shapes, cutouts, or a library of optional clip art. And though the prices are comparatively low, the printed photo book looks and feels cheap, with unsatisfactory binding, thin paper, and photos that have an orange-red hue shift.

Read our full Walmart Photos 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.

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

Image quality

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. 

Book construction

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.

Book-creation software

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. 

Cost

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 eight of the most popular printing services — Printique (AdoramaPix), Costco, CVS Photo, Mpix, Mixbook, Shutterfly, Snapfish and Walmart — to see which ones delivered both a great user experience and a photo book you'd be proud to give. This year, we skipped Artifact Uprising, but you can read our older Artifact Uprising review.

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.

MORE: Best photo editing software and apps

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
  • Functionality
  • 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.

Sally Wiener Grotta

Sally Wiener Grotta is the president and lead analyst of DigitalBenchmarks test lab

(www.DigitalBenchmarks.com). The scripts she created for various tech publications for testing and

evaluating digital cameras, image quality, software and related technologies have become industry

standards. Among her numerous books is the first major volume on image processing “Digital Imaging

for Visual Artists” (McGraw-Hill), co-authored with Daniel Grotta. Her hundreds of reviews, stories and

columns have appeared in scores of magazines, journals and online publications.