The best photo calendars filled with personalized pictures make for great gifts that the recipient can cherish all through the year. There are dozens of calendar-creation services, but not all of them are created equal when it comes to making a great-looking calendar with a minimum of fuss.
That's why we tested the top photo calendar services — including Mixbook, Shutterfly, and Snapfish — to see which was the best in terms of photo reproduction, printing, customization features, ease of use, and cost.
- Mixbook vs. Printique: Which photo book service is best?
What are the best photo calendar services?
After testing all of the top services, Mixbook came out on top as the best photo calendar. Not only did its calendar have the best and most consistent photo reproduction of all the services we tested, but it also offered the greatest flexibility with its calendar-creation software. However, it was in a virtual tie with Printique, which has equally good print quality and software, but is slightly more expensive.
Many of these services often offer promotions and deals for calendars and other photo products — as much as 50% off, in some cases — so be sure to compare their discounted rates before choosing one for your needs.
CostCo is eliminating one of its best features; as of February 14, CostCo is going to close all of its in-store photo centers, so anything you order will have to be delivered to your home.
Here are the best photo calendar services
Mixbook ties with Printique for the best calendar, in part because you can be as creative with the date grid pages as you can with the photo pages. Mixbook’s software is all about giving you the versatile, flexible tools you want and need to have fun creating a calendar you’ll be proud of all year. That includes being able to easily upload your own photos and graphics to use as backgrounds or clip art; Printique doesn’t offer that in its interface. Unfortunately, Mixbook’s calendar software has weak event management, but then again Printique doesn’t have any event management.
Mixbook’s printed calendar’s photos are warm, bright and lively, and the type is clean and well-formed. And because we could design both the photo pages and the date grid page, it has a polished, professional look.
Read our full Mixbook review.
Printique shares the crown with Mixbook for the best photo calendar. Printique’s calendar interface isn’t simply an add-on to its powerful, versatile, creative software. The developers put some thought into what you might want and need when customizing a calendar, which means you can do more with the grid page than usual. Like Mixbook, all of Printique’s excellent editing and creating tools are available for the grid page. In addition, you can edit the grid itself.
Printique’s printed calendar is attractive with excellent photo reproduction and professional print quality. While we highly recommend Printique for your customized photo calendar, be sure to check out Mixbook’s calendar, too.
Read our full Printique review.
Shutterfly’s calendar software has all the great versatility and flexibility of its photo book interface, as well as the same limitations. Add to that the workflow problems particular to creating a calendar. These include a convoluted multi-step event date box creation, and the inability to span a photo or clip art across the two pages of a calendar month’s spread.
While the photos of my Shutterfly calendar are generally attractive, with good details and transitions, they have problems. Similarly, the type is well-formed, but some have jagged edges. In other words, Shutterfly’s calendar is a great contender with some flaws, keeping it from being at the top of the best photo calendars.
Read our full Shutterfly review.
While Mpix’s calendar-creation software is flexible, there were some limitations in key areas. For instance, the clip art library contains primarily black and white drawings. The event date manager requires too many mouse click and key strokes to get to the edit window, but once you’re there, it’s an easy drag-and-drop functionality. And color selection is rudimentary.
Our printed Mpix calendar looked better than its book and card, but it still isn’t great. The photos are generally okay, with average colors, clear details and good transitions. However, they are, for the most part, somewhat overexposed, and while most pictures are sharp, some have a slight softness. The paper is the thickest of all the calendars, but it doesn’t have the feel of quality stock. All in all, Mpix’s calendar just doesn’t measure up to anything other than a bit above average.
Read our full Mpix review.
Snapfish does an okay job with calendars. The software can be fun to use, because it gives you the freedom to fully customize your calendar. But as you go into the deeper layers of the software, the frustrations can mount. The text tool doesn’t have bold or italics. The limited number of unnamed color blocks makes it difficult to match the color of, say your text to your photo borders.
What’s more, the print quality of Snapfish’s calendar is only average. For those users who want to create a custom calendar without being bogged down, and/or want a better than average printed calendar, check out Mixbook or Printique for better, easier to use software and higher print quality.
Read our full Snapfish review.
CVS’s photo calendar is dead average, with nothing to distinguish its software, or photo and print quality.The software (licensed from Snapfish) doesn’t go the extra mile that would make it particularly fun or exciting. In fact, the templates allow you to edit everything on the top (the photo areas) of your wall calendar, providing an opportunity for personal creativity. That includes being able to change the background, and place clip art, photos and text anywhere on the top page, and reshape, rotate, delete and otherwise manipulate them.
Unfortunately, the text tool has only the barest necessities, and color selection is limited to specific blocks of color, rather than a 24-bit palette. While it’s easy to create event date photo reminders, that’s all you can do there; you’ll have no ability to change the background, add clip art or otherwise personalize that page. The printed calendar is unremarkable, with some okay photos, but not great, and others soft or overexposed.
Read our full CVS Photo review.
Costco’s photo calendar is really inexpensive. However, look twice at what’s being offered. Its calendar-creation software offers few options and little opportunity for personal customization. It has no clip art or drop shadows, and the selection of fonts, text colors and backgrounds is miniscule. The one feature that was nicely implemented was how easy it was to create a graphic date box event.
The colors in the printed calendar had a significant orange shift, and exhibited loss of detail in the shadows. The rather noticeable dot pattern of the print screen negatively affects the perceived photo and type quality. Almost any other company in this roundup offers better quality calendars and versatile software.
Read our full Costco Photo Center review.
Creating a calendar with Walmart Photo is a ho-hum experience. The software is the most minimalist of all that we tested, providing you with no opportunity to be creative. The calendar templates are boring and restrictive. You won’t be able to remove the templates’ design elements, such as clip art and decorative text. While Walmart’s calendar software offers many more layouts than the company’s photo book or card interfaces, you can’t manipulate or remove photo placeholders, or place additional photos to create a more personal or interesting layout.
On top of that, the software has no borders, drop shadows, shapes, cutouts, or a library of optional clip art. In other words, Walmart’s calendar software is no fun to use. And to top it off, our printed calendar was unsatisfactory, with uneven photo quality, a visible dot pattern, and cheap feeling paper.
Read our full Walmart review.
Photo calendar shipping deadlines
If you want to order a photo calendar as a gift, you need to order it well in advance so it arrives in time for the holidays. All of the best photo calendar services provide shipping deadlines, which vary on the product you order as well as the shipping method. Below are quick links to each of the services' shipping deadlines.
- Mixbook shipping information and deadlines
- Printique shipping information and deadlines
- Costco Photo Center shipping guidelines
- Mpix shipping guidelines
- Shutterfly shipping guidelines
- Snapfish shipping information and guidelines
- Walmart shipping information
How we test and rate photo calendar services
In rating the calendar-creation software, we used the following criteria:
- Ease of use
- User interface & workflow
- Creative flexibility
- Quality of templates, clip art, layouts and backgrounds
When we had all our printed calendars, we gathered a jury of print and photography experts as well as everyday consumers to rate the products based on the following criteria:
- Overall appeal and quality of the physical calendar
- Photo quality
- Color and skin tones
- Dynamic range and exposure
- Focus and clarity
- Balancing of the diverse pictures
- Text quality
- Paper quality
If a calendar exhibited obvious, unexpected flaws in print quality, we ordered a reprint to see if the errors were a one-time event.
To keep the jury's judging blind, each calendar was identified by a number rather than the company's name. However, some calendars had the vendors' names printed on the last page. So we discouraged the jury from looking on the back of the calendars until after the judging.
We rated the software separately from the printed calendar, then averaged the software and calendar scores 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 calendar.