Choosing the best photo cards service for your birthday party, bridal shower or some other special event isn't as simple as choosing the least expensive option. You want to find a service that will help you create the card that is most representative of who you are, and what you want to celebrate. It should be easy to design, and offer you plenty of flexibility in terms of where you want your photos to go, and what you want to say.
Just as important is the quality of your printed photo card. You don't want to go through all the trouble, time, and expense of creating a card, only to get a product that has poor colors, smudgy lettering, and dull images.
That's why we tested the most popular photo card services to find out which is the best.
What are the best photo card services?
After testing the more popular sites, the best photo card service is Mixbook; its stand-out software enables your creativity to shine while still being easy to use. And the photo card that Mixbook produced is beautifully printed, with great color, dynamic range and clarity. And, it's not overly expensive.
Mixbook has been our favorite service for several years running, and also makes great photo books and photo calendars. Often, you can find a ton of Mixbook coupon codes that will get you a good discount on cards and other photo products.
If you're on a budget, the best photo card service is Costco Photo Center, at 35 cents per card, offers a good compromise between cost, software and print quality. You don't need to be a Costco member to take advantage of its service, either. However, 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 card printing services
Mixbook shares the top slot in photo card online print services with Printique. Mixbook’s card templates are attractive and fully editable, which means you can change any of the design elements you wish, creating a fully personal card. The software not only has all the tools you can want or need for your creative editing, but they are also rich in features and yet easy to use. And our tests produced a lovely photo card with bright, lively color and good details that we’d be proud to send our friends.
If you are going by price, choosing between Mixbook and Printique for your card will depend on the quality paper you want and how many cards you’ll be printing. As a general rule, the more cards you order, the greater advantage Mixbook will have over Printique.
Read our full Mixbook review.
Printique ties with Mixbook for the best photo card. Printique’s powerful card software does a great job of enabling creativity by making the tools and features you need or want accessible and easy to understand. The attractive templates are fully editable. And the well-organized clip art, backgrounds and frames includes the largest and most unusual variety of cutout shapes, such as heraldic shields, the letters of the alphabet and freeform shapes.
My Printique card is bright and lively with rich tones, accurate photo color, and good type, and has the best paper in this roundup. You won’t go wrong getting your card from Printique, but check out Mixbook, too.
Read our full Printique review.
Snapfish just misses the mark for the top of the best photo cards list. At first glance, the software is flexible and versatile. However, if you want to be creative without wasting your time, you’ll soon be frustrated with its limitations. For instance, the restrictive color tool is made up of a limited number of unnamed color blocks. The text tool doesn’t have italics or bold. The library of backgrounds is poorly organized and doesn’t have a search engine. In other words, the software’s deficiencies can bog you down.
Snapfish’s printed card itself is attractive, but isn’t among the best in the group, and its prices are no better than our top performers.
Read our full Snapfish review.
Shutterfly may be the biggest name in photo goods, and we have often been impressed with its software and printed products. In fact, the photo quality of our Shutterfly printed card is competitive with the top winners, Mixbook and Printique.
Unfortunately, the experience of creating a card with Shutterfly competes with Costco and Walmart for the worst of the lot. The templates are rigid designs that won’t allow you to make any real changes, and the software has almost no features or tools.
Read our full Shutterfly review.
Walmart Photo is the among the best of the bargain-priced photo card vendors we tested. That doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near great. While the card templates are generally more attractive than Walmart’s book and calendar templates, you better love whatever template you choose, because the stripped-down software will give you practically no opportunity to customize it.
Still the photo quality of our printed Walmart card was slightly above average, and the price was right: 87 cents per card. So, if you’re looking for a bargain, and don’t care about creating a customized card, you might be satisfied with Walmart.
Read our full Walmart Photos review.
Costco Photo Center offers the lowest price for photo cards among the services in this roundup. However, the print quality is only average, and the software is severely limited, offering no opportunity for personal customization. What’s more, Costco offers design templates that are appropriate for only a handful of specific occasions. And those templates can’t be edited to use them for other purposes.
If price is a more important criteria than quality and creativity, and if you can find a card template that works for you, Costco may fit the bill. However, for a few cents more, Walmart has slightly better photo quality. 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.
Read our full Costco Photo Center review.
Mpix doesn’t make it easy to be creative or even just enjoy making a card. Its rigid templates restrict what you can edit or change, so it’s difficult to find one that will fit your needs. What’s more the software is uneven, with some great tools offset by key features that have limited functionality. For instance, the fancy photo frames are attractive, but the only straight photo borders available have fixed widths and colors, which can’t be adjusted. And though the small selection of clip art is generally attractive, the alternative backgrounds are unappealing or, at best, boring.
The pictures on our printed card are washed out, with loss of detail in the shadows. To create a superficial sense of sharpness, Mpix uses high contrast and black edging around light-colored subjects. In the end, your printed card will be okay, but nothing special.
Read our full Mpix review.
Don’t be tempted to order your photo cards from CVS Photo, just because you know the name and probably shop there. Though CVS’s card software may not be as threadbare as Costco, Walmart or Shutterfly, it’s a close call. Its templates are fixed designs with little opportunity for customization. The front of the card is particularly restrictive, in which all design elements -- clip art, decorative text, and the photo placeholders -- are fixed.
The back of the card is more flexible, allowing you to add text and photos wherever you wish, and you even have a choice of two backgrounds and a few alternative layouts. However, for both sides, you have no clip art, the text tool is shallow, and color selections (for text only) are limited to a few unnamed color blocks rather than a 24-bit palette. The CVS printed card is dead average with photos that are okay but don’t sparkle and print quality that is only so-so.
Read our full CVS Photo review.
How we tested the best photo card services
This year, we tested eight different card-printing services, and used stock photos of two families (one Causian and the other African-American). This tested the photo services' ability to balance various skin tones.
We designed a two-sided party invitation, which included photos and type on the front and back, with relevant clip art. We aimed to use a fireworks background and rotated photos on the front, and a panorama photo and diverse holiday clip art on the back. Our design also included rotated decorative text and drop shadows throughout. However, several of the services did not permit some, or many, of these customizations.
We didn't edit the photos, before or after inserting them into the postcards, though we tested the software’s photo filters on the back photo. So, we judged photo reproduction quality only on the front photos, which had no editing variables that might skew our judging of photo print quality.
We then used each website's online software to create postcards as close as possible to the design we envisioned. Given the wide variety of paper available from the various vendors, which would make it difficult to match the cardstock in every instance, we selected the default stock.
In rating the software, we used the following criteria:
- Ease of use
- User interface and workflow
- Creative flexibility
- Quality of templates, clip art, backgrounds and effects
After our cards arrived, we assembled 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
- Photo quality
- Overall appeal and quality
- Photo quality
- Color and skin tones
- Dynamic range
- Focus and clarity
- Quality of the type
- Quality and the feel of the paper stock
All cards were identified by numbers rather than brand names during the judging. Since the names of some vendors are printed on the back of the cards, the jury was instructed to judge based on the front only and to not look at the back until after the judging.
If a photo card exhibited obvious, unexpected flaws in print quality, we ordered a reprint to see if the errors were a one-time event.
We rated the software separately from the printed card, then averaged the two for an overall card rating. We also took cost into consideration in our overall rating. In our print ratings, we gave the greatest weight to the print quality of the service's photo postcards. That's because what matters most is the look and feel of the card you'll be sending to friends, family and associates.