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Costco Photo Center review

While Costco Photo Center offers the lowest prices for photo books, cards, and calendars, its print products and software are only average at best

Costco Photo Center review
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Our Verdict

While Costco Photo Center offers the lowest prices for photo books, cards, and calendars, its print products and software are only average at best.

For

  • Reasonable prices
  • Attractive clip art for books

Against

  • Severely restrictive card and calendar software
  • Cheap book production
  • Average to below average print quality

Costco Photo Center is the online print service of the members-only big box store. However, you don’t have to be a member to order photo products. The prices for Costco’s book, calendar and photo card are the lowest in all the services we tested. That is especially true with the book, since it has 30 pages versus the 20-page books from other companies. But you get what you pay for. In our tests, we found little that impressed us. The software is only okay for books, and among the most restrictive for cards and calendars. The print quality was average to below average.

If budget is your primary concern (as it often is for all of us), we recommend keeping an eye out for the frequent discounts and coupons available with Mixbook, which offers far better print quality and much more flexible, creative software.

Costco Photo Center review: Prices

Costco photo books
Our 30-page 11.5 x 8.75-inch hardcover book cost $19.99. The only other photo books that Costco offers is an 8 x 8-inch softcover (a 2-pack for $19.99) and a 12 x 12-inch layflat hardcover book for $39.99.

Costco photo calendars
Our 8.5 x 11-inch calendar cost $9.99. An 11.5 x 14-inch calendar costs $19.99.

Costco photo cards
Each 5 x 7-inch card costs 66 cents and includes a return address printed on the envelope. There’s no discount for volume.

Costco Photo Center review: Software

Costco’s book-creation software is at best merely okay, but its calendar and card interfaces are severely restrictive.

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Costco Photo Center review

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Costco Photo Center review

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The book interface is generally flexible, providing opportunities for personal creativity. The templates and layouts are fully editable. Like Mpix, Costco’s small library of clip art includes some of the most attractive we’ve seen, and the backgrounds, while not on the level of Printique or Mixbook are far better than Mpix’s. However, Costco’s book interface has no drop shadows other than those associated with some fancy frames. While the fancy frames are attractive, the straight photo borders are limited to a small number of colors, only a few of which have more than one set width. In addition, photo editing tools are quite limited, and you can’t span a photo across two pages. But the most frustrating part was that we couldn’t change the background or title font of my book’s spine to match the cover we designed.

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Costco Photo Center review

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Costco Photo Center review

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Costco finally ditched its Flash-based calendar software, but the new interface is isn’t much of an improvement. It’s severely limited, offering little customization or creativity. There’s no clip art or drop shadows, and the selection of fonts, text colors and backgrounds is miniscule. The one thing we liked about the calendar software was how easy it was to create a graphic date box event. Similar to Mpix’s and Snapfish’s date box creation, you simply double click a date to open a sizable window where you can drag and drop a photo, move (but not zoom) the picture within the box to center on your subject, and add text in any of a handful of colors or fonts.

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Costco Photo Center review

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Costco Photo Center review

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What made the photo card interface even more restrictive than the calendar software are the templates that are limited to specific uneditable designs. So, if your event doesn’t fit a small selection of categories (wedding and a handful of other types of invitations, baby announcements, thank you notes and save the date), you may have difficulty finding a card that will fit your needs. Decorative elements and type can’t be deleted or edited. That’s why faces in the photo on the back of the card are obscured by the design graphic. The only options you have are to place photos or type in fixed placeholders, choose among a handful of color themes, and select square or round corners. 

Costco Photo Center review: Print Quality

Costco photo books
The Costco book looks and feels inexpensive. The end papers are plain black paper, and the binding stitches are exposed. The semi-gloss paper is an okay weight though on the thin side.

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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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Overall the photos display warmer colors than our original, though the hues are pleasant. In general, colors are washed out and the photos lack good contrast. The focus was slightly soft, and the type had some ink dropouts and jagged edges.

Costco photo calendar
While the photos in our Costco calendar were generally sharp, and transitions tended to be good, that’s the best we can say about them. The colors had a significant orange shift in the shadows and some darker midtones. There was also a loss of detail in the shadows. The dot pattern of the print screen was noticeable, which negatively affected the perceived photo quality, and made the edges of type appear jagged. The text also had some ink dropouts.The average quality paper is thick and a bit slick.

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Costco Photo Center review

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Costco Photo Center review

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Costco photo cards
The photos on our Costco card were okay, but nothing special. Exposure was average, highlights suppressed, and contrast noticeably increased (though not as severe as on Mpix’s card). The slightly sallow colors had no pop. The type was a bit jagged with some ink drop out. The paper is a good weight, with a pleasantly smooth surface.

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Costco Photo Center review

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Costco Photo Center review

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Note that the above print quality analysis doesn’t apply to Costco’s cards that are printed in-store, for pick up within a day. Those flimsy one-sided cards are actually just photographic prints.

CostCo Photo Center review: Verdict

The one advantage that Costco’s print products have over all the others is price. The problem is that Costco’s book software is limited, and the card and calendar interfaces are among the most restrictive in this roundup. And the print quality is nothing special: merely average for our book, and below average for our calendar and cards. If you care about being able to customize your book, calendar or cards according to your personal creative vision, and want print quality that you’ll be proud of, consider Mixbook. And, if you have time to spare, be on the lookout for Mixbook’s frequent discounts.