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Costco Photo Center review

Costco Photo Center offers the lowest prices for photo books, cards, and calendars, but its production quality and software leave a lot to be desired

Costco Photo Center photo book, photo calendar and photo card
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

If you’re on a tight budget, Costco offers the lowest prices for photo books, cards and calendars. But consider looking for coupons for Printique or Mixbook, for much more flexible and creative software, and far better print quality.

Pros

  • +

    Reasonable prices

  • +

    Attractive clip art for books

Cons

  • -

    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, but you don’t have to be a member to order photo products online. Among the best photo book services we tested, the prices for Costco’s book, calendar and photo card are the lowest — 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. If budget is your primary concern (as it often is for all of us), and all you care about is having a book of your photos in which the photos will be attractive, even if the book isn’t, check out Costco. But read the rest of our Costco Photo Center review to see how it compares to our favorite services, Printique and Mixbook.

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. The only other cards available are only one-sided photo prints on flimsy traditional photo paper, for 28 cents each for the first 50 cards. Then the price goes down to 21 cents each in packs of 25.

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

Costco Photo Center review: Software

Costco’s book-creation software is at best merely okay, but its calendar and card interfaces are severely restrictive. The book interface is generally flexible, providing opportunities for personal creativity. The templates and layouts are fully editable. Costco’s small library of clip art includes some of the most attractive we’ve seen. On the other hand, though some of the backgrounds are pleasant, Costco doesn’t have the variety or quality of Printique or Mixbook. And 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. 

Costco’s book interface has no drop shadows other than those associated with some fancy frames. In addition, photo editing tools consist of only two filters (sepia and black & white), and you can’t span a photo across two pages. But the most frustrating part was that I couldn’t change the background or title font of my book’s spine to match the cover I designed, which resulted in an ugly overall appearance.

(Image credit: Costco)

Costco’s calendar interface is 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 photo tools are only slightly better than those for the photo book, because the calendar interface has auto-correct and red-eye in addition to the two filters.

The one thing we liked about the calendar software was how easy it was to create a graphic date box event. 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 Software calendar events

(Image credit: Costco)
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Costco Photo Center Software calendar events

(Image credit: Costco)

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.

(Image credit: Costco)

Decorative elements and type can’t be deleted or edited. As a result, the hy faces in the photo on the back of our card were 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. The photo edit tools are the same four available for calendars.

Costco Photo Center review: Print Quality

Costco Photo Center printed photo book

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Costco photo books
The Costco book looks and feels inexpensive. The end papers are plain black paper, and the binding stitches are exposed in the front and back inside pages. The semi-gloss paper is a decent weight.

Costco Photo Center printed photo book

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Overall photo reproduction was pleasant and appealing, though not particularly noteworthy. Skintones on the cover were generally warmer than our originals (though not as warm as Shutterfly’s book). The skintones on the interior pages are closer to the originals. The dynamic range of the photos on the interior was very good (though not excellent) with detail throughout the shadows, midtones and highlights. 

Costco Photo Center printed photo book

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

However, on the cover, the photos had some loss of shadow detail. Focus was very good on the cover, and for most of the pictures on the interior pages, though some of the inside photos were a bit blurred on closer inspection.

Costco Photo Center printed photo calendar

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Costco photo calendar
The photo quality on our Costco calendar was uneven. Some photos had decent colors; others were too orange. But the most noticeable issues related to inaccurate exposure in which the shadows tended to be overpronounced, which caused some colors to look muddy. 

Costco Photo Center printed photo calendar

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Midtones and highlights were bright and better balanced, though. Images were acceptably sharp if you don’t look too closely at the small details. Similarly, type was okay, but not crisp. The paper is ordinary smooth card stock of a decent weight.

Costco Photo Center printed photo card

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Costco photo cards
Our Costco card was generally appealing though not great. The exposure rendered details in the full dynamic range, from shadows through the midtones to the highlights. However, skintones were sallow and dull. 

Costco Photo Center printed photo card

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Type was well-formed with clean margins. The card stock is not as thick as the Printique or Mixbook cards, but it has a nice smooth finish.

Costco Photo Center review: Verdict

The one advantage that Costco’s print products have over all the others is price, and for those on a tight budget that may be the determining factor in choosing your print service. 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 final printed products are nothing special. The book is cheaply produced, though the photos are good. The photo and print quality of our calendar and card is average to below average. 

If you care about being able to customize your book, calendar or cards according to your personal creative vision, and want quality that you’ll be proud of, consider Printique or Mixbook, but Costco is a good option if you’re on a budget. Keep in mind, though, that Mixbook often offers discounts, which brings its price more in line with Costco.

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.