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Shutterfly review

Shutterfly’s book and calendar software and print quality are almost winners; its card software is among the worst

Shutterfly review
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Our Verdict

Shutterfly’s print quality is generally quite good, in particular the book’s and the card’s photo reproduction. But it’s just not good enough to measure up to Mixbook or Printique.

For

  • Fully editable book and calendar templates
  • Large searchable libraries of clip art and backgrounds
  • Attractive printed book and calendar

Against

  • Inflexible card templates
  • Severely limited card software

Shutterfly is one of the biggest names in on-line photo printing, with millions of users storing and printing their pictures on the site. They also offer one of the widest selection of photo products. But being big doesn’t make them the best. In my tests of Shutterfly, I found the photo book and calendar software to be versatile, flexible and fun, but flawed. On the other hand, its card software is one of the most rigid and minimalist interfaces I’ve encountered. Shutterfly’s print quality tends to be good, or at the least above average. But that isn’t good enough. Choose Mixbook or Printique instead for software that is consistently excellent and print quality that’s top-notch.

Shutterfly review: Prices

Shutterfly photo books
$29.98 for an 8 x 8-inch hardcover book. Shutterfly offers a variety of sizes and styles. For instance, a softcover book ranges from $19.98 (8 x 8-inch) to $24.98 (11 x 8-inch). Hardcover books go up to 11 x 14-inches for $79.98. Layflat books start at $134.98 for an 8 x 8-inch with a leather cover.

Shutterfly calendars
$29.98 for an 8 x 11-inch 12-month centerfold wall calendar, or $39.98 for a 12 x 12-inch. A desktop calendar (consisting of 12 5 x 7-inch monthly cards and a wooden easel) or a spiral-bound 5 x 11-inch desktop flip calendar costs $29.98.

Shutterfly photo cards
Shutterfly’s card prices vary depending on volume and cardstock choice. Up to 50 5 x 7-inch flat cards on Standard Smooth cardstock cost $1.99 each, including a blank envelope. 55 cards would be $1.89 each, and 100 would be $1.79 each. The Signature Smooth cardstock adds 60 cents per card, and the Pearl Shimmer cardstock is an additional $1.09 each. Adding a printed return address to the envelope costs 29 cents each. The cost of having Shutterfly mail the cards for you (including postage) is 99 cents each.

Shutterfly review: Software

I enjoyed working in Shutterfly’s book and calendar interfaces. In fact, it’s the one competitor that comes closest to Mixbook’s and Printique’s power and versatility. And then there’s the problem with the card interface. Shutterfly’s cards are rigid designs with few changeable elements, and the card software has almost no features or tools. Shutterfly’s software has some distance to go before it will ever be a real competitor to Mixbook or Printique.

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While not quite up to the great functionality of Printique’s content libraries search engine, Shutterfly's interfaces for books and calendars have large searchable libraries of clip art and backgrounds. Though there's no "recently used" area, you can save favorites. Unfortunately, I found a number of the search results non-intuitive, and the content is illustrative only, with nothing photorealistic. Incidentally, if you're on a budget, be careful to avoid choosing any clip art or background with a small "S" (for Storytelling) or "M" (or metallic) in the corner. Those two types will cost you extra. Surprisingly, Shutterfly's borders (available in the book and calendar interface, not the cards) have more in common with Costco's predefined colors and line width options than Printique’s or Mixbook's sensible and simple color picker and width slider. 

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Shutterfly's advantage over Costco is the large number of borders (more than 600), and the fact that most colors are available in three widths (fine, medium and large). However, while the borders are nested in the clip art sidebar, Shutterfly doesn't take advantage of its content search engine to allow users to find borders based on color or width. What’s more, most borders don’t natively “live” in that sidebar. Like all clip art, you have to take the extra step of selecting the ones you want from the full library window and then import them into your project.

In addition to the rigid designs of the card templates, the card software has almost no features or tools. The only thing the software would allow me to do on the front of the card was place my photos (which were constrained to the proportions of the picture placeholders), use the minimal photo editing tools, and add my event information in the text area. The card's text options are basic: font, size, alignment, and a limited selection of colors. The back of the card is slightly more flexible, with optional layouts and a small selection of solid color backgrounds.

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Like Mixbook and Printique, Shutterfly's calendar grid page is editable. You can apply an alternative background, add clip art and photographs to the bottom page. Using the Send Back icon, the clip art and photos can then become part of the background – or its entirety. However, since Shutterfly allows you to work on only one half of the calendar page spread at a time, you can’t spread your clip art or photo across both the top and bottom. Adding a photo to a calendar date box is a clumsy multi-click process, similar to Mixbook’s. It eventually gets both a photo and your caption into the box, but using different windows. Like Mixbook, Shutterfly holds onto your event dates for future print projects.

Shutterfly review: Print Quality

Shutterfly photo book
Shutterfly’s book is attractive with good, tight binding and nice textured end papers. The pages’ matte paper is a good weight and has a pleasant feel. However, the cover was already starting to show wear after a few openings/closings.

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While the photo quality isn’t quite on the level of Mixbook, Shutterly’s photos are lively and bright. The blues in particular popped, and the cover photos were among the best in this roundup. In terms of color, the pictures are warmer than my originals; most are appealing with good contrast. However, in a few pictures the warmth was a bit artificial. Dynamic range is good though not as wide as Printique. Details and sharpness are good, and type is well-formed with slightly soft edges.

Shutterfly calendar
While the photos of my Shutterfly calendar are generally attractive, with good details and transitions, they have problems. They are slightly overexposed, which in some pictures translates into an appealing brightness.

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Color tends to be better with light-skinned individuals than African Americans, because of the noticeable orange-red hue shift in the shadows and dark midtones of some pictures. Type is well-formed with some jagged edges. The semi-gloss paper is a good quality and weight.

Shutterfly photo cards
The photo quality of Shutterfly’s printed photo card is a close rival to our top winners Mixbook and Printique. Shutterfly’s pictures have bright, lively colors, with rich tones, nice density, and good detail and exposure. But it doesn’t have the dynamic range of Printique.

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The type isn’t on the same level, and displays messy edges and ink dropouts. The paper has a smooth surface and good weight, and the surface has a nice tactile feel that’s almost velvety.

Shutterfly review: Verdict

Shutterfly comes in third place in online print services. Its book and calendar software is good, albeit with some inconveniences not found in Mixbook or Printique. But Shutterfly’s Achilles heel is its worst-in-class card creation software. 

We found Shutterfly’s photo books, cards, and calendars to be generally very attractive, nearly rivaling the top services. Ultimately, Shutterfly is a good, but not great, alternative to Mixbook and Printique, which offer excellent software and top-notch printed books, calendars and cards.