Personal photo books filled with shared memories not only make a great gift for others, but are wonderful, unique mementos of vacations and events that can be treasured for years to come. Designing a personal photo book isn't overly hard, either, but of the numerous online photo-book printing services, which should you use?
For the third year in a row, Mixbook is our favorite photo book service. Mixbook's software provides an excellent combination of flexible tools, great functionality and large searchable libraries of very appealing content, all in an interface that's both easy and fun to use. What's more, our beautiful Mixbook photo book handled our varied selection of photos with skill, delivering great color, exposure and clarity.
Mixbook is currently having a promotion where you can get 45 percent off 10 x 10 books, and 40 percent off everything else. The deal ends March 31.
Apple Photo is our top value pick, as it produces excellent (and beautifully packaged) printed books at a very reasonable price.
Photo Book Services Ranked
1. - 9/10 stars -
Read the Mixbook Review
2. - 8/10 stars - Read the Apple Photo Review
3. - 7/10 stars - Read the Picaboo Review
4. Read the Shutterfly Review
5. - 6/10 stars - Read the Costo Photo Review
6. - 5/10 stars - - 4/10 stars - Read the Snapfish Review
7. - 4/10 stars - Read the Amazon Print Services Review
8. Read the Nations Photo Lab Review - 3/10 stars -
How We Test and Rate Photo Book Services
In rating the software, we used the following criteria:
- Ease of use
- User interface and workflow
- Creative flexibility
- Quality of templates, clip art, layouts and backgrounds
After our printed photo books arrived, we assembled a jury of print and photography experts to rate the books, using the following criteria:
- Overall appeal and quality of the physical book
- Photo quality
- Color and skin tones
- Dynamic range and exposure
- Focus and clarity
- Balancing of the diverse pictures
All books were identified by numbers rather than brand names during the judging. Though the names of some vendors are printed on the books, the jury was discouraged from looking at those brand identifiers until after the judging.
In our ratings, we gave the greatest weight to the quality of the services' photo reproduction, because that's the entire purpose of a photo book. We also took cost into consideration.
Best Photo Book Service: Mixbook (9/10 stars, Editors' Choice Award)
Mixbook's photo books may be a bit pricey, but you'll get a fun-to-make, creative, beautiful book. The easy-to-use software is very flexible and has a lot of great clip art and backgrounds. Our jury judged our Mixbook very attractive, with the best photo reproduction and color balance among all the books' pictures.
Best Value: Apple Photo (8/10 stars)
Choose Apple Photo for your photo book if you want a gorgeous physical book at a very reasonable price. Compared to Mixbook, the software is very limited, with few choices and rigid layouts. Photo reproduction was quite good, but not on a level with Mixbook's.
Picaboo (7/10 stars)
Picaboo's photo book software is almost on a par with Mixbook's for fun creativity and flexibility. It’s easy to use, has searchable and attractive content, and offers great tools for designing a highly customized book. However, the resulting book didn't deliver on the promise of the great software; its photo exposure and color were inconsistent and often poor, and the book production was merely OK.
Shutterfly (6/10 stars)
Shutterfly's photo book slipped in our ratings this year. Its software still offers great templates, backgrounds and clip art, though the interface is cumbersome. While the Shutterfly book itself was physically lovely, our jury rated the photo reproduction in our test book as merely OK to poor.
Costco (5/10 stars)
Costco's photo-book-creation software has a nice level of flexibility. While it uses software almost identical Nations Photo Lab’s, Costco's software has more content, all of which tends to be quite attractive. But the most significant difference between the two is that the quality of Costco's physical book was good, unlike the poor book production of Nations Photo Labs. However, Costco's photo reproduction was uneven.
Snapfish (4/10 stars)
Snapfish photo-book software has some nice content and good features, but its physical photo book didn't measure up. Our jury judged the book production cheap and the photos uneven and generally disappointing.
Amazon Print (4/10 stars)
Don't bother with Amazon Print for your photo book. The software (powered by Snapfish) is more limited than Snapfish's, with less content. Plus, our jury rated the print book generally unappealing.
Nations Photo Lab (3/10 stars)
The quality of Nations Photo Lab's physical book was poor, with endpapers that didn't even cover the binding linen. The software, though nicely flexible, was limited, and photo reproduction was uneven with, none of the photos turning out great.
How We Test Photo Book Services
We looked at eight popular websites — Amazon Print, Apple Photo, Costco, Mixbook, Nations Photo Lab, Picaboo, Shutterfly and Snapfish — putting them through their paces to see which ones delivered both a great user experience and a photo book you'd be proud to give.
We put out a call to our friends and fans for pictures of people with their pets. As a result, we were able to put together a collection of photos from a wide variety of sources, ranging from phones and point-and-shoot cameras to DSLRs. The photographers were mostly amateurs, though one was a pro and a few were serious hobbyists. We did no editing of the pictures other than to crop some of them. Thus, we were able to emulate a typical family's experience, which often involves simply uploading photos from various vacations, parties and other events, taken in a variety of lighting conditions. This would test the photo services' ability to balance various photographic color temperatures. (Mixbook and Apple did a nice job balancing. Others had difficulty with it.)
We designed a 20-page photo book with these photos. To test the flexibility and creativity each software allowed, our design included rotated and resized pictures and clip art, along with angled text. We took advantage of the best each service had to offer in terms of templates, layouts, clip art, text and backgrounds. However, we sometimes found it difficult to locate just the right content on those sites whose libraries weren't well-organized or searchable.
Credit: Tom's Guide