Photo books filled with personal images are great for creating physical mementos of vacations and events like birthdays and weddings—or say, as a graduation gift for a high school or college senior. They also make excellent recipe books, baby books, and for collecting photos of your pets in one place. Designing a personal photo book isn't overly hard, either, but of the numerous online photo-book printing services, which should you use?
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After testing nine of the most popular services, the best photo book printing service is AdoramaPix, which not only produced a gorgeous photo book, but has very comprehensive software. However, it was expensive; the best value photo printing service is a toss-up between Shutterfly and Mixbook. Both services are excellent, but Shutterfly's image reproduction edged out Mixbook this year. However, Mixbook is offering a deal that makes its photo book less than half the price.
While Apple has discontinued its photo printing service, the company that it contracted to print all those products has created a MacOS extension called Motif, which you can use to create photo books, calendars, and cards. Alternatively, Shutterfly, Mimeo Photos, Mpix, Fujifilm, Wix, and others have extensions for Apple Photos, which lets you use their services to print a photo book.
Also see our roundup of the best digital photo frames to get the most out of your best-looking pics.
Photo Book Services Ranked
1. AdoramaPix Photo Book (starts at $19.99 for 8"x8" softcover) (4.5 stars) - Read the AdoramaPix Review
2. Shutterfly Photo Book (starts at $15.99 for 7"x9" softcover) (4 stars) -Read the Shutterfly Review
3. Mixbook Photo Book (starts at $9.59 after coupon automatically applied) (4 stars) - Read the Mixbook Review
4. Picaboo Photo Book (3.5 stars) - Read the Picaboo Review
5. Artifact Uprising Photo Book (2.5 stars) - Read the Artifact Uprising Review
6. Motif Photo Book (3 stars) - Read the Motif Review
7. Snapfish Photo Book (2.5 stars) - Read the Snapfish Review
8. Costco Photo Book (2.5 stars) - Read the Costco Photo Review
9. Amazon Prints Photo Book (2.5 stars) - Read the Amazon Prints Review
After testing nine different services this year, we have a new favorite: AdoramaPix not only had the easiest and most comprehensive interface, but the photo book we received was the best-looking of the services we tested. However, at $42 for a 20-page book, it was far more expensive than all the services except one.
If you're looking to save some money, our favorite budget photo book service was Shutterfly. It has a somewhat more cumbersome interface and slightly lower image quality, but cost only $30 for a 20-page book.
Mixbook, which costs the same as Shutterfly, had been our favorite service for the past three years, but this year, it fell to third place. While its software is easier to use than Shutterfly's, its photo quality was not quite up to par this year.
Best Overall: AdoramaPix (4.5/5 stars, Editors' Choice)
While the most expensive of the photo book services we tested, AdoramaPix was our favorite, not just for the gorgeous photo book it produced, but also for the ease and robustness of its software. Good for amateurs and professionals alike, it was easy to use and flexible. It also offered attractive content and a nice level of control.
Best Value: Shutterfly (4/5 stars, Editors' Choice)
Shutterfly is our favorite value option. Its photo book didn't have the superb binding and thick rich-feeling pages of AdoramaPix, but its photo reproduction was very good, and the book was much less expensive. Its book-creating interface is loaded with content and templates you can use to make your projects stand out, but the workflow was not as smooth as with AdoramaPix or Mixbook. Also see our Shutterfly vs Mixbook face-off.
Mixbook (4/5 stars)
In previous years, Mixbook was our top pick, but this year, it fell to third place. It's software is still a favorite for creativity, flexibility and fun, and it produced a very attractive book with generally lively, crisp images. However, Shutterfly did a better job on photo reproduction this year.
Picaboo (3.5/5 stars)
We enjoyed using Picaboo's book-creation software, which has a large library of backgrounds, clip art and fully editable templates. However, the printed photos were more drab than Shutterfly's, and the book itself wasn't as high quality.
Artifact Uprising (2.5/5 stars)
Artifact Uprising's expensive photo books are gorgeous, with professional-quality cloth covers that sport a hand-stamped foil-embossed title, and handsome archival-quality recycled paper. But we weren't impressed with its photo quality or software.
Motif (3/5 stars)
Motif's simple book software has limited choices, offering little opportunity for personal creativity. Unfortunately, the photo reproduction was merely OK, and our book's binding was coarse.
Snapfish (2.5/5 stars)
Snapfish’s software itself has fully editable elements, attractive templates and clip art, but it’s hard to search for what you want. While the photos looked pretty good, the book itself was cheaply constructed. And, it wasn't any less expensive than Shutterfly.
Costco (2.5/5 stars)
The least expensive of the photo book services we tested; but, you get what you pay for. While we liked the quality of the photos, the book itself was cheap. Like Amazon, Costco uses Snapfish as the backbone for its book-creation software; Costco's implementation has more borders, templates and cutouts, but more limited layouts and no search.
Amazon Prints (2.5/5 stars)
Although it's powered by Snapfish's software, Amazon Prints is more limited, with fewer templates, poorly organized background and clip art, and no way to edit photos. Moreover, there was no consistency in the quality of printed photos, and the book was cheaply made.
How We Test Photo Book Services
We looked at nine popular websites — AdoramaPix, Amazon Print, Apple Photo (Motif), Artifact, Costco, Mixbook, Picaboo, Shutterfly and Snapfish — to see which ones delivered both a great user experience and a photo book you'd be proud to give.
For this year's test, we used images taken of "Carnevale" in Venice, Italy, by an advanced amateur photographer using a mirrorless camera and a smartphone. We did no editing of the pictures other than to crop some of them. This would test the photo services' ability to balance various photographic color temperatures and exposures.
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 regarding 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.
In rating the software, we used the following criteria:
- Ease of use.
- User interface and workflow.
- Creative flexibility.
- Quality and versatility 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.
If a photo book exhibited obvious flaws — such as misnumbered pages, poor photo reproduction, or something else wrong as a result of the printing process — we ordered a reprint to see if the errors were a one-time event. This year, we ordered reprints from AdoramaPix, Artifact Uprising, MixBook and Motif.
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.
What’s Changed with Photo Books
Both Amazon and Costco use a rebranded variation of Snapfish's software for their photo book services. In each case, you'll get a slightly different experience. For example, Costco has more borders, templates and cutouts than Amazon Prints, but Snapfish has more content, functionality and editing options than both.
In years past, we included Apple Photos as one of the services we tested. However, Apple stopped offering photo printing services, so we tested Motif, an extension for Apple Photos that was created by the company that Apple had previously contracted for all its printing projects.
Credit: Tom's Guide