Are you planning a birthday party, bridal shower, or some other special event this summer? Sending a custom photo card invitation is one way to get that special day started right. But with all the online print services available, which one will help you most easily create the card you want? And which service will produce a card you will be proud to send to your family and friends?
After testing 10 of the more popular sites, the best photo card service is Mixbook, as its software best enables your creativity while still being easy to use. And the photo card that Mixbook produced is beautifully printed, with great color, dynamic range and clarity.
If you're on a budget, the best photo card service is Shutterfly, which, at 50 cents per card, is the least expensive of the services we tested. What's more, the quality of the printed card was second only to Mixbook. The only thing dragging Shutterfly down is that its card-creation software is extremely limited.
While Apple has discontinued its photo card 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.
To ensure that you don't lose your images, consider using a cloud photo storage service.
Adobe Photoshop Elements was $99, now $69 @ Amazon.
Best Photo Card Service
Mixbook is our Editors' Choice for creating a photo card. Its very flexible software is the best for enabling your individual creativity while still being easy to use, and the printed card was more beautiful than any of the others.
All aspects of Mixbook's attractive templates and text and photo placeholders are fully editable; you can also simply drag-and-drop photos, clip art and backgrounds directly onto your card. The attractive and well-organized content includes a wide range of layouts plus sizable (and searchable) libraries of clip art and backgrounds. You can also upload your own backgrounds or clip art. Any clip art or backgrounds that you use in your design are saved in a separate project space for easy reuse.
The interface provides full interactive control over the placement, size and rotation of photos, clip art, frames and text. Photo-editing tools include drop shadows, scalable borders chosen from a 24-bit color palette, cutouts to shape photos as hearts, stars, circles or triangles, and sliders to control opacity, saturation, brightness and contrast. In other words, the fun-to-use software gave me whatever I needed to create the card I envisioned.
Mixbook's printed card was crisp and vibrant. The photos were sharp, and had bright, accurate color with rich blacks and good detail throughout the dynamic range. I would have preferred a heavier weight card stock, but the semigloss paper had an appealing feel. The one negative was that some of the type had jagged edges and wasn't fully inked.
All together, Mixbook delivers a fun, creative software experience, with great content and flexibility. And the printed card was one I would be proud to share with even the most discerning of my friends or family.
Apple Photos has discontinued its print services; however, the company that was doing its printing – Motif – now has a plug-in for Apple Photos (as does Shutterfly and other companies). Interestingly, the Motif software has more options for designing a photo card than Apple Photos did — though it still paled compared to Mixbook.
The Motif interface has a nice variety of templates and layouts (though not as large as Mixbook or Shutterfly). Text and photo placeholders can't be rotated; moving, resizing and reshaping them is often awkward. Motif has no clip art or control over borders (for those templates that have photo borders). The only background options are solid colors and a handful of geometric designs. Both text and background colors may be chosen from a full 24-bit palette, or using a color picker on any element on the current page. The software has no Undo feature.
Photos on the rather thin card produced by Motif exhibited nice contrast, were fairly sharp and, thanks to its glossy finish and high contrast, had a bit of pop. However, the photo was a bit darker than Mixbook's, which resulted in loss of some detail in the shadows. While the price per card is equally attractive — there's no discount if you order larger quantities.
While Shutterfly's photo card print quality was second only to Mixbook's (our Editors' Choice), Shutterfly's photo card interface is a pale ghost of its full-featured photo book software. The software has the barest minimum of options, especially compared with Mixbook's flexible, creative software and large libraries of content. Shutterfly has a limited number of backgrounds and layouts, no clip art, and only a handful of photo-effects filters. What's more, text and photo placeholders can't be moved or altered.
Photos had good, though subdued color, with nice detail in the shadows and highlights. The card stock was a decent weight. But both the photos and the type were slightly soft.
The biggest advantage Shutterfly's service has is that, at 50 cents per card, it's the least expensive of all the services we've tested. Costco's card, which was inferior, is 20 cents more, while our favorite, Mixbook, costs more than three times as much. If you're on a budget, Shutterfly is a good alternative to Mixbook, as long as all you care about is print quality, and don't want to spend the time making a very personal, creative card.
Working with Snapfish to create a photo card is pleasant regarding flexibility, but also more frustrating than using Mixbook. While Snapfish licenses its software to several other vendors (including Amazon Prints, Costco and CVS), it keeps the best of the interface for its own services.
All elements (photos, text and clip art) can be interactively added, moved, rotated, resized, reshaped and deleted. You edit photos in a large preview window with easy controls over exposure, color, contrast, crop/pan and a handful of filters. However, Snapfish's photo-card interface is more limited that its photo-book service, with fewer backgrounds and layouts and none of the Design pages. The large clip-art library is poorly organized and has no search engine, making it difficult to find specific pieces.
The printed card from Snapfish has none of the beauty or the sizzle of Mixbook's. Photos lacked vibrancy, and were flat and gray. The sharpness of the image was just OK. The card stock had a pleasant feel but not a substantial weight. Text was well-formed, with clean, sharp edges. And its cards were more expensive than Mixbook's.
CVS Photo Card
CVS uses Snapfish software to power its photo-card interface (as do Costco and Amazon Print). However, the programs have significant differences. CVS' software is more limited than Snapfish's (and far less versatile than Mixbook).
You can edit photos — with a large preview window — which provides a nice level of control over color, exposure, crop/pan and a handful of one-click filters. On the other hand, CVS has no clip art, minimal or no background options (depending on the template) and a smaller selection of designed pages. Photo and text placeholders are fully editable.
The CVS cards had better image quality than Snapfish's, but compared with Mixbook, there was no sparkle, a small green shift and slightly flat dynamic range. Type was jagged, which was quite pronounced in the decorative text, and the card stock was the flimsiest among the services tested. One advantage CVS enjoys over other services is that, since the cards are printed in-store, CVS offers one-day pickup. If you need to order cards at the last minute, CVS' service could suffice.
Minted's templates are attractive, but they don't support individual creativity the way Mixbook's do. Although Minted's text and photo placeholders can be moved and resized, they can't be rotated or deleted, nor can you add placeholders. What's more, optional layouts with additional placeholders (available only for the back of the card) cost $1.25 extra per card. Photo-editing tools are limited to auto-enhance, crop/pan, two filters (sepia and black & white) and rotate (within the placeholder).
Although the actual card stock had a smooth, pleasant surface and a nicer weight than Mixbook's, the picture quality was disappointing. The picture on the back of the card was passable, but the one on the front had dull, suppressed dynamic range, and was slightly soft. At least the bright, clean type popped off the page. While discounts are available, the price per card was nearly $1 more than Mixbook.
Amazon Prints photo-card software doesn't enable much individual creativity, and the printed card was unsatisfactory. Like CVS and Costco, Amazon uses a lesser version of Snapfish's software. Some text and photo placeholders may be moved, rotated and changed; others that are part of the template design are permanent. However, it's easy to add text blocks and, on some templates, photos. Unlike Mixbook, there are no photo-editing tools, clip art or optional layouts with Amazon Prints. But it does offer a few optional predesigned pages.
Amazon's printed card was OK, but lacked the vibrancy or attractiveness of Mixbook's. The photo on the front was darker, with blocky shadows and grayish skin tones. The back photo was brighter and livelier than the front, though with loss of details throughout the dynamic range. The paper felt like a cheap index card, and the type didn't have clean edges. While the price per card is a relatively low 75 cents, it's still not as cheap as Shutterfly's service, and there are no discounts for larger quantities.
Like CVS and Amazon Prints, Costco's photo-card interface is based on Snapfish software. However, Costco's software is far more limited than any of the other Snapfish-based interfaces. You can't really do anything other than insert your photos and text. Nothing on the template can be moved, edited or deleted. The software has no optional clip art or layouts, or Snapfish-like Design pages, and it offers only a couple of background choices. Photo editing is limited to autocorrection, a redeye tool, B&W or sepia filters, and zoom or rotate within the placeholder.
While Costco's image quality was close to Snapfish's, it was nowhere near as good as Mixbook's photos: darker and flat with a blue shift and loss of shadow details. Type had slightly soft edges, too. At least the paper had a nice weight with a pleasing satiny texture.
Simply to Impress
Simply to Impress' photo-card software has practically no creative options, and the printed card didn't, "ahem," impress. Its card-creation interface is extremely limited, especially when compared with Mixbook's.
There are no clip art, background choices or layout options with Simply to Impress. Photo and text placeholders can't be moved or changed. The service does have some nice trim options, and you can adjust the brightness, contrast and zoom of the picture, rotate it within the placeholder, or convert it to sepia or B&W, but that's it.
Side by side with Mixbook's card, Simply to Impress' card was dull. The printed photo on the front had a flat dynamic range and a blue color shift; the photo on the back was brighter, though details were suppressed. The card stock had a nice weight and an appealing texture, but the type margins weren't clean. What’s more, Simply to Impress' card was the most expensive of all the services we tested — nearly $1 more than Mixbook's, and three times what Shutterfly charges — and certainly not worth the price.
American Greetings Card Store
American Greetings Card Store has very restrictive software, and the quality of its expensive printed postcard card was similarly disappointing. Card Store offers some pleasant photo-card templates, but they are rigid and barely editable. All you can do is add your text and photos into placeholders that can't be moved, altered or deleted. In addition, Card Store has no clip art or photo effects, and you can't change the background.
The photo on our card was dull, flat, dark and grayish; the type was poorly formed and jagged. And the paper had a coarse, cheap feeling. Compared with Mixbook's versatile software and lovely card, Card Store ignores individual creativity and produces a humdrum product. And, at more than $2 per card, it's no bargain, either.
How we tested
This year, we tested 10 different card-printing services: Amazon Print, American Greetings Card Store, Motif/Apple Photo, Costco Print, CVS Print, Minted, Mixbook, Snapfish, Shutterfly and Simply to Impress.
We designed a two-sided party invitation, which included photos and type on the front and back, with relevant clip art. We aimed to use a background with a starry sky and an oval-shaped photo on the front, and a red background and a star-shaped photo on the back. Our design also included text rotated at an angle and drop shadows throughout. However, several of the services did not permit some, or many, of these customizations.
MORE: Best Photo Book Printing Services
We used photos a friend took during Carnevale in Venice, Italy. We didn't edit the photos, before or after inserting it into the postcards. That way, no variables would be introduced that might skew our judging of the various sources' photo reproduction.
We then used each website's online software to create postcards as close as possible to the design we envisioned. Given the wide variety of paper available from the various vendors, which would make it difficult to match the cardstock in every instance, we selected the default stock.
In rating the software, we used the following criteria:
- Ease of use
- User interface and workflow
- Creative flexibility
- Quality of templates, clip art, backgrounds and effects
After our cards arrived, we assembled a jury of print and photography experts to rate the products, based on the following criteria:
- Overall appeal and quality
- Photo quality
- Overall appeal and quality
- Photo quality
- Color and skin tones
- Dynamic range
- Focus and clarity
- Quality of the type
- Quality and the feel of the paper stock
In our ratings, we gave the greatest weight to the print quality of the service's photo postcards. That's because what matters most is the look and feel of the card you'll be sending to friends, family and associates. We also took the cost of the cards into consideration.
Credit: Tom's Guide