Costco Photo Book Review: Good Photos, Cheap Book

Costco's photo quality is quite good, but its book production is poor and its software limited.

Our Verdict

Even though the photo reproduction in Costco's book was quite good and the price was great, the book itself was cheaply made and the software very uneven.

For

  • Good photo reproduction
  • Fully editable templates and layouts
  • Sizable library of unusual cutout shapes
  • Attractive decorative frames

Against

  • Cheap-quality book
  • Limited, uneven software
  • No photo effects or drop shadows
  • No search engine for clip art or backgrounds
  • No drop shadows or photo effects

Like Amazon, Costco (www.costcophotocenter.com) relies on Snapfish's comparatively easy-to-use photo-book software. While not as limited as Amazon's offerings, Costco's service still didn't have the same number or depth of options as Snapfish. However, the photos in Costco's book were marginally better than those in Snapfish (and better than Costco's own from last year, when it used a different printing service). And Costco's price was the lowest of all the books we created. But the resulting book was cheap in look and feel.  

Creating Your Book: Flexible, though uneven software

On the surface, Costco's software looks identical to Snapfish's and Amazon's. However, when compared side by side, Costco was both more limited in some ways and more varied in others.

Costco's library of attractive templates is marginally larger than Amazon's, though far smaller than Snapfish's. The templates are almost as fully editable as Snapfish's, giving us the option to alter, remove or replace all elements, or choose from a selection of layouts. The one exception was that the background of our book's spine couldn't be changed, so it clashed with the rest of our design. Also, Costco's layouts aren't as varied as those from Amazon or Snapfish, and it doesn't have any of the other two service's attractive predesigned pages.

There's no way to search by name or keyword through Costco's moderate-size libraries of clip art and backgrounds, but the names of the categories were generally easier to decipher than on Snapfish or Amazon. What's more, they tended to be attractive, especially the photo-realistic clip art. On the other hand, Costco doesn't have a Recently Used holding area for clip art or backgrounds already placed in the book. (Snapfish and Amazon do.)

While Costco has a greater variety of borders than Snapfish and Amazon, Costco's options for straight borders were far more constricting. We selected our straight borders with our choice from a small number of colors, only some of which had more than one set width.

On the other hand, Costco had the largest and most-varied collection of cutouts (or masks) among the services we tested. These cutouts let you shape photos not only as hearts or ovals, but also as artistic and irregular shapes. Plus, there are a few dozen ornamental frames with drop shadows, though the shadows weren't editable. (Neither Snapfish nor Amazon had cutouts or frames.)

While Costco's text tool is different from the one on Snapfish and Amazon, it has a similarly limited color palette. I could bold, underline and italicize (which the others couldn't do), but there is no option for text background color (which Snapfish and Amazon did have).

The Printed Book: Good-quality photos but very poor-quality book

This year, Costco's photo reproduction was far better than in the past (and better than Snapfish's or Amazon's). The cover image and interior pictures generally popped off the page; they were nicely saturated, with good color, excellent exposure and good details throughout the dynamic range. However, the edges of the type weren't clean, and the ink of the interior type wasn't solid.

Unfortunately, the physical book didn't live up to the quality of the pictures, receiving the lowest rating among all the books we tested. Costco uses a "universal" cover, which can expand to accommodate lots more pages. That meant that the spine of our book was much larger than necessary and looked quite clunky. What's more, on the exterior, the binding was crinkled and rough, and on the interior, the binding stitches were exposed throughout the book. The unappealing endpapers were limp. The interior pages were a lightweight paper with a satiny vellum feel.

Price and Options

Costco has only three styles and sizes of photo books, all of which are very reasonably priced, especially considering that the minimum length for a Costco book is 30 pages. (All our other test books were 20 pages long.) An 11.25 x 8.75-inch, hardbound book cost $29.99 for two books; an additional book cost $13.99. An 8 x 8-inch softcover was $19.99 for two books, while a 12 x 12-inch lay-flat book was $39.99.

The site has a wide range of photo products, including calendars, postcards, greeting cards, mugs, lap blankets, business cards, flyers, prints, posters and more.

Bottom Line

Costco's photo book was the least expensive of all that we tested, but you get what you pay for. The physical book was cheap and unappealing. In addition, the software was limited and uneven. So, despite the very good photo reproduction this service offers, steer clear of Costco. Instead, choose Shutterfly for a better software experience and far better-quality photo book.

Specs

Import photos fromFacebook, Instagram, Flickr, Google Photos, OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, your device
Templates & layoutsFully editable
BackgroundsNonsearchable library
Clip artNonsearchable library of generally attractive photo-realisitic clip art
TextFully customizable, limited colors

Credit: Tom's Guide