Memories by the Book
The top performers in our review are Mixbook, the Gold Award winner; Shutterfly, the Silver Award winner; and AdoramaPix, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a photo book service to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 services.
Photo Books: How to Choose
It's easy to hoard pictures on your many devices and never revisit them. Images from vacations and concerts, as well as fun moments with friends, family, pets and children, can sit on your phone for ages and take up valuable memory. Alternatively, you can spend lots of time arranging your photo library using photo editing software if you want to keep your images digital. For truly special pictures, though, a professionally printed photo book can be a nice option for displaying your most important moments in a durable keepsake.
Online photo book makers are similar to photo card services, with their easy-to-use online interface that helps you combine photos and text, but the result is a custom-made professionally printed and bound book. These services provide different options for paper type, cover type, page themes, image editing, text, embellishments and even gift-wrapping. With so many options, you can create the best photo books to house your priceless wedding and baby photos, or really any photo collection that is special to you. If you have the photos, all you have to do is choose which service to use. If you want to learn more, check out our articles about photo books.
Photo Books: What You Need to Know
Photo book services provide long lists of customization options. Because of this, photo book prices vary based on which extra features you want. The cost of processing and shipping your photo book also varies based on the size, paper type, cover weight and number of pages you want. While these options may spike the price of your photo book, the best service at least provides you with these customization options, which are nice for photo books for significant life events like weddings and births.
If you don't store all your images on your hard drive, the best online photo book services access photos from almost anywhere. Whether you store images on your computer or social networks like Facebook and Instagram, you can access your favorite pics for the photo book. This is especially useful for events like weddings where many people snap photos.
Photo books can also be used as guest books for weddings. Several of the services we reviewed offer photo books specifically designed to be wedding guest books, with pages that display photos of the wedding party and the couple's family, and include areas for guests to sign. If you don't like the predesigned books, you can create your own guest book using the service's formatting tools and templates. You can choose from dozens of book shapes and designs, as well as adding an engagement photo to the front cover.
Photo Books: How We Tested, What We Found
We built a photo book with each site's online interface and scored the resulting product as well as our overall experience along the way. We crafted hard-cover, 8.5 x 11-inch photo books, or the closest comparable size, with the default settings for everything, including paper type, cover upgrades and gift options. We judged books on the strength of bindings, covers and paper. We used the same set of photos in each book so we were able to judge the quality of photo reproduction by each service.
We also noticed and scored services based on the user experience with each site. The best photo book services provide you with your choice of multiple backgrounds for different types of events. For something as important as wedding or baby photos, you want more than just three template options. Our top contenders have hundreds of different backgrounds to apply to your photo book pages. Themes for different vacations, holidays and school events can enhance your photo book before you add your personal touch.
Ease of Use
Designing photo books online should be easy with the best services. Many of these companies offer tutorials before you get started to show you all the controls for editing, cropping and arranging your photos. The editing capabilities don't match real photo editor software, but you can at least zoom in and out of photos or crop and resize them. The best editors have text tools with long lists of stylish fonts and colors. Often, predesigned book templates provide spaces for more than one photo on a page. You can follow these templates or adjust them as you see fit. Even if you choose a predesigned template, the customization features allow you to make a personalized photo book.
Whether you opt for a predesigned book or a completely blank slate, the photo book editor should import your images quickly from any source online or from your hard drive. Some photo book sites allow you to autofill your book with images. This is a great way to get started while you still have the option to arrange and rearrange images throughout the book.
Processing time is another indicator of quality. On average, custom photo books take up to five days to process and ship. While it's good to know these services take time printing and perfecting the pages, this is a disadvantage if you want to give your book as a gift in a short amount of time.
You want as many design options for the outside of your book as the inside. When finishing your photo book, look for a variety of size and cover options. Often, hard and softcovers are available, and sometimes you can opt for leather or fabric covers. These options are more expensive, but they add dimension and value to your book. Many services provide the option for dust jackets or special binding that changes how the book sits. Lay-flat covers, for example, are great for large panoramic photos and allow you to see more of the image you place on the page.
As with covers, the price of your photo book changes based on the size. Square and rectangle books often cost about the same, but you can choose larger sizes in each shape. Usual sizes in custom photo books are similar to those you may see in a bookstore. Children's books look good in a small 8 x 8-inch square while large family albums can sit on the shelf with others at 11 x 14 inches. Many photo book services make large books roughly the size of typical coffee table books.
Photo Books: Our Verdict & Recommendations
The winner of our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award is Mixbook.com for its exceptional collection of backgrounds and pre-designed books. This service also features speedy processing and shipping, high-quality printing and a simple interface. It only takes a matter of minutes to upload your photos to Mixbook from Instagram, Facebook, Flicker, PhotoBucket, Picasa and SmugMug. This makes Mixbook a great photo book option for families and professionals alike. Photobooks like the ones you make with Mixbook can display your art or photography just as well as they can immortalize special life moments.
The Top Ten Reviews Silver Award goes to Shutterfly.com. This photo book site offers a long list of photo book types and themes. You can begin designing your book using Shutterfly's custom path or simple path, depending on your needs. Both paths cost roughly the same, depending on the extra features you add, but the simple path allows Shutterfly to arrange your photos for you. Once you've finished your book, you can choose from a long list of sizes, paper types and cover styles. In terms of support, Shutterfly shines over the competition with friendly and readily available customer service reps through live chat, phone and email. You can also check out user forums and tutorials that can give you some extra inspiration.
Our experience with AdoramaPix, the winner of the Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award, resulted in a gorgeous final book, and that was using only the default options. The pages were thick and durable, and the binding was designed to allow pages to lay perfectly flat, usually something that costs a lot extra as an upgrade. This site has fewer options in terms of pre-designed backgrounds and book layouts, and it lacks some of the book sizes that are commonly used. We also found it a little harder to use than other sites, but the resulting book was impressive.
We were able to make decent projects with all of the sites in our photo book reviews, but some stood out from the crowd by making the process easier and offering the best quality templates and materials. Finding the best photo book site for your project means you will be able to create keepsakes worthy of your memories that generations of your family will enjoy.