Photo Album Review
How to Choose Photo Album Software
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 an album creator to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 11 services.
With online software offered by websites like Mixbook, Shutterfly and AdoramaPix, your imagination is the only limitation in creating a physical photo album you’ll be proud to show off. Using digital photo album software will allow you to personally add every embellishment, word, sparkle and background pattern. You can create photo albums of memories for every occasion with such services, and page after page of material can be passed on to your posterity.
Photo album software is different from scrapbooking software and photo editing sites; online photo album companies provide design tools and editing interfaces to help you create a book for your photos that they will print and send to you. Making a photo album is not the most inexpensive option on the market, so we have evaluated each company's costs in conjunction with the features they offer to help you find the best match for your cherished memories and to help minimize the impact on your wallet.
After reading our software reviews and comparing products with our side-by-side list of features, you can also view additional articles about photo albums and other types of software to learn more.
Photo Album Software: What We Tested, What We Found
In order to test the quality and functionality of these various photo album sites, we ordered photo albums from each of them. We payed particular attention to the number of background, page layout and embellishment options on each site. Of course, just because a site has a lot of options that doesn't mean that their software is easy to use, so we made sure to note how simple and intuitive each site made it to edit and create pages and to completely customize our experience. Some companies offered unique functions to improve the creating processes, and we made sure to note this in our scoring as well.
Each album contained the same pictures, and we ordered a basic landscape book measuring 11 x 8.5 inches from each site. We evaluated each photo album site on the quality of the album, the album options, the creation tools and the shipping and support options. Note that the services had no input on our testing methodology, and our rankings are not shared with them prior to publication.
Quality & Services
The best photo album software allows you to customize each page with a choice of backgrounds, pre-designed themes and embellishments or stickers. These features add dimension and that much needed pizzazz and personalization to your pages. The more we could customize, the more connection and ownership we felt for the end product, so having a myriad of customizing options is important. When testing digital photo albums, we had an absolute blast embellishing, using all of the features and letting our imaginations run wild.
To further enhance your photos, look for a photo album creator that has excellent and abundant page layouts to choose from. This way you can easily rearrange your cherished images to see what way they are displayed best.
Of course, the options available are only relevant if the end product is high caliber. You'll want your photo album to have a sturdy cover, binding and somewhat thick pages to keep it protected and insure that it will last for years to come. Having a flyleaf – an extra blank page before and after your photo pages – gives a photo album a sense of elegance and can also protect the inner pages from getting bent or smudged.
The cover of a photo album usually prints a little differently than the inner pages, so you'll want to make sure that the cover print quality is the same if not better than the inner pages. To ensure this print quality, the top photo album services give you a pixilation warning to alert you whenever a low-resolution image will not print clearly. In evaluating the covers of the albums we ordered, the best printed covers were clear and smooth, not grainy or containing printer lines.
The size and shape of your photo album can completely affect the look and feel of your project. A service that offers variety of sizing and cover options can help you find a perfect match for your album. And 11 x 8.5-inch portrait book is one of the most popular sizes on most sites, but there are other options. You might want to decide what size or shape you want before starting your project. Landscape books – books that are longer horizontally than they are vertically – typically come in 11 x 8.5 and 11 x 14 inches. Popular square-shaped books usually come in 8 x 8, 10 x 10 and 12 x 12 inches. Popular Portrait books – books that are longer vertically than they are horizontally – generally come in 6 x 8 and 8.5 x 11 inches.
The best album covers are sturdy and protect the pages inside, but there are more options for texture and materials that can greatly influence the overall aesthetic of your album. It can also help an album fit in for a specific event or celebration. Softcover and hardcover books that allow you to print a photo directly on the front are available at just about every site on our review. None of the basic photo books we tested came with dust jackets; however, some sites will allow you to purchase one at additional cost.
The material a photo album cover is made of, such as leather, linen and other fabrics, helps invoke the feel of a special event, like a wedding ceremony, or type of album, such as a baby book. Some photo album creators offer die-cut window covers so you can have an image peak out of the cover from within the book. Books with pages that lay flat are usually made of a thicker material, have thicker pages and have a more professional look to them.
In our experience we found that the designing and editing features that are key in creating ideal pages. The very last thing you want when creating a photo album full of blissful memories is to muddle the joy with frustration because the software is difficult to use. When you don’t have to waste time worrying about functionality, you can focus on designing each page to capture the essence of the event.
Most sites allow you to pull photos directly from your computer or from social media sites like Instagram, Facebook and SmugMug, which makes it easier to get all of your photos or your family's and friends' photos in one go. Once these images have been uploaded to your photo album account's online storage, they will stay there, making it easier for you to access them and use them in the future.
We payed attention to the features that made a site feel intuitive and easy to navigate. Autofill is one a common feature that helps you create a photo book if you are short on time or just want suggestions for filling up your pages. After uploading your images, you can press the Autofill button and the software automatically places your photos within your book. You can then rearrange any of the photos to truly make the album your own. Shuffle buttons work in a similar way as they rearrange images that are already on a page to help you see what arrangement works best.
The best digital photo albums make it easy to zoom in on photos and resize them. Some electronic photo album software displays alignment lines when you move an image. This feature ensures that your photos line up and are balanced on a page, which results in a more professional and quality feel in the finished product.
It is very easy to make mistakes when working on your photo album, you might delete a photo or accidentally nudge a photo out of balance with the others. In these cases, it is important to be able to use an undo and redo button so you don't have to waste extra time recreating something you accidentally changed. Most album makers on our review offer this feature, some even respond to undo hotkeys, Control-Z, on your keyboard.
Once you have completed your photo album, sharing your pages with family and friends is the next step. Many photo album companies make it simple to share your project with others via email, Facebook or other social media platforms. Most photo album creators also provide discounts for printing in bulk, making it easier for you to share your creations at a more convenient price.
Shipping & Support
Waiting for your album to arrive in the mail after you have ordered it can be a frustrating experience, especially if the album is for a special upcoming event, so we gave more weight to services that provide shorter processing and shipping times. That being said, in order to avoid frustration, be sure you understand the company’s processing and shipping times so you know how long you will be waiting before you order.
Each of the websites we tested has a technical support telephone number and a contact email, some even have a live chat feature and FAQs pages to help you find answers to your questions. Because each product is so easy to use and understand, you may never need any of these support options, but having these options is one less thing you need to worry about when weaving your tapestry of memories.
Our Verdict and Recommendation
Although they can be bit time consuming to create, photo albums are a fun way to capture and preserve cherished moments. Being able to completely customize each page to fit your personality is a definite must, which is why we have ranked Mixbook, Shutterfly and AdoramaPix as the top three websites in our review. These three sites have the most intuitive design interfaces, and their large collections of backgrounds, embellishments, page layouts and stickers allow for the most customization out of all of the digital photo album makers we tested. The physical albums we received from each of these sites were of excellent quality and design, meaning they feel sturdy, were well-made and enhanced the viewing pleasure of our favorite photos.