The best photo books make an ideal gift, especially when you can't be with someone in person to share memories. Photo gifts are very popular in 2020 as they're charming, personal, and they can be easily sent to anyone else in the country via mail. Not only that, photo books can be created from the digital photos you have on your phone or computer, and you don't need to get anything printed off. Sure, you may need to actually scan older photos if you want to use them in a photo book you create online, but it's far easier than getting physical photo prints right now.
When testing the best photo book services in 2020 we considered a number of important things. Most important is value - which we assessed by considering the price you pay along with the quality of the finished book. The provider that offers the best value, Mixbook, gives great print quality for a very reasonable price.
Mixbook offers a wide range of photo book sizes and layouts. Print quality is superb, and you get exceptional creative freedom. Plus, this photo book service is incredibly easy to use. Up to 50% off photo books with code REVHLDY20.VIEW DEAL ON Mixbook
You also need to consider the variety of designs each photo book provider has, and how easy the website is to use. After all, you don't want to spend ages creating a photo book and not be happy with the result. The best services are simple to use, very clear about what your photo book will look like, and offer a wide selection of designs for all occasions.
Many will enhance your images too, using automated filters, but if you want to prep your pictures to be their absolute best, consider using one of the best photo editing software packages. And if you need your pictures digitized, consider the best photo scanning services to get the job done.
1. Mixbook: Best photo book overall
We think Mixbook is the best photo book creator overall. It offers impressive quality: our photo books were well-printed, on quality paper, with sharp images and accurate colors. We also really like that Mixbook offers a "100% Happiness Guarantee" on orders. That means that if you’re unsatisfied with your order for any reason, you can return it.
Mixbook's design process offers exceptional creative freedom. You can choose between thousands of backgrounds and stickers, as well as hundreds of pre-designed books to find the perfect style for your album. If you can't find a template that fits your needs, you can easily custom-add photos to a page - or you can use the autofill feature to automatically place photos and speed up the process. And if you use photos that are at risk of looking pixelated in the book, the service will warn you so you can choose another.
When it comes to printing, Mixbook gives you eight book sizes and five cover materials to choose from. You’ll get a discount if you order a large number of photobooks and you can rush shipping for an extra fee.
- Read our Mixbook Photo Books review
2. Shutterfly: Best value photo books
Shutterfly is arguably the most well-known photo book service. It has hundreds of templates, graphics and backgrounds for you to use, including themes from favorite franchises like Sesame Street and Disney. There are seven different book sizes and six different cover options to choose from. You can expect good quality, too: the photo book we ordered had good color reproduction, and the images themselves were printed crisply.
It's super easy to create a Shutterfly photo book, since the design interface is very intuitive. You can even upload images directly from Facebook, Instagram and other sources making it easier to find the photos you love. You can rush shipping if you need your photo book in a hurry, too.
The only reason Shutterfly didn't take the crown for best photobook is it has fewer customisation options than Mixbook, and doesn’t have the same level of satisfaction guarantee. Shutterfly does makes some promises - but it’s worth noting they’ll only replace your photo book if it’s their fault (if you make a mistake, they can’t help).
- Read our ShutterFly Photo Books review
3. Printique: Best for occasions
Printique – formally known as AdoramaPix – is one of the best photo book services available if you’re looking to spend a little more and commemorate a special event, like a wedding. That’s because it has the best photo clarity and colour accuracy of all the photo books we tested – and it’s printed on luxuriously thick, textured paper. The service offers a money-back guarantee, too, for extra peace of mind.
Printique’s basic product might be one of the most expensive in this guide, but that’s because it’s so high quality. It's also excellent value: the company's lay-flat photo book is printed on luster paper, which is not only gorgeous but also the least expensive for an upscale photo book we've ever seen. Typically, 8.5 x 11-inch lay-flat books cost upwards of $50, but when you take shipping into account, Printique sells them for slightly less than the hardbound photo books we’ve seen elsewhere. That makes it a seriously good deal.
You can choose from more than 1,000 backgrounds and stickers to decorate your photo books – and you can upload photos from Facebook, Google Photos, Flickr, Instagram, Dropbox and Amazon. Although we liked the predesigned photo layouts and design features, the design tool was harder to use. We like that if you get stuck, there’s a forum of users that can help you out.
Printique offers 15 photo book sizes, whether landscape, portrait, square or horizontal-spine. It’s worth noting, though, that AdoramaPix’s book sizes are slightly unusual: for example, it sells an 8 x 12, 8 x 10 and 12 x 15 instead of the typical 8.5 x 11 or 11 x 14 options. If you've got the money, this is one of the best photo book services around.
- Read our AdoramaPix Photo Books review
4. Amazon Prints: Great cheap service
Amazon Prints is a good option if you're looking to create a stylish and affordable photo book, as long as you’re not looking for the level of customisation offered by the services above. Our test photo book had a high print quality and was well built – despite it being the cheapest in our guide.
You can manually choose your backgrounds, stickers and the placement of your photos. The interface gives you the freedom to create your own layouts, and lets you crop and zoom into photos as you please. It also warns you if your photos are too low-res and will print blurry, which is helpful.
If you need to make a photo book in a hurry, you can choose from among the 13 pre-designed photo books and use the autofill feature. This photo book service also enables you to share images with other Amazon users to create collaborative photo projects.
It’s good to know that any purchases over $15 automatically receive free standard shipping. This can cost between $5 and $13 with other photo book services, so it’s a significant saving. Amazon Prints also offers a strong money-back guarantee.
- Read our Amazon Prints Photo Books review
5. Walmart Photo Books: Very fast creation
If you need a photo book in a hurry, Walmart Photo is probably the best option for you. While the print quality isn’t as good as the other services, it's possible to create a book online or in-store and pick it up just an hour later.
Walmart Photo is also one of the cheapest photo book services online. But, as you’d expect, the lower cost means lower quality and fewer options. You don’t get as much control or creative freedom as the other photo book creators in this guide, and the design tool is harder to use. For example, we couldn’t fit the cover image to the design window and so some of the people were cropped out and the photo became distorted. Nevertheless, if you need a photo book now, Walmart Photo is your best bet.
- Read our Walmart Photo Books review
How we found the best photo books
We have worked extensively with photo book services over the last decade, and for this test, a group of testers with backgrounds in photography and graphic design evaluated the photo books.
They looked for color accuracy, print clarity, page thickness and book integrity. We wanted to make sure the evaluations would be fair, so we covered any company logos so that testers wouldn't feel partial to a specific brand.
We also wanted to make sure to recommend the best photo book companies that have easy-to-use interfaces. While designing our books, we looked for features that gave us more creative freedom or made the designing process more convenient. All in all, we spent more than 160 hours testing and evaluating photo books this year.
How we tested photo book creators
We used each photo book maker to create the same project, which let us compare them on an even playing field. Our print quality score reflects how accurately the colors printed and how clearly the images appeared on the pages. Template designs scored higher if there were plenty of options and if these options were modern and appealing. Templates that covered photos too much or displayed them in unflattering ways scored lower.
We evaluated each service’s ease of use by determining how much freedom each interface gave us. If services were clear and easy to navigate, and we could place photos wherever we wanted – including zooming and cropping images – then we scored them higher. We also looked for the ability to store photos online, import photos from social media, rearrange previously placed images and autofill. Services that limited user options or made the designing process less intuitive scored lower.
We didn't score services based on pricing, but we did note whether a company was on the expensive side. This included the cost of additional pages and standard shipping. We noted the shipping services offered by each company and awarded more points to companies that shipped internationally and offered express shipping.
How long does it take to design a photo book?
Making a photo book doesn’t take long. You can slap together some pictures and throw in some graphics within 30 minutes, but when the photo album arrives, it might be obvious that it was thrown together in a hurry.
We recommend giving yourself at least three to five hours of creative time when building your online photo album. In our testing it took us an average of three hours per book, sometimes longer. If you need to digitize any photos, plan on giving yourself at least an extra hour. This might seem a little excessive, but keep in mind what you have select the images you want to use, arrange them so images work well together, while also deciding on other elements like background and graphics you might want to incorporate.
Even when you know exactly where you want your images, the photo book creation process takes time.
For those who want a good-looking photo book but don’t have the time to create it, companies like Shutterfly offer professional designer services for an additional fee.
This means that all you have to do is give the company the photos you want to use, specify any background themes you want to use and the size/dimension you want your book to be and one of their professional designers will build your book for you.
Companies that offer this service will usually allow you to review and adjust the design before it is sent off to the printers. This allows you to remove any graphics you don’t like or rearrange the photos in the way you think works better.
Designer-built services will cost a little more since additional labor is involved, but you’ll get a beautifully designed book in the end without having to spend a long time in the creation process.
When should I order my photo book?
While some services can turn round books pretty quickly, it's best to plan and give yourself plenty of time, especially if you're planning to get a photo book printed in time for the holidays. This sees demand increase heavily from the middle of November through to the end of the year.
It takes time for the service to process and print your order, not to mention the time it takes to mail it out to you. Printing services are extremely busy during the holidays, so your orders might take longer than usual to process, especially as it gets closer to Christmas.
These companies are also busy around other holidays and seasons, for example Easter, Mother's Day and graduation. If you plan to order a book for any of these occasions, make sure you give the company plenty of time to print your project and mail it to you.
We suggest ordering your book at least two weeks before it is needed. If it gets a little too close to the holiday or special occasion, your best bet is to place a pickup order with CVS Photo, Walmart Photo or Walgreens Photo. Each of these services offers one-hour pickup, so you can have the photo book in your hands shortly after ordering it.
Where can I print photo books?
Most online companies where you can design a photo album will print a photo book for you, and post it to you or your intended recipient. If you are really creative, and know how to make a photo book without needing online software there are a lot of stores that have same day printing. To print out a photo book yourself the best places to visit are Walgreens, Walmart or CVS. For a higher quality print and design there will be specialist photo developers in your area that you can contact.
How much does a photo book cost?
Photo books can quickly become expensive when you add in a book's base cost, extra pages, taxes and shipping. The best companies are reasonably priced and give discounts when you order large quantities.
The best priced, 20-page, 8.5 x 11 photo books typically range from around $30 - $46. On average, photo book companies charge around $1.50 for additional pages and while the price of standard shipping varies from company to company, it isn't uncommon for it to cost $10 or more. To get specific pricing for large quantity discounts, you typically need to request a quote from the photo book service.
Many companies also add an additional tax charge to your order, so be aware that the price can go up even more. The most we were taxed for any of our orders was about $8. The charge for shipping and tax will depend on your proximity to the printer, the number of books you order and the state you live in.
Holidays and promotions on photo books
Nearing any major holidays, especially Christmas and Mother’s Day, photo book companies tend to get very busy. Lucky for you, companies try very hard to convince you to take their business over using any other service.
You’ll find plenty of holiday sales and discounts going on, so be sure to take advantage of the savings. We highly recommend checking Mixbook, Shutterfly and Adorama for promotions as you begin selecting the service you want to use as they run great discounts.
If you’re looking to make wedding, birthday, travel, or any other type of books that aren’t connected with a specific month or season, you can usually find promotions going all year long.
Photo book quality and services
The best photo books provide beautiful color accuracy and sharp print clarity and make the designing process easy. They offer thousands of backgrounds, stickers and templates to help you personalize your books to fit any and every occasion. These styles should be both plentiful and modern and should show off your photos to their best advantage. To help make sure your photos come out well, it’s a good idea to send these companies high-resolution images.
Shutterfly, Mixbook and other top-brand services will warn you during the creation process if your images will print blurry so you can replace them to keep your project looking good.
If you've been using a smartphone to capture your snaps, then provided you're not intending to produce a large coffee-table photography book, images will show up just fine in your books. You'll also find that most services allow you to upload images from social media sites as well, but be aware that many of these images are reduced and compressed when you upload and post them, so if you have the originals, it's better to use these if you can. Mixbook and Shutterfly both provide unlimited picture storage so you can quickly access your favorite pictures for any photo project.
Photo book options
The 8.5 x 11-inch landscape-oriented photo book is by far the most popular size ordered across different services.
If you are looking for something different, make sure that the service you choose offers it. Books should be sturdy and should have paper that isn't flimsy or easily creased.The cover of a photo book can greatly change the feel of the book. If you are looking to purchase a book for a formal occasion – like a wedding – leather, fabric or lay-flat covers can help fit the scene. You also want to keep your audience in mind when choosing a cover. If you plan to make a book for a child, a softbound cover might not be a good option since it can get bent and damaged.
Aside from having good print and paper quality, the best photo book services simplify the designing process. Most will supply a library of graphics and designs for you to use but the quality and attractiveness of this art varies widely from company to company.
Websites that make it difficult to find what you're looking for or that don't offer a wide selection of options can get frustrating very fast. When you're in a hurry, being able to autofill photos to your pages can be a lifesaver. Additionally, being able to store photos on the service's website as well as import photos from social media sites can make the designing process run more smoothly.
Photo book shipping and support
Services that offer express delivery can really benefit you in a pinch. Similarly, being able to pick up your books from a local store can be really convenient. When looking into a company, make sure you understand what is covered by the refund policy. Some companies offer money-back guarantees and you can feel more confident when making purchases from them. The best companies also offer several assistance features such as live chat, email and FAQs pages to help you find answers quickly.
Subscription photo books
Don’t have much time to dedicate to creating a photo book? Some companies, like Chatbooks, have a monthly or yearly subscription and will automatically send you photo books using the pictures on your smartphone or camera photos, Instagram, Facebook and Google Photos.
Specifically with Chatbooks, every 60 photos you post become a new book, and if you subscribe you determine how often the books are sent. At the time we wrote this, softcovers cost $10 per book while hardcovers cost $15. The best part? Shipping is always free.
You can also order either a single 6 x 6 or 8 x 8-inch photo book with up to 366 pages of manually placed images. The cost for books with manually placed images will be determined by the number of pages you include and the cover type you choose. For the first 30 pages, 6 x 6 softcover books are $10 while 8 x 8 softcovers are $20. Hardcovers cost an additional $5 while additional pages are either $0.20 or $0.40 each, respectively. Not bad considering what you’re getting and the time you save.
Online photo albums and storage
Most photo book services offer free, unlimited storage space on their websites. This makes it easy to create multiple projects, whether they be photo books, photo calendars, canvas prints, photo paper prints, or photo gifts like mugs and iPhone cases, with the same pictures. Occasionally, you might find a printing service that deletes your images over time, but this is uncommon.
Often, you can organize your entire photo library by date uploaded or by file name. These sites also tend to allow you to create albums to help keep your pictures organized. Some services, including Amazon Photo, which works with Amazon Prints, recognize faces from your photos and automatically create albums based on the people you take pictures of. Additionally, if you’re working on a project, most of these sites allow you to name and save your work so you can come back and finish it later.
Preparing photos with photo editing software
Before placing your photos into a photo book, you’ll want to make them look their best. Most photo book services offer limited photo editing tools, like red-eye removal, cropping and basic filters, but more in-depth editing must be done with a dedicated photo editing program. Photo editing software is especially helpful for images that seem a bit off color or that have fisheye and need lens correction. The best photo editing software can even remove distractions from your images, like trash on a beach or electrical poles, by using healing brushes or content aware fill tools.
We recommend Corel PaintShop Pro as it is one of the least expensive options while still providing plenty of quick and easy tools like filters and color correction. To get more information on photo editing software that we’ve tested check out our best photo editing software buying guide round-up.
What’s the difference between paper types?
When you buy a photo book, you usually have several types of paper to choose from, though that depends on the company you use. Basic companies usually only offer glossy, matte or lustre paper. Just like paper used for photo prints, glossy paper helps bring out color and vibrance, but it is quite flimsy and easy to smudge.
"Matte" and "lustre" are sometimes used interchangeably, though some companies offer both options. Matte paper doesn’t show glare, but the colors in your photos might appear a bit duller. This type of paper also feels a bit more substantial than glossy paper. When it's offered in addition to glossy and matte, you can expect lustre paper to be somewhere between the two – not as shiny as glossy but not as dull as matte. It may be a good choice, depending on your style.
If you’re purchasing your photo book for a fancy or special occasion, consider springing for premium paper. High-end photo book companies, including AdoramaPix, have several premium paper options. Lay Flat is probably the most common high-end paper choice offered. It’s an extra thick cardstock paper that lays completely flat when the book is open. You’ll often find it in matte, lustre and glossy finishes.
Another high-end paper option is linen, a textured paper that looks a bit like canvas rather than paper. This texture adds an especially nice touch to projects that will be featured in formal or professional settings, like weddings, galleries, company parties, etc.
When deciding on a paper type, keep your audience in mind. If you’re making a book for a child, you might want to steer clear of flimsy pages to ensure the book lasts longer. If you’re looking to create a photography portfolio album, spring for nicer pages so your colors really pop. Regardless of which paper you choose, the most important thing is to choose the paper that correctly brings out the colors and details of your work.
Digital conversion services
If you’ve been in the photography scene for a while, chances are you have analog photos you’d like to feature in a photo book. But to do so, you need to digitize them.
The easiest way to do this is with a scanner, often found on an all-in-one printer. However, if you don’t have a scanner, time or the inclination to digitize your photos yourself, we recommend using a photo scanning service.
If you have old slides you’d like to include in your photo books, you'll also need to convert them to digital media. As stated previously, you can always use a photo scanning service. But if you want to save some money and do the conversions yourself, we recommend investing in a slide to digital image converter. Keep in mind that this process, while not difficult, does take an investment of time if you have a lot of slides to get through, and it isn’t the most exciting work.