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Best photo books 2021

Best photo books 2021
(Image credit: Mixbook)

 You can create some of the best photo books online nowadays, by simply uploading and curating your photos on an easy-to-use website. Instead of having to rely on DIY photo albums, where prints have to be stuck in individually and captions written by hand, you can turn to one of these companies to do all the hard work for you. 

Best Overall: Mixbook

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 DEALSA121VIEW DEAL ON Mixbook

Even if you have lots of pictures you want to include, the best photo book printing services make the whole process so much easier - many of them even offer discounts if you’re ordering a large number of products. 

These photo book services have online, digital interfaces where you can design the look of your book. You can pick from various style options, including finish and layout, so you can create a look that feels like a good fit for your pictures. Designed to be quick and easy to use, these photo book makers also give you the opportunity to add lots of text to your photos, should you want to write down dates, names or quotes to accompany your vacation snaps. 

It’s a good idea to run your pics through some of the best photo editing software before you submit them, so that they’re in the best shape possible before being printed. And if you’re trying to create an album out of some physical prints or old-fashioned slides, you can digitize these by using either a top-rated photo scanning service or buying a good quality slide-to-digital image converter

When we were testing and ranking the photo book services, we took into accounts things like quality of print, customization options and money-back guarantees. Mixbook came out top in all of these categories, which is why it ranks highest in our list. For the full breakdown of which photo book services are the best for things like price and extra gifting options, read on…


1. Mixbook: Best photo book overall

Mixbook: Best photo book overall

(Image credit: Mixbook)

Mixbook Photo Book

The best photo book overall, with thick pages, vivid colors and a super-easy creator

SPECIFICATIONS

Print quality rating: 98% | Book quality rating: 95% | Available book sizes: 8 | Cover options: 5 | Money-back guarantee: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Good print quality and strong book
Plenty of customization options
Money-back guarantee

Reasons to Avoid

Lacks window covers

Mixbook scored solidly across all of our testing categories. The photo books we received were of a high standard, with sharp pictures, accurate colours and quality paper. More importantly, the company has also got a really watertight guarantee, which allows you to return your product for a full refund if it doesn’t come up to scratch in any way.

Another reason we really like Mixbook is that it makes the whole process of creating a photo book feel fun. When we were reviewing services, we found that it takes roughly three hours to create and finish an album. But thanks to Mixbook’s brilliant array of designs, and its ability to easily pull pictures from multiple social media streams and computer drives, the whole activity felt like a breeze.

In addition to the thousands of backgrounds and stickers available, Mixbook also regularly releases new designs and has a genuinely engaging blog that’s populated with interesting tips. There are some Martha Stewart designs on there at the moment, along with posts detailing the best way to go about making a family recipe book. Of course, you can also start designing your book from an entirely blank canvas, too. 

When it comes to printing, Mixbook gives you eight book sizes and five cover materials to choose from. Handily, the site will give you a warning if your photos are too small and at risk of looking pixelated. You’ll also get a discount if you order a large number of photobooks and you can even rush shipping for an extra fee. 


2. Shutterfly: Best value photo books

Shutterfly: Best value photo books

(Image credit: ShutterFly)

Shutterfly

The best value photo book: excellent quality for the price

SPECIFICATIONS

Print quality rating: 96% | Book quality rating: 96% | Available book sizes: 7 | Cover options: 6 | Money-back guarantee: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Lots of templates and backgrounds
Excellent print quality 

Reasons to Avoid

No shuffle function for photo arrangement 
No same day pickup

Shutterfly is one of the biggest names when it comes to custom printing photos. And while it does have hundreds of templates, graphics and backgrounds available, it doesn’t have as many customization options as Mixbook. It also doesn’t have a guarantee that’s quite as watertight, only offering a refund if the product is faulty (if you make a mistake, you’ll have to take the financial hit.)

That aside, it’s a great option if you’re looking for a budget photo book, thanks to the new 6 X 6 instant offering. This 20-page book can cost as little as $19.98 - and in our experience Shutterfly delivers on quality, too, as the book we ordered had good color reproduction and crisp images.

The on-site photo book maker is very easy to use, and like Mixbook it allows you to upload images from Facebook and Instagram. The company used to force you to upload a minimum number of photos, but that restriction has gone now (although it does recommend you use at least 20.) You can rush shipping if you need your photo book in a hurry, too. 


3. Artifact Uprising: Best for 

Artifact Uprising

(Image credit: Artifact Uprising)

Artifact Uprising

If you value quality above all else, this is the provider for you

SPECIFICATIONS

Print quality: 99% | Book quality: 99% | Available book sizes: 9 | Cover options: 6 | Money back guarantee: Yes

Reasons to Buy

High quality books
Great eco credentials
Offers bespoke service

Reasons to Avoid

Not the cheapest

This definitely isn’t the cheapest option, but in our tests it scored the highest in terms of quality. Also of note is that this is the only service we tested that has a focus on sustainability, giving you the option to pick recycled paper for your prints.

You can produce some really beautiful hardcover books on this site, including vacation mementos and baby albums. A lot of the books come with the option of adding linen covers, which is a nice touch, and while it doesn’t have the widest selection of designs, the ones it does offer are really sleek, modern creations.

It also offers a bespoke service, where someone curates images and designs your layout for you. This can cost in excess of $100, though, so it’s not a service that everyone will want to use. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, Artifact Uprising also offers a softcover book starting from $15. But for this price, you could also get a more customizable product from somewhere like Shutterfly.

In general, we’d recommend Artifact Uprising for when you really want to go all out on an expensive, high quality product, as this is where the company excels.


4. Printique: Ideal for special occasions

Printique

(Image credit: Printique)

Printique

A premium photo book creator for weddings and special occasions

SPECIFICATIONS

Print quality rating: 100% | Book quality rating: 99% | Available book sizes: 15 | Cover options: 4 | Money-back guarantee: Yes

Reasons to Buy

The best print quality of any service
15 book sizes to choose from

Reasons to Avoid

Interface is somewhat tricky to learn
Doesn't offer softbound books

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. 

It’s worth noting that although there’s a quote on the website saying that the design process takes 20 minutes, spending this amount of time on your design won’t result in a polished product. If you don’t mind about things like layout, finish and photo order, then you might only need 20 minutes, but in general the process takes a lot longer. 


5. Meijer Photo: Great for customer service

Meijer Photo

(Image credit: Meijer Photo)

Meijer Photo

Loved by customers, but it does lack for variety

SPECIFICATIONS

Print quality rating: 92 | Book quality rating: 92 | Available book sizes: 4 | Cover options: 3 | Money back guarantee: No

Meijer Photo is a US institution, and it is generally well loved by its satisfied customers. If you're buying a photo book from here you have the comfort of knowing that this is an established and trusted provider, and you can even visit a brick and mortar store if you want to collect quickly, or you have a problem with your order. While we didn't see any kind of money back guarantee with Meijer, we're fairly sure that most issues can be resolved quickly and easily in store.

Meijer has good print quality too, and its range of photo books - while limited - are good quality. You'll pay a low price for all photo products from here too, and if it wasn't for the frequent promotions run by sites like Mixbook and Shutterfly, this would rank as our cheapest provider overall.

The site is easy enough to use, but what Meijer really lacks is a wide variety of options when it comes to photo books. This is a pretty vanilla printing business, so lacks the range and features of more specialized providers. If you want to shop here because you know and trust Meijer, you'll get a good photo book, but there are better options out there.


6. Snapfish: Best for extra photo gifts

Snapfish

(Image credit: Snapfish)

Snapfish

If you want a range of gifts along with your book, this service is perfect

SPECIFICATIONS

Print quality: 90% | Book quality: 90% | Available book sizes: 7 | Cover options: 6 | Money back guarantee: No

Reasons to Buy

Great range of gifts
In-store pick-up available

Reasons to Avoid

Pricing is unclear
Print quality isn't the highest

Snapfish and Shutterfly have now technically been merged, but the companies remain distinct in terms of the services they offer. Snapfish is certainly still one of the largest photo printing services in the world - but this comes with advantages and disadvantages.

On the positive side of things, the company offers some great prices if you’re looking to bulk buy printed gifts. In addition to photo books, it also offers custom mugs, keyrings, pillows and face masks. Discounts regularly appear on site, so you can get some genuinely good offers here, especially if you need products printed for corporate events.

However, in our tests, the quality of the printing wasn’t quite as good as some of the company’s main competitors (like Mixbook.) Moreover, the experience of creating the photo book wasn’t as enjoyable. The site is a nightmare to navigate, with various pop-ups appearing on screen as you try to reach the checkout, pushing extra features and products. The designs aren’t as inspiring as competitors, either, as they’re all very basic. 

It’s a good option if you have simple needs, and want to prioritise saving money, but other services provide better quality.


7. Amazon Prints: A cheap service

Amazon Prints

(Image credit: Amazon Prints)

Amazon Prints

The best cheap photo book service – great for anyone with a tight budget

SPECIFICATIONS

Print quality rating: 85% | Book quality rating: 85% | Available book sizes: 4 | Cover options: 3 | Money-back guarantee: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Doesn't cost much
Decent print quality

Reasons to Avoid

Fewer design options than competitors
Complicated creation process

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. The process, however, is very complicated and you may struggle to use it.

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. 


8. Walmart Photo Books: Very fast creation

Walmart Photo Books: Very fast creation

(Image credit: Walmart)

Walmart Photo

The fastest photo book creation

SPECIFICATIONS

Print quality rating: 67% | Book quality rating: 57% | Available book sizes: 5 | Cover options: 7 | Money-back guarantee: Yes

Reasons to Buy

Create and print in-store
Fast creation and collection

Reasons to Avoid

Lack of customization 
Low quality print 

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.


Is it worth using a photo book printing service? 

In brief, yes. You could try and design and print something yourself, using a combination of top-tier graphic design software and high quality printers, but you’re unlikely to achieve the same level of overall quality in your finished product. Even if you do manage to print and curate something you’re happy with, these photo book services provide you with hardcovers and bindings so that your product lasts longer. 

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.

How much does a photo book cost?

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.

Express photo books

For same-day photo book printing, 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.

While some services can turn round books pretty quickly, most of them require two to three business days to process the order. Add delivery time on top of that, and it’s likely that you won’t receive your book any earlier than four days after designing it.

As such, it's best to plan and give yourself plenty of time, especially if you're hoping to get a photo book printed in time for the holidays. Mother’s Day, Christmas and Easter are always busy times for printing services, so you may have to wait even longer during these periods. We suggest ordering your book at least two weeks before it is needed.

Printique

(Image credit: Printique)

Bespoke photo books

For those who want a good-looking photo book but don’t have the time to create it, companies like Artifact Uprising 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. It’s a slightly pricier option, but might be a useful service if you’re short on time.

Shutterfly

(Image credit: Shutterfly)

Photo book options 

There are various sizes, layout options, finishes and paper quality to consider when you’re ordering a photo book - below, we’ve laid out some of the more important things you’ll need to choose.

Size, shape and orientation


The 8.5 x 11-inch landscape-oriented photo book is by far the most popular size ordered across different services. This is roughly the size of A4, but you’re certainly not limited to this when you are ordering. You can get square, compact books on most sites, which work nicely with Instagram snaps, with sizes starting as small as 6 x 6-inches. You can also get elongated landscape-oriented books, if you mostly have horizontal photos you want to include. These can be as small as 8 x 6-inches, or much larger at 14 x 11-inches.

Orientation is important when ordering, as it dictates which images will be allowed to take up the full page. For example, if a lot of your photos are taller than they are wide, they would sit nicely on a portrait-oriented page, but would have to be squashed down on a landscape photo book. Usually, people have a mix of styles they want to include, and it’s not a problem as the layout options allow you to play around with format. 

Paper Quality

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. 

If you’re purchasing your photo book for a fancy or special occasion, consider springing for premium paper. 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.

Cover and binding

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. 

Layout

The best photo book services allow you to really customize the format of your finished product. This is certainly true of our top-rated printing services, outlined above. They allow you to organize your photos into groups on the page, change their shape and add text as you see fit.

If you still need some guidance on the best way to do this, we’ve compiled a guide on how to create the perfect photo book. This includes expert tips on which images to include, where to place your text and what materials work best.

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.

(Image credit: Mixbook)

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.

If you need some extra help though, we do recommend you turn to some good quality photo organizing software. This can help you file, sort and store your pictures for future use.  

Digitizing photos for your album

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.