Best photo books 2019: picture the possibilities

Family Photo book - Mixbook deals
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The best photo book is so much more than a collection of pictures shoved in a photo album, it’s a moment, a memory or a message we want to share.

Mixbook offers a wide range of book sizes and creative options like cover materials, backgrounds and stickers. And it’s incredibly user-friendly. The end products have beautiful print and great paper quality. They are a fantastic photo book creator that will help you preserve and share those once in a lifetime events you will want to relive. View Deal

Photo books are a great way to enjoy and remember those special one off occasions like a wedding or baby's first year. They can also be a special way to frame a series of images in a personalized photo album. 

The tactile feel of flicking through a photo book is a much more rewarding and satisfying experience than simply viewing images on a computer screen or smartphone. 

Whether you're looking to create a photo book for yourself or a loved one, there's no shortage of choice, with a wide range of photo books available to suit all budgets. 

To find the best photo book we've made 27 photo books in the last year and ordered from 13 companies. This has helped us decide which companies provide the easiest design experience, have the most amount of options and ultimately, who delivers the best printed photo book. 

We narrowed down our picks to the top 10 services, and of those 10, Mixbook was the best photo book creator overall due to its ease of use, creative freedom and wonderful print quality. The photo books are reasonably priced and come with thick pages that scream quality. You also have access to hundreds of templates, backgrounds, stickers and predesigned books to showcase your photos as you like.

ProductPriceOverall RatingPricingQuality & ServicesBook OptionsAlbum CreationShipping & SupportPrice for 20-Page 8x8 HardcoverCost per Additional PagePrint QualityBook QualityTemplate QualityServices ScoreAvailable SizesCover OptionsEase of UseShipping & Support ScoreMoney-back Guarantee
Mixbook Photo BookView Deal4.5/$29.99$1.2998%95%100%100%75100%90%
Shutterfly Photo BookView Deal4.5/57.51099.810$29.99$1.3996%96%100%100%6995%100%
AdoramaPixView Deal4.5/57.39.51069$41.99$2.00 for two pages100%99%100%95%151185%90%
Walgreens PhotoView Deal4/$19.99$1.99 for two pages82%82%100%80%6690%90%
Snapfish Photo BookView Deal4/589968.5$29.99$1.99 for two pages93%83%100%100%6690%80%
PicabooView Deal4/58.3985.58.5$36.24Up to $1.7579%78%100%100%7790%80%
Amazon PrintsView Deal4/$17.99$1.00 for two pages85%85%100%80%4390%80%
Walmart PhotoView Deal4/51068.54.39$23.96Up to $2.49 for two pages67%57%50%80%5740%90%
Photobook AmericaView Deal4/$46.99$0.7586%82%100%95%10560%50%-
CVS PhotoView Deal3.5/58.886.365.3$19.99$1.99 for two pages74%72%100%70%7690%60%-
Meijer PhotoView Deal3.5/$49.99$0.3995%94%85%80%3340%80%
Google PhotoView Deal3.5/$19.99$0.6591%91%50%50%2275%70%
BlurbView Deal2.5/$30.39Up to $1.5087%90%50%80%6350%50%-

1.  Mixbook: Best photo book overall 

Mixbook - best photo books


The best photo book that has thick pages, vivid colors and a super easy creator

Reasons to Buy
Good print quality and strong book
Plenty of backgrounds, stickers, book sizes, paper options and templates
Orders come with a money-back guarantee
Reasons to Avoid
No in-store pickup option
Lacks window covers
No user forums

The books we ordered from Mixbook had really good print quality with sharp images and accurate colors.

The books were sturdy and the pages were made with quality paper. We ordered a matte cover, and in addition to displaying our photos beautifully, it was soft to the touch.

Mixbook's design process offers exceptional creative freedom. You can choose between thousands of backgrounds and stickers as well as hundreds of predesigned books to find the perfect style for your occasion. If you can't find a template that fits your needs, you can easily custom-add photos to a page. If you don't have time to meticulously craft your book, you can use the autofill feature on a predesigned photo book to automatically place photos and quickly create a complete project. 

There are seven book sizes and five cover materials to choose from. Mixbook's designer warns you if the photos you choose will be pixelated, so that you won’t be disappointed by the print quality of your projects. Mixbook offers a "100% Happiness Guarantee" on your purchases. If you plan on ordering a large number of books, the quantity discount will be especially helpful. This service can also get your photo books to you in a hurry by offering express shipping options.

Mixbook offers a "100% Happiness Guarantee" on your purchases. If you plan on ordering a large number of books, the quantity discount will be especially helpful. This service can also get your photo books to you in a hurry by offering express shipping options.

2. Shutterfly: Best value photo book

Shutterfly - Best photo book album


A great photo book that offers excellent value for the service and quality offered

Reasons to Buy
Vast selection of templates and backgrounds
Excellent print quality 
Wide range of album covers and sizes
Reasons to Avoid
No shuffle function makes photo arrangement hard work
No 5 x 7 inch photo book
No same day pickup

Shutterfly is arguably the most well-known photo book service, and for good reason.

It scored just behind Mixbook due to its many customization options and quality product. There are hundreds of templates, graphics and backgrounds for you to use, including themes from favorite franchises like Sesame Street and Disney. The photo book we ordered had good color reproduction, and the images themselves printed crisp.

It's super easy to create a photo book since Shutterfly's interface is easy to navigate and the tools are laid out in a way that makes sense. You can choose between six different book sizes and 9 different cover options to truly create the book you envision. The uploader allows you to select images directly from Facebook, Instagram and other sources making it easier to find the photos you love.

Shutterfly promises that you will be satisfied with your order and offers to replace your photo books as long as the fault doesn’t lie in user error. Should you need help there are plenty of ways to reach customer representatives. You cannot order this book for same day pickup since it isn’t associated with a brick and mortar store. However, there are expedited shipping options should you need your photo book in a hurry.

3. AdoramaPix: Best wedding photo book

AdoramaPix - best photo book


A brilliant photo book creator for weddings and special occassions

Reasons to Buy
Base product is an inexpensive lay-flat book with luster paper
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
No 11 x 14 book size

AdoramaPix provides the best value for fancy photo books that you might use for weddings or other formal events.

The base product is a lay-flat photo book with luster paper, and we judged it to have the best photo clarity and color accuracy of the services we tested. AdoramaPix blew us away with its beautiful print quality and luxuriously thick, textured paper. The base product is a fancy lay-flat photo book with 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 lay-flat books cost upwards of $50, but when you take shipping into account, AdoramaPix sells them for slightly less than the hardbound photo books we’ve seen elsewhere. That is a seriously good deal. It’s worth noting that AdoramaPix’s book sizes are slightly unusual. For example, it sells an 8 x 12 and an 8 x 10 instead of the typical 8.5 x 11.

AdoramaPix offers 15 photo book sizes, whether landscape, portrait, square or horizontal-spine. Some of the book sizes are a little unusual. For instance, it offers a 12 x 15 photo book but not an 11 x 14 option. There are more than 1,000 backgrounds and stickers to decorate your photo books. While we liked the predesigned photo layouts and design features, the interface for creating a book wasn't as easy to navigate as some other companies.

You can create your books from scratch or you can use the autofill feature to quickly create your projects. This service lets you import images from Facebook, Google Photos, Flickr, Instagram, Dropbox and Amazon. You can interact with other AdoramaPix users on the user forum, which can answer your questions or offer ideas for your own books. AdoramaPix doesn't offer softbound books or in-store pickup. However, it does offer a money-back guarantee.

4. Amazon Prints: Best budget photo book

Amazon prints - best photo book

Amazon Prints

A great photo book for people who are putting together a touching gift on a budget

Reasons to Buy
Much less expensive than other services
Has good print quality
Free standard shipping for orders over $15
Reasons to Avoid
No large-quantity discounts
Fewer design options than competitors
Offers just four book sizes and three cover options

The photo book we received from Amazon Prints was surprisingly well designed. It had a good print quality and the book was well built.

We also found the Amazon Prints interface easy to navigate and design with. Because Amazon Prints doesn't offer as many book sizes, backgrounds or cover options as Mixbook, it didn't rank as well against our top pick and other services that have more variety. Fortunately, what Amazon Prints does offer is stylish and inexpensive. Additionally, any purchases over $15 automatically receive free standard shipping. Standard shipping typically costs between $5 and $13 for most photo book services,. This price will change depending on your proximity to the printer and on how many books you purchase.

You can manually choose your backgrounds, stickers and photo placement. The interface gives you the freedom to create your own photo layouts and lets you crop and zoom into photos as you please. It also warns you if your photos will print blurry. If you need to make a book in a hurry, you can choose from among the 13 pre-designed photo books and use the autofill feature. This service allows you to share photos with other Amazon users to create collaborative photo projects.

Amazon Prints also offers a strong money-back guarantee. Unfortunately, the service doesn't offer large-quantity discounts. We recommend Amazon Prints if you just want an affordable photo book. If you want more choices for material and designs, then we recommend paying a bit more to get the look you want.

5. Walmart Photo: Quickest photo book creation

(Image credit: Walmart )

Walmart Photo

A photo book service that provides a decent quality print fast.

Reasons to Buy
In-store pick available
Create and print  in-store
Fast creation and collection
Reasons to Avoid
Lack of customization 
Low quality print 

Walmart Photo print quality isn't the best, but this services is perfect if you need a photo book in a hurry. This services will allow you to create a photo book either online or in the store and have it ready for pickup within the hour. They also happen to be some of the least expensive printing services on the internet. 

 They each offer express shipping if that works better for your timeline. Walmart Photo doesn’t give you as much control or creative freedom as the other photo book creators. This is mainly due to the design system that is overly simplistic when creating the pages in your photo book. The design system was also slightly hard to use, as it wouldn't let us fit the cover image to the design window.  This resulted in the photo book creator chopping out some of the people in the picture - and the photo becoming distorted. Walmart's photo album creation system does provide the cheapest pricing. 

This services doesn't provide a flyleaf for their books. Walmart doesn't print its logo in the book, so it won't distract your from your memories. 

How we found the best photo book

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. To get even further insights into photo book creation, we contacted Lisa Mariko, a professional photographer of four years. We also reached out to Shutterfly and Mixbook and asked them questions about their bookmaking process.

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 to do:

  • Comb through photos from social media feeds your friends, family or you post on
  • Arrange and place photos in a way that works well with the other images
  • Find backgrounds and graphics that you like and then find the perfect places to put them

Even when you know exactly where you want your images, the photo book creation process takes time.

Designer-built books

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?

When we asked Shutterfly when its peak season is, a rep told us its busy season usually runs from Nov. 15 through Dec. 31. This is typical for other printing services as well. If you plan on ordering photo books to give as gifts during the holidays, we suggest completing your order no later than Dec. 5. 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. 

What to look for when ordering a photo book

These are the things to look for when ordering a photo book. 


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

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. Just remember that photo book services get a lot of orders near big holidays, which can make the processing and shipping times take longer. To ensure you don’t have to pay extra for expedited shipping to get your book on time (and therefore negate the promotional savings), make your order with plenty of time to spare.

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. Mariko told us that if you edit your photos at 300 dots per inch (dpi), you can print them at just about any size. 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. Fortunately, most smartphones these days have really good resolution so your phone images will show up just fine in your books. Most services allow you to upload images from social media sites. Be aware that many of these images are reduced before getting placed on social media so they will show up blurry unless they take up a small section of the page. Mixbook and Shutterfly both provide unlimited picture storage so you can quickly access your favorite pictures for any photo project.

Book options

The 8.5 x 11 landscape-oriented photo book is by far the most popular size ordered. 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.

Album creation

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.Mariko told us that in addition to giving you a design library, it would be better if these services also allowed you to create your own designs and place them in your books. We agree. Mariko also pointed out that when designing your book, you should be aware that many services do not allow you to add foreign characters or symbols to your text. This can be a problem if you are creating a travel photo book that features exotic locations.

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.

How to make a photo book with Apple Photo

Anyone wanting to use their iPhone photos to make a photo book should consider Apple Photo. This service’s printing procedure is very different from those of other companies we reviewed, which is why it didn’t make it into our testing. You need to log into the Apple Photo app to create books from your phone, iPad or computer. If there are images outside of the app you want to use, you must import them into Apple Photo. Once you gather all the images you want, right click on your album. From there, select Create and then Book from the pop-up menu.

Apple Photo has fewer book cover and size options than many other services. You can create an 8 x 6-, 8 x 8-, 10 x 10-, 11 x 8.5- or 13 x 10-inch book. Cover types include hardcovers with image wraps and matching dust jackets or softcovers.

There are a few themes to choose from as well as several photo layouts. We like that you can place your photos wherever you want within your book. However, there isn't an auto-fill button in case you are in a hurry. Apple automatically places its logo on the book, but if you are willing to pay a little more, you can have it removed. When you’re done editing your project, click the Buy button. Apple Photo lets you know if there is anything amiss with your book – for example, if there are photos that are too low resolution.

At this point, the service differs from others. As of September 30, 2018, Apple Photo Prints no longer accepts printing orders. To actually print your photo book, you need to use an extension for the Apple Photos app and have another company, such as Shutterfly, Mpix, Snapfish, AdoramaPix, Walmart Photo and Walgreens Photo, print for you. Since the final product quality depends on the service you print through, we felt Apple Photo didn’t compare against the other services we tested. Still, it’s not a bad option if you have a specific printing service in mind.

Printing your Apple photo book with motif

When Apple Photo Book was still printing, it outsourced print orders to other companies. The company in charge of Motif was one such print source. Since then, Motif has become an official alternative to Apple Photo Prints, which means it offers the same look, books and paper you’d get back when Apple Photo was still taking print orders. To use it, you need to download the Motif extension from the App Store.

Motif's interface is very simple to use. It sorts through your photos and only chooses the ones that will print with good resolution before autofilling your book. If you wish, you can manually place the images. This is a minimalist photo book, so you cannot choose any backgrounds or embellishments for your pages. There are five cover sizes to choose from: 8 x 6, 8 x 8, 10 x 10, 11 x 8.5 and 13 x 10 inches. Some of the sizes are restricted to specific cover types. Namely, the 8 x 6 only comes in softcover, and the 13 x 10 only comes in hardcover. There is only one paper option, but the service still has a larger book selection than Google Photo currently offers. You’ll find that Motif charges the same prices Apple Photo Prints did.

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 photo editing software reviews.

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.

Photo organization and management

If you’re like most people, your digital photos probably aren’t organized very well. The images may be in several locations, or you may have to look through a massive file of photos to find something you want. As an aid, most photo book services provide free and unlimited online storage. These services usually, at the very least, sort images by the dates they were taken. But that’s not the easiest way to locate specific photos. To help you categorize and search through your desktop’s image files, you might want to consider looking into photo manager software. We especially like CyberLink PhotoDirector Ultra, as it allows you to organize your photos by custom keywords, dates, color labels and locations. This software even uses face tags, so you can look up pictures by the people featured in them. Once you tag your images with keywords, all you have to do is use a photo manager search toolbar to find your photos quickly or look them up in the files you’ve organized them into.

Photo books for Mother’s Day

Photo books are the perfect gift for Mother's Day. Start by gathering pictures of your Mom’s family and friends and arrange them in a beautiful and personalized photo book. We highly recommend using Mixbook. Don’t forget to include pictures of any significant events that your Mom recently experienced. If you’re on a budget, remember that you can save money by choosing a softcover. If you can spend a little more, choose a layflat binding or hardbound leather cover option.

To help collect photos, reach out to siblings or other family members. You might even want to snag some pictures from your Mom’s social media accounts. Choosing a theme for your book can make it more fun and give you direction during the creation process. 

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. Anyone who owns a printer and has the time can scan photos into a computer. However, if you don’t have a scanner, time or the inclination to digitize your photos yourself, we recommend using a photo scanning service.

Of all the digital conversion services we tested, we recommend Digital Memories for converting traditional photos to digital media. If you happen to find rolls of film in your collection, you’ll like ScanDigital, which is one of the only photo scanning services that converts video and film into digital media. Once your photos are digitized, you can upload them to a photo book website and include them in your next projects.

Slide to digital conversion

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 media converter. Of the devices we tested, the Wolverine Titan was our pick for the best overall slide converter. It works with a range of slide and film types and is one of the easiest slide conversion devices to use. 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.

Comparing Costco photo center and Sam’s Club Photo

We didn’t test membership-only stores like Costco and Sam’s Club since these companies aren’t as accessible. But we’ve compared them against each other to find the advantages and disadvantages of both.

Sam’s Club is now taking same-day pickup orders, which includes some projects that can be ready for pickup in as little as an hour. While this expedited ordering includes canvases, photo cards and calendars, it doesn’t apply to photo book orders. Costco doesn’t have any form of same-day pickup order, so in that way Sam’s Club comes out on top.

Overall, Costco Photo Center’s photo books tend to be less expensive than Sam’s Club Photo, with one exception. A hardcover book that’s roughly 8.5 x 11-inches costs only $19.99 with Costco and $29.96 with Sam’s Club. However, a 12 x 12 premium flatbook is slightly cheaper with Sam’s Club Photo.

Costco Photo Center’s size options are limited. Sam’s Club lets you choose between premium hardcover layflat, leather layflat, regular hardcover, window style (in leather, linen or softcover), regular softcover, mini books and flipbooks (featuring spiral binding). It also includes the most popular sizes: 4 x 6, 5 x 7, 8 x 8, 8 x 11.25 and 12 x 12. Some cover types are only available in specific sizes. You’ll have more creative freedom and more choices using Sam’s Club Photo, but you’ll likely save money with Costco Photo Center.

Costco Photo Center only has three cover and size options: a 12 x 12 premium layflat, 11 ¼ x 8 ¾ hardcover and a two-pack of 8 x 8 softcovers. All books start with a minimum of 30 pages, which is more than the standard 20 you’ll find with most other services. You’ll fit more images into your books without paying more. Each book can hold up to 100 pages. Additional pages are $0.78 per 2 pages. In comparison, Sam’s Club photo books can only hold up to 74 pages, but for most people that’s more than enough.

Sam’s Club Photo has 35 themes you can choose from. However, once you begin a project, you cannot choose different backgrounds or add stickers to your book. Each book comes with a minimum of 20 pages. To add more you’ll need to pay $1.46 for each additional page – that’s pretty pricey. One odd thing with Costco Photo Center is that you must log in with a account instead of your normal account.

Target photo

Target doesn't match its competitors when it comes to physical store locations. As such, you're much better off creating a book through CVS Photo, Walmart Photo or Walgreens Photo. When we tested, Target Photo was temporarily out of order online, though it has since become available again. However, we chose not to include this service in our testing because it is incredibly buggy and limited compared to other photo book companies. The following is our experience trying to use Target Photo to create a photo book:

First, the site looks like it hasn’t been updated in several years. Your photo books can only be printed at a Target store, and there are only two cover options: a 4 x 6-inch hardcover with just 10 single-sided glossy photo paper pages or a window-cover book the site claims comes in 8 x 8-, 8.75 x 11- or 12 x 12-inch sizes. However, when we attempted to create a book, we weren’t given a size option. The interface automatically created an 8.5 x 11 book and didn’t give us a chance to change it. The book comes with the standard 20 pages, and additional pages are 99 cents each. 

When we attempted to make our book, the interface was buggy and made it difficult to add photos to our album. There are no premade layouts, but you can manually place multiple images on a page. However, that can be tedious. There also aren’t any backgrounds or embellishments you can add.

However, Target Photo has one redeeming quality: A 20-page, 8.5 x 11 book costs only $9.99 before tax, which makes it one of the cheapest options you’ll find.

Target has a lot of kinks to work out if it wants to get in on the photo book market. If you really need your book in a hurry, we highly recommend looking for other print-to-store services before settling on this one.  

How much are family photos?

When putting together a new photo book, whether it be for a birthday, a wedding or just because, it’s nice to use up-to-date, high-quality photos. But as you pick a photographer, should you go with a beginner who’s just starting out or an established professional? Part of your decision will inevitably come down to pricing. As stated on Angie’s List, beginning photographers are more likely to charge $50 to $100 per session, compared with professional photographers who charge between $350 and $500. If you really want these photos to pop, you should spring for the professional. But if you don’t mind the photos potentially turning out less than high quality, an amateur will suit you just fine. Keep in mind that elite photographers can charge anywhere from $500 to $10,000 for their services. You likely don’t need anything that fancy unless it’s for a big to-do like a wedding.

Why do family photo sessions cost so much?

The price of family photos may seem pretty high, but when you break down what it covers, it is actually understandable. If you want the photographer to drive out to a remote location in nature, they have to pay for the gas to get there, and the driving time cuts into their scheduling availability. Also, the lighting, cameras, lenses and other equipment photographers use are all very expensive, and they need to make enough money to pay off those purchases. In a one-hour session, you can expect the photographer to take a few hundred photos. They will then go through the images and narrow them down to the best of the best. After that, they spend hours using expensive software to touch up each of your photos. Although you only see them for one hour of their work, your photographer will put several hours into creating your final photos. To get a better understanding of photography session costs, read this insightful article by Graham

To increase the chances of being satisfied with your whole photography experience, here are some things to consider asking a photographer before you hire them:

Questions to ask your photographer

  • Request recent samples of the photographer's work or ask them for a link to their online portfolio. You may not like some artists' styles, and it’s better to find that out before you hire them. Make sure you look at their current work and not something they shot five years ago – styles and skills change over time.
  • Ask what a photography session includes. How long can you schedule a session for? How many finished pictures will there be? Get a clear idea of what you’re paying for before it comes time to pay. That way, there won’t be any surprises.
  • Find out how you’ll receive image files. Some photographers give you a CD, DVD or USB drive, while others post your pictures on their portfolio website for you to download.
  • If you happen to have a specific style you’d like to imitate, make sure you provide a sample and ask the photographer if they can replicate it.
  • Finally, make sure you ask them how much they charge. If you have questions about pricing, politely ask the photographer to clarify. Photographers need to make a living, too. If you think the price is too high, it might be time to keep looking. However, don’t burn that bridge.

Department store and in-store photo studios

Usually, a cheaper way to get family portraits is through department store photo studios. In the '90s you could walk into a Walmart and get a family portrait for only $20. Unfortunately, many of the least expensive in-store photo studios have closed within the last decade. The need for professional family portraits has declined with the rise of high-resolution camera phones. As of 2013, Walmart had shut down the majority of its in-store portrait studios, though a handful of locations remain open. Sears has completely shut down all of its studios. However, JCPenny Portraits is still available. You can get a photo session for $50 - $100 as long as there's a studio near you. So why don’t these studios cost as much as a freelance photographer? It's because department stores usually don’t hire people with professional photography experience and the session options are limited.

The perfect graduation gift

You remember your child’s first day of school like it was yesterday and now it’s hard to believe that your baby is graduating. Whether they’re going off to college or going into the world to find their career path, a photo book is something they can look back on fondly for years to come. We suggest pulling out all of those first day of school photos and digging through your images to find photos of your child’s science fair projects, sports games, band performances, school art pieces and any other extracurricular activities. Start with preschool and work your way year by year through high school or college. If you want more pictures, consider pulling them from your child’s Facebook or Instagram pages. Make sure to include pictures of your child’s friends and favorite teachers along the way. Use the final page to write down just how proud you are of your child and let them know that you are still invested in their future and well being.

Baby’s first year

Nothing is quite as precious as a baby’s first year. There are so many new experiences and milestones to capture, making it the perfect subject for a photo book. Years down the road, baby will be able to see pictures of herself making her first steps or falling asleep in Daddy’s arms after a long day. To make it even more special, fill a few pages with text describing your well-wishes, hopes and love for baby. This will surely become a precious keepsake to look at as she grows through the years. We recommend making a baby book as a sturdy hardcover since it will likely get thumbed through multiple times and eventually get handled by a toddler. If you want it to be a little more special, you might want to consider ordering a linen cover. Mixbook offers 29 baby-centered photo book themes to choose from. You’ll easily find backgrounds, stickers and color schemes that fit the feel of your project. We especially like Mixbook’s Little Dreamer and Winged by Bonnie Christine baby photo book themes. There’s even an Adoption Story photo book to help welcome your newest family member into your home.

Travel photo book

One of the best ways to commemorate a fun getaway is with a photo book. If you’re a photographer, this is also a great way to show off your amazing shots. Shutterfly and Mixbook both have beautiful travel-theme books to help you properly showcase photos from your favorite places. We especially like Mixbook’s Europe Travel book, as it uses calligraphy-style phrases to accentuate photos. The embellishments are beautiful and elegant without being tacky. If you’re commemorating a fun family camping trip, consider Mixbook’s Outdoor Adventures book. It has all the playful backgrounds and stickers you could want and still looks nice. If you have your own backgrounds and photo layouts in mind, you can create your project from a blank book. Travel photo books make great additions to the coffee table and are a fun way to show off your adventures.