The best photo books offer a dedicated space for storing and revisiting your fondest memories at a surprisingly budget-friendly price. They are compact, portable, and often come with attractive cover designs so you can store and carry your memories in style. On top of all that, physical photo books also hold a special charm, as nowadays most of our photos are hidden away in digital formats.
Along with being an excellent storage option, the best photo books also make for a treasured gift on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and even farewell parties. They also offer the perfect way to commemorate your own special moments, allowing you to collate images that reflect the first year of your child's life or your special wedding day.
But buying the perfect photo book to suit your photo collection can feel challenging, considering the wide selection of options available in the market. So, to make the decision easier for you, we have compiled a list of the eight best photo books to buy in 2021.
1. Mixbook: Best photo book overall
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.
- Read our Mixbook Photo Books review
2. Shutterfly: Best value photo books
This is a great budget option, with plenty of regular sales appearing on site and a base price that’s very reasonable, too. The compact 6 x 6 photo book option can cost as little as $19.98 and lets you print images across 20 pages. We found that the company delivered high quality goods. When we used the service to print our own book, it had great crisp images and excellent color reproduction.
Like Mixbook, Shutterfly allows you to pull in images from your social media feeds, and you can also rush shipping if you need it printed in a hurry. However, do be aware that the refund isn’t quite as watertight as the one offered by Mixbook. Shutterfly will only refund you if the product is faulty - if you make a mistake, you’ll have to take the financial hit.
The site doesn’t offer quite as many customization options as our top-rated photo book printing service, either. Although it has recently overhauled its book building experience, offering customers the chance to whizz through the process in a smaller amount of time.
- Read our ShutterFly Photo Books review
3. Artifact Uprising: Best for high quality prints and gifts
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
This company is well known for its high standards. When we tested it out, it was miles ahead in terms of printing quality, yielding the best photo clarity and color accuracy of all the services we tested. However, that luxury comes at a cost – a 20 page, hardcover book will cost you $49.99 at minimum.
That’s why we recommend this option for when you really want to commemorate a special event. It’s perfect for wedding pictures, for example. You can choose between several different types of paper, including glossy, luster and deep matte varieties. So while $49.99 might sound like a lot, you really are getting the best quality out there. And like a lot of the other services in this guide, there are regular discounts available to bring down that price.
There are thousands of design and layout choices to pick from, and it’s easy to pull in photos from places like Facebook, Google Photos, Flickr, Instagram, Dropbox and Amazon. It has a slightly complicated design process compared to other platforms, so it may take you a little longer to build something you're satisfied with (although if you’re committed to making the best photo book you can, we recommend you put aside a couple of hours for each project regardless.)
Printique offers 15 photo book sizes, whether landscape, portrait, square or horizontal-spine. It’s worth noting, though, that the 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.
5. Meijer Photo: Great for customer service
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 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 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
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.
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.
Photo book options
When you are buying a photo book, there are many things to consider outside of the cover design. It can be tempting to pick the prettiest cover, but measurements of size, layout options, and paper quality matter too.
If you are new to buying a photo book, here are some important things to keep in mind before adding one to your cart.
Size, shape and orientation
Most photo books are available in the 8.5 x 11-inch size, ideal for landscape photos. This is great for you if you have tons of average-sized horizontal photos. You can also get bigger, 14 x 11-inch photo books for larger-than-average snaps.
While this works great for landscape photography, it may not be the best option for you if you are a fan of portrait photos. Selfie lovers should opt for vertical-oriented photo books that perfectly accommodate tall and narrow photos.
Paper quality might seem like an afterthought for photo books, but the right paper quality can actually change the whole look of your photo book. The most popular paper qualities include a glossy, matte, or luster finish, all of which look great depending on the theme of your photos.
If you have vibrant photos with vivid colors, it’s best to opt for glossy paper, while a matte finish is ideal for a neutral or serious vibe. A luster finish is a good option if you want something bright but not super glossy.
If you are looking for premium quality, opt for Lay Flat, which a fine paper made of extra thick cardstock for firmness and shape retention. This is best if you want your photos to lay flat in the book (instead of the curved shape most photo books offer).
Cover and binding
Now comes the best part: choosing the cover. This is one of the first things people consider when buying an album.
Along with a great design, the “feel” of a photo album can also add to the nostalgic experience. Most popular cover options include leather and velvet as they offer a premium look for special photos.
When choosing a cover, also look at the binding. Is it strong and durable to sustain regular use? Or is it pretty but delicate, making it suitable for rare use?
A good layout can make or break your photo book. The layout defines how your photos are arranged in the book. Here are some great questions to ask yourself to find the right layout:
Are all photos horizontal or is it a mix of landscape and portrait orientation? Is there space for taking notes and marketing dates? Can you change the layout or is it fixed?
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.
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.