Best Photo Books 2021 | Top Ten Reviews
The best photo books are growing ever more popular as the number of photos we take keeps increasing. While there’s a danger of never seeing some beautiful snaps again – lost to the digital deluge – photo books allow you to put your best snaps in a physical book you can hold and enjoy.
That increase in popularity isn’t just thanks to these being a great way to preserve memories personally, but because the best photo books also make for fantastic, thoughtful presents. From birthdays and anniversaries to farewell parties and even seasonal events, these are great gift options.
Perhaps you simply want to capture that first year of your child’s life, or you and your partner’s early days together falling in love. Since we all tend to snap pictures, store them online, then forget about them, this is a great way to make the most of your photos.
As photo books are now so popular, there are lots of options to pick from. This list makes it easier for you to choose a service. In our rankings, we’ve taken into consideration factor things like print quality, layout, cover and binding, ease of use and price, to name a few. But even the best options below could benefit from the photos going in being of the highest quality. As such it can help to also look into the best photo editing software and photo scanning services.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How much does a photo book cost?
The price of photobooks varies by service, as you might expect. But to get a good idea prices for a 20-page 8.5 x 11-inch book usually start at around the $30 mark and hit $46 at the top end.
The other factor to take into consideration with price is shipping, which is usually charged as extra. This can be as much as $10 so it’s worth shopping around on this factor too. On top of that there can be tax added too, with as much as $8 added in our testing. All this varies by the number you order, how close you live to the printer and the state you live in.
Is it worth using a photo book printing service?
Despite all the costs mentioned, this is a service that pays for itself when you see the end result. No matter how good your home printer and arts-and-crafts skills might be, you’ll struggle to match the quality of the end results that these professional services offer.
How long does it take to design a photo book?
How long you want to spend perfecting your photo book is up to you but generally speaking most top end options have easy to use software. As such you can whip up a winning photo book in as little as 30 minutes. These can pull in photos from social media or your device, making that otherwise tough part, simple.
It’s best to take your time over your photo book though, spending a few hours to get it just right. This means a better end result. Of course if you need to digitize photos too, add that time on.
What are express photo books?
If you’re in a real hurry to get your photo book, perhaps as a gift, then express photo books may be helpful. These are same-day photo printing services which allow you to pick up your photo book from a physical store. Some places where you can take advantage of this are Walmart Photo, CVS Photo or Walgreens Photo. Each of these offers an impressive one-hour pick-up time.
By comparison most other online services are going to take a few days, or even a week, to have your book printed and delivered to you. While these can mean you save money over express services, it does mean you need to plan ahead.
What are bespoke photo books?
If all this sounds like too much effort, there are bespoke photo book services that take even more of the work out of it for you. Services like Artifact Uprising offer professional designers who will do the legwork for you, for an additional fee of course.
All you need to do is get them the photos, tell them the sizes you want for the end result and have them go to work. You can then review and adjust before deciding on the final outcome.
How do photo book subscriptions work?
If that automation idea sounds good to you then a subscription service could be ideal. Photo subscriptions from the likes of Chatbooks, mean you’ll be sent a photo book each month based on the photos from your smartphone, Instagram, Facebook and Google Photos.
Charged at $10 per softcover, or $15 for hardcovers, these books are shipped for free and are created for every 60 new photos.
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?
Use photo books for online photo album storage
Lots of photo book services are happy for you to use their server space to store your photos. That means you can upload all your pictures as you take them for online backup with unlimited space. Not only does this mean your photos are secure but it’s also easier than ever to create photo books, photo cards, canvas prints, photo paper prints, iPhone cases, gift mugs and more.
Some services, like Amazon Photo with Amazon Prints, will even recognise faces allowing you to create people specific albums more automatically. These also let you organize photos but to do this really well it’s worth looking at good quality photo organizing software.
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.