In the era of smartphone photography, photo albums usually become slideshows on Facebook or part of the scrolling feed on Instagram. But with Americans snapping a hundred billion more photos in 2017 than they did in 2016 — and using increasingly capable camera phones — there's never been a better time to print out favorite memories to create anything from a personalized gift to an intimate documentary.
We scoured the web for the best photo book services to suit a variety of projects, including uber-personalized albums with notes and illustrations to no-frills options and heavyweight coffee table books.
Best Photo Book Services
|Techlicious Top Pick for:||Award Winner||In a nutshell|
|Best for customization||Mixbook||A comprehensive photo book creator with tons of customization features|
|Best for unique styles||Pinhole Press||For creating sleek, modern photo books in a variety of shapes and page lengths|
|Best for quick and easy layouts||Montage||An express photo album creator that works by auto-sorting your pictures into one of a few layouts|
|Best for giving as a gift||Blurb||A desktop publishing tool for pro-level photo projects|
|Best allround||Shutterfly||A feature-heavy photo album creator with great choices for covers and paper|
The important factors we looked for were:
- Ease of use: Is the software straightforward for adding photos and customizing layouts?
- Customizability: Do you want the option to add text and flourishes, or do you prefer a simpler end result?
- Upload sources: Will you be using photos from social media or online photo storage sites, or are most of your pictures on your hard drive?
- Editing features: Will you want to tweak photos inside the photo app, or do you have a separate photo editing app?
- Cost: Basic albums may vary from $10 to $30, with more for features such as leather covers, heavier paper and lie-flat binding.
Costs begin at about $10 for a 20-page paperback book and go over $100 for larger books with premium paper and covers. Careful shopping often turns up discounts of 20 percent to 40 percent.
It's a good idea to select the pictures you want to use ahead of time to give you an idea of which size book you might want. Pricing for additional pages can push the cost well over what you would have paid if you'd chosen a thicker book to start with – and of course, you want to make sure you have enough for a coherent book in the first place.
The best for customization: Mixbook
This is the photo book site to choose if you are intent on — and have the hours to devote to creating — a super-customized album with photos you edit within the interface, layouts you tweak and exchange for others, and plenty of stickers, backgrounds and text boxes for polishing the results.
Mixbook will warn you when you upload pictures from Facebook or Instagram that have been compressed and may not print well or when you zoom in too far on pictures already placed within the album.
There are nearly 400 designer themes in categories such as Romance, Wedding, Kids and Seasonal containing thousands of backgrounds and stickers (holiday-themed pineapples, graphic scrawls or words such as “Let your light shine”, for example) for adding a personal (if sometimes twee) flourish to every page.
Many themes come with preset quotes that you may find inspirational or cheesy. They're easily deleted or amended.
Though some of the themes feature a heavy-handed, guided style, the Everyday options — particularly the blank and portfolio themes — contain more elegant templates.
If all this customizability is too much, use an AutoFill feature to populate your album with uploaded pics, then rearrange any offenders later.
The result: Choose from softback, hardback or leather-bound albums, with the option of lie-flat pages that don't bump over the spine or the cheaper, eco-friendly satin finish option. Album sizes can be square, landscape or portrait, with a particularly cute 6”x6” album with premium lie-flat paper.
Ease of use: The editor interface crams in tons of features, but it only takes playing around with a few pictures to grasp it all.
Customizability: Very high. You can edit pictures for brightness, contrast and saturation as well as reflect, zoom and add black-and-white or sepia filters, drop shadows and reflections. Stickers, frames and wallpapers can be tweaked on every page.
Upload sources: Computer, Facebook, Google Photos, SmugMug, Flickr, PhotoBucket, Instagram.
Delivery time: Five to 11 business days.
Cost: From $15.99 for a softback 8”x6” 20-page book; up to $126.98 for a hardcover 12”x12” book with lie-flat paper.
Returns: Yes, or reprints. You pay return postage.
You'll love: The ability to invite collaborators. With the huge range of design features available, having friends and family add their own touches can create a uniquely personal album for the lucky recipient.
But: Many of the 200 themes contain cheesy phrases or cartoony illustrations. For example, a Christmas template with bells and season's greetings makes for a prefabricated sort of style that's not so personal.
The best for unique style: Pinhole Press
If you're after something sleeker, Pinhole Press offers a great variety of photo book styles. While other sites require at least 20 pictures to make a book, this one can print an accordion fold-out Brag Book with eight photos, spiral-bound soft books for 12 photos and standard cloth or leatherbound books for anywhere from 40 to 181 photos. Handily, each option also displays how many photos you’ll require.
There are also kid-focused albums where you can print photos to accompany the learning of ABCs or what different emotions look like.
The album creation interface is comparatively no frills, great if you don't want to sink too much time into jazzing up the album with various backgrounds and effects. Instead, a modern homepage shows what type of book you can choose along with the price and number of photos required conveniently displayed. Clicking through takes you straight to the album editor.
Uploading pictures is simple and you can choose to autofill your photos for minimal hassle. As with other services, you'll get a warning if you're trying to upload a picture that is likely not to print well.
Pinhole Press also creates other photo gifts, including a full suite of wedding-related items such as invitations, guest books and, of course, photo albums of the big day. As of July 12, 2018, there was free U.S. shipping for orders over $65.
The result: You can create spiral-bound or cloth-covered soft and hardback books, panoramic albums where spreads lie flat (no break when photos take up two pages) and cute accordion fold-out albums that hold fewer than 10 photos. Paper can be matte or glossy.
Ease of use: Excellent. A streamlined home page clearly shows the different types of books you can make. Album creation is done via a simple drag-and-drop interface.
Customizability: Low. You can rotate pictures once they're placed, but you can't zoom or shift like you can with Mixbook and Montage. However, if you're more focused on the hard copy product, Pinhole Press offers great variety.
Upload sources: Hard drive, Facebook, Instagram.
Delivery time: Four business days.
Cost: From $24.99 for eight-photo album; $74.99 for the signature 98-photo 8 1/4”x10” hardcover.
Returns: Yes, with refund. If the mistake is in print, you can request reprints within 15 days of receiving your order.
You'll love: Being able to choose mini-albums for as few photos as eight or heavier books to document big occasions that spawn up to 180 photos.
But: Photos saved online (say, from Facebook or Instagram) have to be downloaded beforehand, which can be a hassle if your main photo collection is housed at a site such as Picasa or Flickr.
The best for quick and easy layouts: Montage
If you're not up to designing spreads and micromanaging the placement of every photo, Mixbook's speedy little offshoot Montage can quickly create a leatherbound photo book from pictures on your hard drive or online photo storing sites including Instagram. Once you upload your photos, Montage tosses the ones that are blurry or underexposed, then automatically sorts the rest into a handful of different designs, from a double-page picture overlaid with a second, smaller pic to magazine-style layouts of five photos. All pages lie flat, so that photos printed the full width of the open book don't break across the gutter.
On the cover is a random mix of photos inside that you can edit. You can add a title to the cover, but you can't adjust the font or size of this title.
You can fine tune photo placement or head straight to choosing the size of photo book you want: 6”x6”, 8”x8”, 10”x10” or 12”x12”, with the option to upgrade with silver halide printing for a glossier, smoother look and feel and a fitted gift box.
The result: A hardback photo album with cushiony leather covers and lie-flat pages in a silk, semi-gloss paper.
Ease of use: The streamlined web interface is intuitive and quick to upload pictures. The lack of additional frills for the photo book means you can go from choosing pictures to checkout in about 15 minutes.
Customizability: Minimal. You can adjust the placement of the photos and pick from around 17 design themes for the background of the album, ranging from simple outlines to geometric backdrops.
Upload sources: Hard drive, Facebook, Google Photos, SmugMug, Amazon Cloud Drive, Flickr, Instagram.
Delivery time: Three to six business days.
Returns: Yes, free, for up to 90 days.
Cost: From $29 for 6”x6” up to $99 for 12”x12”, with standard features.
You'll love: The auto-sorting of your pics into designer layouts, including removal of the low-quality ones.
But: There are no editing features or ability to add captions. Automatic collage-style spreads means that ideally, the pictures you choose for the album should have at least a tenuous link to each other.
The best for giving as a gift: Blurb
If your goal isn't so much a personalized photo gift as it is a showcase of some unforgettable photographs, Blurb can help you create that perfect book from scratch. Primarily a self-publishing platform for independent trade books and magazines, the service has several templates for personal books such as travel, family and wedding albums.
The online creator is where you can knock up albums quickly, with a choice of just four simple styles, in square or portrait formats in a few different sizes. There’s also an iOS app where you can create a 5”x5” or 7”x7” book from photos on your device – handy for that impromptu gift idea.
For more creative control, you'll have to download a desktop publishing client first, either a plug-in for Adobe InDesign or the standalone BookWright, a layout tool that lets you drag and drop photos onto the pages of your book-to-be. Book shapes can be square, portrait or landscape, and you can go for a high-end look with lay-flat paper.
You can also assign preset layouts such as side-by-side portraits, two horizontal images or a single image centered in white space, allowing you to place photos in almost any configuration.
Photos are not auto-fitted. Instead, you shift and zoom to get the effect you want. Optional guidelines help you line up photo edges and get specific with exact distances. If there's a caption, memory or even entire short story necessary to pair with an image, you can add text boxes anywhere, at any size. A full text editor allows text and font changes, letter sizing and web linking (for e-book versions).
If you're making a book to sell, there are easy links to distribute it through Blurb itself as well as Amazon and iBooks.
Not surprisingly for a site aimed at semi-professional creators, BookWright is all about high-res snaps. You can upload photos only from your hard drive, but Blurb's Bookify web editor lets you create 7”x7” 60-page books from Facebook or Instagram pictures.
The result: A coffee table book with classy covers, heavyweight paper and the option to distribute in print or digitally through Blurb.com, Amazon or iBookstore.
Ease of use: The desktop publishing software BookWright is straightforward to use, with preset layouts to assign to each page of the photo book. You can also download starter templates if you're not sure where to begin. That said, Blurb is aimed at semi-pros, and using it requires more time and more of a vision of what you want to end up with.
Customizability: High. But unlike Mixbook, which hurls features, backgrounds and effects at you, the customization here comes from the bare-bones album template you start with. You also get more choice in cover type, paper type and trim size.
Upload sources: Hard drive, Flickr, 500px, Instagram, Facebook
Delivery time: Seven to 11 business days.
Cost: For a 20-page book from $14.99 for 7”x7” softcover book with standard paper; $39.99 for a 10”x8” hardcover landscape book with dust jacket and matte paper.
Returns: You can get a replacement only if original is damaged or defective.
You'll love: If you have a vision for a high-quality photo book and the photographs to match, Blurb gives you the power to execute it just so. And if you don’t – the online editor or iOS app lets you quickly and simply knock out a cute photo gift too.
But: The simpler versions of Blurb offer practically zero customization, with no editing tools or much choice in layouts.
The best all around: Shutterfly
In our smartphone-powered age of endless versions of the same shot, picking the best photos to make it into an album can be a Herculean task. That’s where original photo gift creator Shutterfly may win you over: it recently launched a service to design your photo book for you.
If you have hundreds of photos – say, from a wedding or your child’s first year – you can select a book size, then upload your entire album for a Shutterfly designer to curate and design into a book within three days. You can then edit the result, including adding or removing photos, cropping, adding captions and embellishments, or changing backgrounds. The service costs $9.99 (plus the price of the book itself), paid only if you choose to buy the book.
If you do choose to go your own way, there are hundreds of book styles to pick from, in classic themes such as Family, Spring Time, and Sports, as well as more design-focused themes such as Metallic or Modern. Some styles have a more guided design with themed words to set the tone – these styles are dubbed ‘Storytelling Styles’, and many of these contain somewhat gaudy embellishments, patterned backdrops and colored frames. If that's your style, there's plenty to please; if not, you’ll find plainer options that are easy to tweak toward an even more low-key look.
In the layout interface, the Storyboard feature automatically finds appropriate layouts for pics dragged to a particular page, or you can design each page manually as well.
The AutoFill option can chronologically sort and place photos, which you can rearrange later if necessary. Layouts are displayed in a vertical toolbar, with the current photo spread in the main window so that if you prefer a particular configuration, you can easily assign it.
Shutterfly also happens to be in our top picks for photo storage services, with free, unlimited photo storage for your camera and hard drive pictures.
The result: Pick from cloth, matte, leather or linen covers or go premium with crushed silk. Photo books can be sized from square 7”x7” to 12”x12” or 8"x11" to 11"x14" landscape, with options for lie-flat paper to show off those double-page spreads.
Ease of use: Though the album editor has several tools for adjust layouts and tweaking embellishments, the system is fairly simple to get to grips with.
Customizability: High. You can easily pick photo configurations you prefer based on dozens of preset layouts that mix and match picture sizes and text boxes for captioning.
Upload sources: Hard drive, Google Photos, Facebook, Instagram, Shutterfly; this is a bona fide photo storage service too.
Delivery time: Three to seven business days.
Cost: From $15.99, 7”x9” book; $219.99 for an 11”x14” book with crushed silk cover and lie-flat pages. (As of July 12, 2018, discounts were active on these photo books.)
Returns: Yes, no-quibble refunds.
You'll love: The high-quality options for album covers and heavyweight paper and the designer service, making Shutterfly an even better-rounded option for photo gifts for major occasions.
But: The available embellishments and backgrounds can be a little unnatural.
Best Photo Book Services Compared
|In a nutshell||A comprehensive photo book creator with tons of customization features||For creating sleek, modern photo books in a variety of shapes||An express photo album creator that works by auto-sorting your pictures into one of a few layouts||A desktop publishing tool for pro-level photo projects||A feature-heavy photo album creator with great choices for covers and paper|
|Ease of use||Intuitive, modern, fresh interface||Streamlined interface guides you through uploading and rearranging||Album creator is quick, simple to use||Must download a desktop client; more complex than other services yet still straightforward||Many features in a streamlined web editor, easy layout tweaks|
|Customizability||Very high; dozens of layouts, embellishments and backgrounds||Low; pictures can't be edited or moved once they're placed; wide choice of photo books, covers and paper||Minimal: rearrange, zoom in or out or change themes||High; more text functionality than any other service||High. You can easily pick photo configurations you prefer based on dozens of preset layouts that mix and match picture sizes and text boxes for captioning.|
|Upload sources||Hard drive, Facebook, Google Photos, SmugMug, Flickr, PhotoBucket, Instagram||Hard drive, Facebook, Instagram||Hard drive, Facebook, Google Photos, SmugMug, Amazon Cloud Drive, Flickr, Instagram||Hard drive, Flickr, 500px, Facebook, Instagram||Hard drive, Google Photos, Facebook, Instagram, Shutterfly|
|Editing||Yes; effects and photo-fixing||No||No||Minimal; rotations and reflections||Yes, filters|
|Cost of basic album||$15.99, 8”x6” softcover||$24.99, 8-photo accordion album||$29, 6”x6” lay-flat hardcover||$14.99, 7”x7” softcover||$15.99, 7”x9” 20-softcover|
|You'll love …||The ability to invite friends to add and edit photos||The unique hard copy formats||How fewer choices lets you create a snazzy photo album in minutes||The ability to execute your vision||Premium options like crushed silk covers and lie-flat pages and the designer service|
|But ...||Many of the themes go overkill on embellishments, so you'll have to hunt for low-key options||Considering the options for small-scale photo books that don't need high resolution, an inability to upload from Facebook and Instagram feels an omission||You can't change the cover title font||It's not for the casual photo album creator; you'll need time and a vision||The available embellishments and backgrounds can be a little unnatural|
[Images via Mixbook, Pinhole Press, Montage, Blurb and Shutterfly.]
Updated on 7/13/2018