What is a photo book?
Digital photography has revolutionized the way we take pictures; however, it’s all too easy to leave your best images languishing on a hard drive, rather than printing them for everyone to enjoy.
But if printing photos for a photo album is too last-century for you, try a photo book instead. Photo books are fully customizable books that feature your photographs printed directly on the cover and inside pages. They're easy to make and are the ideal memento or gift to celebrate or remember a special event.
There are many companies providing photo book services and deciding which one to use isn’t easy, with each offering numerous book sizes, designs, and paper options.
Below, we look at six of the best photo book services and printers. Every book we made contained the same colour and monochrome images, along with a printer test chart image to expose any printing anomalies. We picked a landscape-format book close to A4 size.
But even high print quality isn’t much good unless you’re able to nail the layout and design. That comes down to each manufacturer’s accompanying book creation software, and what tricks it will let you pull off.
Five things to look for in a photo book service
- Proper preparation There’s no need to convert RGB images to CMYK before uploading. Just stick with high-resolution JPEGs and you can’t go far wrong.
- Creation location Most companies offer online browser-based book creators for speed and simplicity, whereas downloadable software can offer more options and more exacting customization.
- On the edge Edge-to-edge printing maximizes a photo’s impact, but the borderless look will also slightly crop your shot. It’s more apparent on a hardback cover, as the edges wrap around the board.
- Flat out A lay-ﬂat binding avoids the problem of images disappearing where pages meet the spine. It’s ideal when a photo spans across two pages, plus the binding ensures that your book will stay open by itself.
- Finishing touch Glossy paper helps boost colour vibrancy and contrast, whereas a matte ﬁnish can be better at hiding ﬁngerprints. Soft-sheen lustre pages strike a good compromise.
For sheer variety of options, quality, and ease of design, it's hard to fault CEWE's photo book choices.
From the homepage onwards, you feel like you're in safe hands with CEWE's website, which guides you helpfully through the options on offer. Aside from the usual formats of portrait and landscape oriented photo books and lay-flat options, the paper choices range from high gloss and true matte paper, up to classic, gloss and matte photographic paper. You'll also find highlights options which allow you to add gloss touches to certain areas of the cover, even extending to silver and gold foil treatments. With a range of cover options including faux leather and linen, you should find exactly the finish you're after. Another big win is the quality of the software. You can install to your desktop or mobile device, or use the online offering, but all are simple to use and offer pre-made templates for the more popular book themes like wedding, travel and family. A dedicated 24/7 UK-based customer support team, and 14 day money-back guarantee are the icing on the cake.
Bob Books impresses with a crisp binding and a printed gloss hardback cover that’s unmatched for colour vibrancy, sharpness and dynamic range.
We opted for premium Lustre Photographic pages with a lay-ﬂat binding. This costs a reasonable £9 over a 26-page Classic hardback book, and it’s well worth it. The 300gsm paper weight feels more like card, and the lustre ﬁnish is sheer class. Then there’s Bob’s print process, which is a cut above all but Loxley’s.
Even under minute scrutiny, there’s no sign of individual ink droplets, and images are the sharpest here. Colours are vibrant yet accurate, skin tones are near-perfect, and monochrome images are free from colour casts. We couldn’t even spot any issues with our tricky printer test pattern image. Five unique book design options are available. We went for the slick, easy-to-use online creator, but there’s also downloadable software, an iPad app, and even a professional design service.
This size photo book starts at just £25, but a photo printed hardcover adds an extra £5, and we also specced lay-ﬂat premium pages that carry a £0.25 surcharge per page.
However, like Photobox, Bonusprint often runs very generous discount codes. Book creation using the online designer is remarkably effortless. The book itself arrived in four working days, and it looks the part. Cover image quality isn’t quite as crisp as Bob Books’ offering, but comes very close for colour saturation, contrast and overall punch. Inside, the thick, lay-ﬂat pages have marginally less lustre than Bob’s, but are just as thick and feel equally luxurious. Like the cover image, print resolution is ever so slightly lower than Bob’s, leaving individual ink droplet patterns visible on larger areas of solid colour, and causing very ﬁne detail to appear slightly grainy, but we are nit-picking. Mono images appear neutral, and skin tones natural.
Whitewall's online book creator offers an automatic layout function that arranges all your chosen images throughout the book, so you only need tweak the ﬁnal look.
The manual design process is almost as convenient, being snappy and well designed. Once ordered, the book arrived in a joint-fastest time of a very rapid four working days. In Standard Landscape size, the book is close to a 3:2 ratio, and you can spec up to a whopping 252 pages.
The 170gsm Standard Silk Matte paper is relatively thin and not particularly luxurious, though. We’d recommend stepping up to the 250gsm premium paper, as the price difference is negligible. It’s just a pity there isn’t a lay-ﬂat option available. That said, print quality is good, with excellent colour and contrast, an attractive cover print, and neutral monochrome reproduction. Our test pattern image is presented extremely well, although outright print resolution isn’t quite as high as Bob Books’. Skin tones could also be a touch warmer.
Photobox is an online printing giant that almost always has generous discount offers available, so there’s a good chance you won’t pay the full price we’ve quoted.
It also offers well-polished online book creation software that’s easy to use with a helpful 3D book preview, plus plenty of layout, background and cropping choices. We went for Photobox’s Personalized photo book that comes with a printed hardcover in either A4 or A3 size. In standard spec, with 170gsm paper, it lacks some luxury, but this can be boosted by upgrading to 230gsm premium paper. Print quality is also a mixed bag, with a relatively low resolution that leaves ink droplet patterning visible under close inspection. Consequently, ﬁne detail in our test pattern isn’t the best, and even regular photos viewed at a normal distance are visibly less sharp than those in the Bob or Loxley books. On the plus side, however, skin tones are well reproduced, while black-and-white shots are free from any discernible colour casts.
6. Loxley Colour
Where most of the printers here cater to the mass market, Loxley is a high-end outﬁt catering to enthusiasts and professional photographers.
Consequently, you’ll need to download the Loxley Designer Pro software to compile your book. Compared to online creators, this is a bit ﬁddly and frustrating, with an archaic interface design. Thankfully, the ﬁnished book is far more impressive. Its 3:2 aspect ratio is ideal for DSLR images, while the Fujicolor Professional DP II Lustre paper has an identical ﬁnish to Bob’s paper, but is even thicker: it’s stunning.
Print quality is equally gorgeous, with sumptuous colour and contrast, the best skin tones on test, and excellent monochrome quality. There’s no ink droplet patterning visible under close scrutiny, and even our challenging test pattern image printed totally ﬂawlessly. But Loxley can’t take top honours due to a matte cover image that lacks punch (gloss is available, though), while images aren’t as sharp as the Bob book.
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