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The best photo books in 2020: create a personalized picture album online

The best photo books in 2020: create a personalized picture album online
(Image credit: Louise Carey / Digital Camera World)

The best photo books are fantastic way to celebrate your favorite photos – and liven up those dull lockdown afternoons. Whether you want to reminisce on your warmest memories of family and friends, or you just finally have time to get your best work printed up, our round-up of the best photo books is here to help you choose the best product for you.

One of our favorite aspects of photobooks is that it's the perfect way to reflect on your favorite memories – but you can also share this fun with your family and friends. If you're looking for a new way to connect with people during lockdown, why not create a photo book celebrating your relationship and send it to them. Not only will this brighten their spirits, it'll also give you a fun way to spend your time. 

• See advice on how to choose a photobook service

The best photo books are fully customizable, allowing you to place your images onto the cover and inside the pages. If this sounds like it would be complicated, don't worry – most photo book manufacturers provide online software that make the design process incredibly easy. 

The best photo books in 2020

(Image credit: Adorama Pix)

1. Printique

Best photo book for professionals

Ships to: USA, Canada | Cover options: Hardcover, softcover, leather, die-cut, fabric | Paper options: Luster, glossy, silk, deep matte, linen and pebble | Sizes: Landscape, square, portrait

Excellent print quality
Good value for money
Professional service
Can't be edited after adding to cart
More expensive than some

Printique is the online service of Adorama, the well-known photo store in New York. And the company's expertise in photo printing is obvious in the quality of its products and finish it delivers. If you're looking to create a professional photography portfolio, you'd be hard-pushed to find a better photo book service to do it.   

The best photo book options are available in square, portrait and landscape format, in 14 different sizes, plus there are six paper weights to choose from. All of the hardcover, fabric, and leather photo books options have pages that lay flat, which, unlike other companies on this list, Printique doesn't charge extra for. 

The Printique photo editor interface looks a little busy, but is fairly intuitive and easy to use, clearly highlighting book edges, where and how to upload images and add special features including stickers, shapes and frames. The only slight downside to this service is the lack of editing options after a product has been added to the cart, so make sure you're completely finished creating your book before doing so.

(Image credit: Future / Louise Carey)

2. MixBook

The best budget photo book, with regular discounts

Ships to: Worldwide | Cover options: Soft, glossy, matte, leather | Paper options: Semi-gloss, pearl finish, ultra-thick premium matte | Sizes: Landscape, square, portrait

Simple-to-use software
Most affordable option
Quality could be better

When it comes to providing the best photo book service, Mixbook is certainly a tough one to beat. Not only are its products available to ship worldwide, Mixbook often runs sizable discounts, making its range of photo books (and other products such as photo calendars or photo prints) a veritable steal. 

The Mixbook software is incredibly easy to use - you don't have to download anything, as it's all done in your internet browser. There are nearly 400 fully customizable templates, backgrounds and stickers to choose from, which enables you to create a perfectly polished photo book that will impress anyone who sees it. 

Mixbook photo books come in three versatile paper types, semi-gloss, pearl finish and an ultra-thick premium matte paper for its lay flat photo book option.

We ordered a 8.5x8.5" Classic Square Glossy Hardcover Photo Book. We found the process of creating a Mixbook photo book simple and easy to navigate, with plenty of customization options available for each of the many templates Mixbook offers. Uploading images to the site was simple, and arranging them on the pages didn't take long at all.

However, when the photo book arrived we did have a few issues with the quality of the front cover of the book. There was some fringing on edges of the image and the logo. While it wasn't immediately obvious, it was definitely noticeable when inspecting at close quarters. In addition, the colors were inaccurate on the cover as well. While the original image used for the cover photo had been graded with warm oranges, the printed cover skewed more red. 

However, most of our issues were with the cover of the book. The images printed on the inside were true-to-color and printed nicely. Plus, the design and layout of the book were genuinely beautiful and helped bring the photos to life. 

(Image credit: Picaboo)

3. Picaboo

Professional photo books with excellent customisation options

Ships to: Worldwide | Cover options: Glossy, standard | Paper options: Standard, lay flat, Premium Lustre | Sizes: Landscape, square, portrait

Good print quality
Excellent customisation
Easy to use
Not the highest print quality

Picaboo's print quality might not quite be on par with others, but what it lacks (only slightly) in finish, it makes up for in features and customization options. 

Its software is super-easy to use, with features such as backgrounds and clip art option easily located to help you achieve the desired look. The print quality is of a high standard, and the added option to polish photos to help them match backgrounds goes a long way to helping get that professional finish. 

(Image credit: Shutterfly)

4. Shutterfly

Quality printing and lots of add-ons for the perfect finish

Ships to: Worldwide | Cover options: Hardcover (matt/glossy), die-cut in cloth, leather | Paper options: Standard matte, ultra-thick satin finish | Sizes: Landscape, square, portrait

Simple to use
Lots of templates
Finish can be inconsistent

A brilliant all-rounder, Shutterfly is another of the best photo books services to offer really simple to use software to help create a great-looking book. There are loads of templates and backgrounds to choose from, as well as a Make My Book service, with which you provide Shutterfly designers with details of your requirements and they do all the hard work for you. 

Shutterfly also offers a number of great discounts throughout the year, so if your need for a photo book isn't immediate, a good offer is always just around the corner.

(Image credit: Future / Louise Carey)

5. Snapfish

A reliable, simple-to-use photo book service

Ships to: Wordwide | Cover options: Softcover, hardcover, matte hardcover, hardcover (glossy), hardcover lay flat | Paper options: Standard, glossy, lay flat | Sizes: Landscape, square, portrait

Easy to use
Accurate colors
Quality could be better

Probably one of the best-known photo book services, Snapfish has been in the image business for the past two decades, so its staff know a thing or two about photography services. Evidence of which is clear in its simple drag-and-drop photo book editor, which guides you through every part of the creation process, including how to pick from over 120 themes. 

Snapfish is another company that offers money-saving deals all year round, so you're highly likely to get a good price on your next photo book. It's worth noting that these price reductions are an attractive opportunity, but if it's a real high-end professional finish that you're after, you might want to opt for one of the other services on this list. 

We were fairly pleased with the photo book we received from Snapfish. The color accuracy was good throughout the book - and even on the cover too. In other photo books that we reviewed we tended to have trouble with the cover printing the colors of our image accurately. Either the skin tones would end up as a muddy red tone, or they’d be so overly saturated with orange that it would look ridiculous. However, we also noticed that the cover of the Snapfish photo book was wonky, with the two pieces of cardboard slightly askew. 

It’s also worth noting that while Snapfish’s offering was probably the most accurate color reproduction for the cover out of all the photo books, it was still quite heavily saturated. To ensure you’re happy with your photo book front cover, we recommend avoiding images that are already highly saturated. 

In terms of the rest of the book, the printing quality inside the book is fairly good. The color accuracy is decent and, although the prints could be sharper, the image quality as a whole is fine. 

(Image credit: Walgreens Photo)

6. Walgreens Photo

Turn your memories in to a beautiful page-turner with ease

Ships to: USA | Cover options: Softcover, hardcover, linen, leather, premium lay flat | Paper options: Standard, glossy, lay flat | Sizes: Landscape, square, portrait

Fast service
Easy to use editor
Lacks quality comparatively 

Walgreens Photo is one of the best photo book sites to use to make a quick and simple custom photo book. And by quick we mean the same day if you're able to pick it up. Its easy-to-use editor means you can put your design together in no time, and with the company constantly running discount offers, it won't break the bank either.

If you want a photo book in a hurry, you always run the risk of sacrificing quality. And while other services on this list undoubtedly offer a superior finish, Walgreen's still offers a very decent service in terms of print production and value for money.  

(Image credit: Future / Louise Carey)

7. Mimeo Photos

Despite fiddly software, you can't beat Mimeo's quality

Ships to: USA, UK | Cover options: Softcover, hardcover | Paper options: Standard

Great quality
Inside photos true to color
Cover photo colors not quite accurate
Have to download an app

Mimeo Photos is a bit of an oddity on this round-up, as you can't actually buy a photo book from their website. Instead, you have to download an app in order to design your book and place your order - and the service is only available on MacOS. However, despite these admittedly frustrating roadblocks, we were actually very pleased with the quality of the photo book that we received. 

Mimeo Photos is as a third-party Photos app extension for MacOS, allowing you to create and edit an Apple Photo project to be printed. There are over 50 theme options, including well-known Apple favorites and you can customize layouts and backgrounds for your own personal touch. You can also apply edits, adjustments and filters to any photo directly within the app's design page. 

Once we'd downloaded the app extension, the software itself was relatively easy to use. However, it should be said that there didn't seem to be a marked enough difference between this system and other online-based systems to justify having to download an entirely new app for your computer.

However, where Mimeo Photos really shone was in the quality of the book we received. We ordered a hard cover book, which arrived with an attractive dust jacket (although the cover image was also printed on the actual cover of the book as well). 

The only gripe we have about this book was that the saturation seems to have been pushed up for the front cover image, as the skin tones on both the dust jacket and the hard cover itself became a luminescent orange. However, the photos inside the book were beautifully printed. They were nice and sharp, with none of the fuzziness experienced in cheaper options. Unlike the front cover, the colors also printed accurately. 

If you have a Mac computer, you want a great quality photo book, and you don't mind downloading an app to get it, then we'd definitely recommend Mimeo Photos.

Choosing a photobook

How to choose the best photobook service

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. First you need to work out what purpose your photo book will serve and then determine which service best suits your needs. For example, creating a professional photography portfolio will require high quality paper and printing services to ensure no image quality loss. 

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. Here are five tips to help you get started:

You don't need to prepare your pictures in any particular way. Regular JPEGs are fine.

Some photo book services offer book design tools in your own web browser, others offer free apps you download and run on your computer.

Your pictures may be cropped. This may apply if you're using multi-photo page templates or printing a picture right up to the edges of the page (borderless).

Some books come with a lay-flat binding, which makes them easier to leave open.

You will usually get a choice of paper finish. Glossy paper is good for contrast and color, matte paper is better at hiding fingerprints and reflections, soft-sheen lustre papers offer a good middle-ground compromise.

We have listed our choice of the best US photobook services – however many of these will ship worldwide.

How to make a photo book

Tips for making a photo book

1. Select your photos 

Before you even think about powering up the photo book creator tool on your chosen website, we recommend selecting all the photos you want to use first. If most of them are on your phone, then this is the perfect time to transfer them across onto your computer so that they're ready to go.

2. Choose your design

Most photo book websites are filled with hundreds of different designs, which can be somewhat overwhelming when you first scroll through the site. However, most providers will split their photo books into different sections, such as weddings, travel, family and more.

Choose the most accurate section for you and then scroll through until you find something that catches your eye. While there will be many designs with bold, brilliant colors, we'd actually recommend starting off with something simple. Not only will this give your photos their chance to shine, but you'll also be able to add your own design flourishes in later. 

3. Arrange your photos

If you were going to read an ordinary book, you'd expect there to be a coherent narrative there, so you'll want to do the same with your photo book. While we're not asking you to construct storylines worthy of your favorite soap opera, there are still ways that you can create a story that will lead your viewer through the photo book.

The easiest way to do this is pay attention to the chronology of your photos. For example, if you're uploading images from your childhood, then start off with your baby pictures and then work your way up to graduation/ wedding photos.

4. Make bold design choices

Most photo book websites allow you to customize your design with stickers and text, which means you can add an extra layer of sophistication to your design. However, don't be tempted to overload your photo book with them – less is definitely more! Instead, choose select pages and add an elegant sticker for a final touch. 

Read more

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