Photography

Need a last-minute Mother's Day gift? Make her an online photo book


This story is part of Mother’s Day Gift Guide 2020. CNET editors round up the hottest gadgets for Mom this year.

One of my mom’s favorite parts of Facebook is the Memories section. She’s always loved pictures and has a cabinet full of photo albums curated from years of birthday parties, vacations and family events to prove it. While the days of dropping off film canisters at a 24-hour photo counter and carefully arranging the prints in a physical album may be in the past for many, I find there’s still no replacement for actually holding those family photos in my lap. 

Given the coronavirus lockdowns, quarantines and shelter-in-place orders, now is as good a time as any to go through of your old photos — not just prints, but also Instagram photos, Facebook albums and any other social media accounts you may have forgotten about. And, with the quality of cameras always improving, even phone pictures are worthy of attention in a gorgeous glossy book.

If the mother figure in your life is like mine, a photo book could be the perfect gift for Mother’s Day, which is coming up fast on Sunday. While you might not be able to present the book in person, you can share a digital copy, and mail the book version. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization say it’s unlikely that you’ll contract COVID-19 through packages, but if you’re nervous, you can also just save your project and order it later. You can even FaceTime with your mom and scroll through a preview of the book if you want (I promise, she’ll still love it). 

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Putting a custom photo book together can be a relaxing hobby to take up.


Vlad Fishman/Getty Images

There are a number of reputable services available online to help you build photography books that can be mailed right to your door. We tested a few to see how easy they are to work with, though we haven’t actually gotten any books made yet, so we can’t compare the quality of the final products. But everyone needs a place to start. Here are a few of the best photo books to check out for Mom:

Read more: The best printer for 2020

Shutterfly/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

 Shutterfly is one of the better known digital photo book services. The site can help you assemble a photo book with over a dozen occasion templates and book sizes, or with tutorials and ideas if you want to start entirely from scratch. You can also choose Shutterfly’s Simple Path, which uses the site’s software to instantly lay out your photos — you need only rearrange them if you like, and decorate and add captions. Basically, you’ll have a personalized photo coffee table book in no time.

You can add photography from your computer, or photos already uploaded to Shutterfly, Facebook or Instagram. You can also use stock photos from Shutterfly’s Art Library. Any photo you upload has to be in JPEG format. The website doesn’t take long to learn to navigate, even if you aren’t very digitally savvy. If you need a bit of inspiration, you can click Idea Pages for some premade templates. 

How much it costs: Without the sales tax, an 8- by 11-inch 20-page hardcover photo book would cost about $40 before shipping and tax. Shutterfly frequently runs sales, so you should be on the lookout for promo codes to apply to your purchase to save some money. If you add or delete something from your project, Shutterfly will tell you that the price of your project has changed.

Mixbook/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Mixbook’s minimalist layout makes it very easy to use. The site has dozens of fun photo book themes — family, seasonal, wedding, travel, baby — and more specific designs in each category. There’s also the option to put a book together from scratch.

Mixbook lets you upload photos from your computer, phone, Facebook, Instagram or Smugmug or use the photos you’ve already uploaded to the site. 

I used Mixbook to organize my wedding photos, just a few years after the fact. It was easy to add and edit photos, text, extra pages and embellishments to the template I chose. You can swap themes at any time, but from what I can tell, you have to change the pages manually, though the photos will transfer over.

You can be as creative as you want to be, and veer away from the template as you like — or stick with it. As you build your book, you can click Preview to see how the final product will look along the way. When you’re satisfied with your book, click Order to finalize the book size, page and cover finish. 

How much it costs: Mixbook offers a lot of customization options that can affect your final price. Photo books can be ordered in landscape, portrait or square shape in 6- by 6-inch, 8.5- by 8.5-inch, 10- by 10-inch and 12- by 12-inch sizes. Mixbook offers four different page finishes and five different cover styles. The combination you choose, and any extra pages, will determine your price. 

Choosing the regular semigloss page finish and a softcover can help keep prices under $20. Designing a larger book with more bells and whistles like hardcover matte or leather with a dust jacket will raise the final price. For example, my 8.5- by 8.5-inch 39-page hardcover wedding photo book came to about $30 with a discount code, before tax and shipping.

Snapfish/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Snapfish makes uploading photos to make an album super easy by organizing all of your uploads into a file. From there, you can let Snapfish autofill your photo book or add your images manually. Snapfish had a similar user interface to Mixbook, but was more sensitive about image resolution. For example, on both sites if an uploaded image’s resolution is too low, it’s flagged with a little exclamation mark. Some of the photos that were OK for Mixbook didn’t pass Snapfish’s resolution requirements. 

Snapfish had dozens of templates and themes like Summer Snapshots, Grad Nostalgia, Family Farmhouse, Storybook Love and Moments with Mom. If you picked a template to start with, you can still swap pages for other backgrounds or change the book theme entirely. Some of the embellishments with certain templates had drop-shadows for each photo that made them feel more like traditional scrapbook pieces. 

How much it costs: When you’re finished with your project, click Review and Buy to place your order. For an 8- by 11-inch hardcover 20-page photobook, Snapfish charged $40. The site also offered to print nine 4- by 6-inch glossy prints from the album for 9 cents each. 

Walmart/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Get started on your photo book by making an account on Walmart’s website. You can customize your book’s size, from 5 by 7 inches all the way up to 12 by 12 inches, as well as the cover type, binding and how fast you want it delivered. Since I already had the photos available, I tested out Walmart’s All That Glitters wedding album template. You can swap templates at any time, but the photos you’ve placed won’t transfer, and you’ll need to put them back into the new layout.

Walmart lets you upload photos from your computer, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Dropbox and Google Photos, but the site will only hold onto the photos for one year. After dropping a photo in, click it to start the editing process if you want to make adjustments. However, Walmart provides fewer editing options — a black-and-white or a sepia filter, the ability to crop, zoom, tilt, brightness adjustment and red-eye elimination — compared to other websites.

It was easy to drag and drop photos or swap layout pages in the template. One of the downsides to Walmart’s photo books though was the lack of embellishments. The program lets you add text, but “stickers,” like those on other sites, would’ve taken the design process up a level. 

How much it costs: Once you’re finished with your project, click Next to review your photo book in a storyboard format before you order. There’s also an option to preview the entire book page by page if you want a more detailed review before ordering. You’ll get an alert if you left any slots blank, so don’t panic. Walmart’s option is also the least expensive of the bunch: An 8- by 11-inch 20-page hardcover photo book cost about $19 before shipping and tax. The store offers free shipping on orders over $35.

Mailpix

If you’re not keen on making an account and getting a slew of emails from a company, Mailpix might be the way to go. You can make a photobook as a guest, no account needed. 

Mailpix offers premium ultra layflat, layflat, hardcover and softcover photo books, ranging from 8-by-8 inches to 11-by-14 inches in size. The site recommends designing the book on a computer and using JPEG files. You can pick out styles for almost every occasion — birth celebrations, Mother’s and Father’s day, holidays like Christmas, Halloween and Hanukkah, birthdays and pets. 

Choose a layout and upload your photos. You can change the page layout at any time and the photos you’ve added to that page will adapt (unlike with Walmart’s service). One thing I didn’t like about Mailpix was the red line that appeared around the page indicating that a section might be cropped out during printing. This made me a bit nervous — especially with embellishment-heavy pages, and I found myself distracted while I tried to imagine who my page would turn out.

I experimented with a cute retro design that looked similar to something you might be able to recreate with real scrapbook materials. There was a nice diversity in page layouts, and the site warns you if a photo’s resolution is too low, so you can adjust. In addition, Mailpix updates your price total as you go along, so you’re not caught off-guard by the final price at checkout. 

How much it costs: When you’re satisfied with your book, name it and choose how many copies you’d like to order. Select a cover style, add a photo if you’d like and check out. The prices for the book styles and amount of pages vary, like with the other sites — the fancier the book and more pages you add, the more expensive it gets. On Mailpix, every extra page cost $1.20.

An 8-by-8-inch softcover book with 22 pages came $37.40 before tax and shipping — ground shipping is $9, but Mailpix had a spring sale going on and two promo codes available as well, which will lower your price a bit. 

Google Photos/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Instead of uploading your photos into another app, you can create a photo book with less hassle with Google Photos. In the Google Photos app, tap the For You tab (on my Pixel 3 phone, it’s at the bottom of the screen, but it also works on desktop) and then tap the Prints button. Tap Photo Books to get started with a hardcover 9- by 9-inch or a softcover 7- by 7-inch. Both books start at 20 pages and can go up to 100 pages.

Google will give you a few premade albums based on your photos, like Best of Winter 2019, or you can build your own by choosing an album you already made. There’s also the option to start from scratch and manually add all the photos by tapping Make Photo Book at the bottom of the screen.

Google Photos is probably the most basic choice if you’re going to order a photo book. It offers a minimalist layout on white pages that you can add captions to. There aren’t embellishments like there are on Snapfish or Mixbook, but you can still make creative layouts with multiple photos. Hold down a page and drag it to rearrange or tap to edit. Google Photos still has editing options in its app for you to add filters before creating a book. 

How much it costs: A hardcover 9- by 9-inch photo book costs $20 and 65 cents for each additional page. A softcover 7- by 7-inch photo book costs $10 and 35 cents for each additional page before shipping.

More options

Apple Photos

Apple shut down its in-house photo book service in 2018. But you can download project expansion apps to create photo books with iOS devices like iPhone and Mac. Open the Photos app and choose File > Create > Book. From there you can download third-party apps Motif, Mimeo Photos, White Wall, ifolor Designer, Mpix, Fujifilm Prints and Gifts or Wix Photo Albums to start a project. Any app your download will be available off of Book when you create a new project in the Photos app.

Costco

Costco requires a paid membership to access its photo center. If you have one, you can build three different types of 30- to 100-page photo books with multiple themes, captions and layout designs. 

The 12- by 12-inch premium layflat starts at $40 and has a special spine to accommodate bigger photo spreads. The 11¼- by 8¾-inch hardcover photo book starts at $20. Costco also offers a two-pack of 8- by 8-inch softcover photo books starting at $20.


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