Live: Best Cyber Monday deals Hawkeye review Pfizer COVID booster FAQ: New omicron variant and more PS5 restock tracker Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Get Back: The Beatles documentary
This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2021, our list of ideas, by topic, by recipient and by price, to help you discover the perfect gift.

A photo book full of happy memories is the perfect gift for friends and family -- especially this holiday season, where some families might be reuniting for the first time since the pandemic's onset. 

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, thanks to the digital era. But for me, nothing can replace cherishing family photos in a book on my lap.

gettyimages-88181660

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

Vlad Fishman/Getty Images

A number of reputable options from photo-book services are available online to help you compile a photo book project that can be mailed right to your door. We tested a few of the best photo-book services 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. 

 What should I consider before ordering a photo book?

  • What are the available book sizes?
  •  What are the cover and page style options? (Matte, glossy, standard, etc.)
  •  Can it be done on mobile, or is the site desktop-only?
  •  How long will the photo book take to arrive?
  •  Is it easy to upload photos?
  •  How much creative freedom do I have with templates?

Here are the best photo-book services to check out online. We'll update this periodically as new services become available and existing services expand their offerings.

Read more: The best printer for 2021

Shutterfly/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Shutterfly's easy-to-navigate site can help you assemble a photo book with over a dozen occasion templates and book sizes, and it offers tutorials and ideas to help you start entirely from scratch. 

You can also choose Shutterfly's Free Designer service, which lets you upload from 50 to 800 photos for Shutterfly experts to select the best images so your book isn't repetitive or blurry. You can customize how the expert chooses your photos, how images are sequenced and the amount of design elements you'd like. You'll be able to arrange your photos, which will go into preselected slots of the template you've chosen. Basically, you can upload photos of your favorite moments and have expert help in making a personalized coffee table book in no time.

You can add print-quality photography from your computer, or photos already uploaded to Shutterfly, Facebook or Instagram. Any photo you upload has to be in JPEG format. You can also use premade embellishments to spruce up your pages. 

How much it costs: Without sales tax, and taking advantage of a holiday discount at the time of publication, an 8-by-11-inch 20-page hardcover photo book would cost about $27 before shipping and tax. Shutterfly frequently runs sales, so you should be on the lookout for promo codes to apply to your personalized photo-book 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, perfect for photo gifts. There's also the option to put a book together from scratch.

Mixbook lets you upload print-quality photos from your computer or phone as well as Facebook and Instagram, or use the photos you've already uploaded to the site. 

I used Mixbook to organize my wedding photos and to make a photo book for my dad's birthday. 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. Both photo books turned out great and arrived in a timely fashion.

You can be as creative as you want and veer away from the template as you like -- or stick with the presets. As you build your book, you can click Preview to see how the final product will look. When you're satisfied with your book, click Order to finalize the photo 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 option styles. The combination you choose, and any extra pages, will determine your price. The service also frequently runs discounts and offers promo codes.

Choosing the regular semigloss page finish and a soft cover can help keep the price under $30. Designing a larger book with more bells and whistles like matte finish, a hard cover or leather with a dust jacket will raise the final price.

Snapfish/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Snapfish makes uploading photos to create 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 has a photo-editing user interface that's similar to Mixbook's, but it's more sensitive about image resolution. Both sites will flag images below the minimum resolution with a little exclamation mark, but some of the photos that were OK for Mixbook didn't pass Snapfish's resolution requirements. 

Snapfish has 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 have drop-shadows for each photo that made them feel more like traditional scrapbook pieces. 

When you're finished with your project, click Review and Buy to place your order. 

How much it costs: For an 8-by 8-inch hardcover 20-page photo book, at the time of publication, Snapfish charges $30. The site also offered to add on collage prints for $3.49 each in multiple sizes.

Walmart/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Get started on your photo book by creating an account on Walmart's website. You can customize your photograph 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 Delightful Days album template ($13.96 at the time of publication). The book was available for home delivery, same-day pick up and site-to-store delivery. Along with sizes, album templates have multiple options for covers, but depending on how you mix and match, not every style is available for each configuration. 

Walmart lets you upload digital photography 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 make any adjustments. However, Walmart provides fewer photo-editing options -- a black-and-white or a sepia filter, the ability to crop, zoom and tilt; brightness adjustment and red-eye elimination -- compared to other websites. While building your book, 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.

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've left any slots blank. Walmart's option is also the least expensive of the bunch: An 8-by-11-inch, 20-page glossy, hardcover photo book cost about $14 before shipping and tax, as of the time this was written. 

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. With this photo book company, you can make a photo book as a guest, no account needed. 

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

Mailpix guides you through the process step by step, so you won't feel lost or overwhelmed. In addition to choosing how many pages and how many images per page, Mailpix provides guidance on image sizing for the highest quality outcome. There's also an autofill option that helps save time putting all your images in. As you're building your book, Mailpix puts a red line around the page indicating that a section might be cropped out during the photo book printing. 

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, as with other sites -- the fancier the book and the more pages you add, the more expensive it gets. On Mailpix, every additional page costs $1.20.

An 8.5-by-11-inch hardcover book with a standard 20 pages came to $20 before tax and shipping -- ground shipping is $10, express shipping runs $23. It should also be noted that at the time this was written, Mailpix was offering a promo code for 75% off. 

Google Photos/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Instead of uploading your photos into another app, you can create a hassle-free photo book on your phone with Google Photos (it also works via desktop). In the Google Photos app, tap the shopping bag icon (on my Pixel 5 phone, it's at the top left of the screen). Tap Photo Books to get started, choose from a few premade albums based on your photos, like Best of Summer 2021 (the premade albums can be edited as well). 

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. You can add up to 245 photos to your book. Once you've got all the images you want, you can add a title for your book, hold and drag to rearrange pages, and further edit by tapping on a page. 

Google Photos is probably the easiest and 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 Mixbook, but you can still make creative layouts with multiple photos. 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 for 20 pages and 65 cents for each additional page. A softcover 7-by-7-inch photo book costs $10 for 20 pages and 35 cents for each additional page before shipping.

Blurb/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Making a photo book with Blurb has a steeper learning curve than the rest of the services on this list. Blurb is aimed at the professional photographer wanting to showcase their work and possibly sell it via a professional photo book. You can still use Blurb to make a photo book as a keepsake or a gift for a loved one, but you need to download the free Bookwright app extension to do so after making an account with the photo-book service. You can also use programs like Adobe InDesign and Adobe Lightroom, but I would only recommend using these if you already pay for them. 

To start your project after you've downloaded Bookwright, you can choose your book preferences (cover, size, page style). I used a YouTube tutorial from Blurb to get the hang of the program. At its barest bones, the program works like other photo-book creation sites. Import the photos you want, choose to autocreate the book or drag and drop the photos into the layouts you choose. You can also design your own layout and save it for future use. Clicking Manage Photos displays all your pages in a spread so you can rearrange as needed.

When you're finished with the project, you can click Upload to send it to Blurb. You can purchase physical copies of your photo book and/or get a digital version in PDF format. You can also upload editions to sell by clicking Sell Your Book instead of Order Your Book after uploading it. 

How much it costs: Blurb, like the other services, lets you customize your project to best fit your price range. There's a whole page of the website dedicated to all the pricing variations for photo books, trade books, magazines, e-books and wall art

It would be more than cumbersome to include every price, but for reference, a 20-page, 10-by-8-inch landscape photo book with an image-wrap hardcover and premium luster paper costs $41. Each additional page costs 43 cents. My test album was the cheapest combination: a 20-page, 7-by-7-inch softcover with standard paper for $15. Each additional page was 24 cents. The site also offers discounts for volume orders.

More options

Apple Photos

Apple no longer has an in-house photo book service, 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 you download will be available through 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 a membership, 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 11.25-by-8.75-inch hardcover photo book starts at $20. Costco also offers a two-pack of 8-by-8-inch softcover photo books starting at $20.