This is the time of year when I know it’s time to start thinking about putting together my yearly photo books but I dread looking at my iPhoto files– because 4,589 photos is a lot to wade through. But I’ve found some photo book services that help you to build great-looking photo books easily, quickly, and affordably. Some even do it for you. And the best part: They’re all under $30.

I buy photo books as gifts so I can document our family’s year together (and because admittedly I’m terrible at scrapbooking), but also because they’re perfect for so many people: Aunts and uncles, the grandparents, my kids’ teachers and coaches. And when you can make one for as low as $12, it can also be a sweet and meaningful addition to another pricier gift.

So, in no particular order, here are our favorite photo books under $30:

My Publisher photo books ($29.99, at top)
I first discovered My Publisher in our comparison of the top 11 photo book services. I like the simple, modern page designs that they offer, but I use them for two other reasons: First, their book-building software, which you download to your hard drive, allows you to import your latest iPhoto upload to your book. That means I can build my book all year long, bit by bit, rather than trying to sort through those 4,589 photos at once after Christmas. Second, My Publisher offers incredible discounts, so I always feel like I’m getting a good deal.


Books to Me photo books ($24/month)
If the idea of sorting through your camera feed is terrifying, go with Books to Me. They can automatically generate a photo book for you each month using photos right from your Instagram feed. It makes a great gift too; think of it as a photo-book-of-the-month club for your parents. Just remember to use the #nobtm hashtag on any Instagram shots you don’t want included in the book. Say, that no-kids office Christmas party?


Mosaic photo books ($20)
If you’re aiming to impress, I’m always recommending Mosaic photo books which also pull right from your photo roll or Instagram feed using an iOS or Android app you install. It couldn’t be easier. You are limited to just 20 photos here, but the high-quality, die-cut, hardcover book comes in a gift box that looks like you spent $120 on it.


Keepsy photo books | Cool Mom Picks best photo books under $30
Keepsy photo books ($14.95)
If you’re looking for a really easy way to put together a photo book, definitely check out Keepsy. There aren’t as many design options as some other services, but it’s so fast and easy you can honestly create a book from your phone while you wait for the barista to make your Venti Caramel Macchiato. For about the same price. Ha.


Blurb photo books | Cool Mom Picks best photo books under $30
Blurb custom photo books ($12.99)
If you laugh in the face of pre-designed templates, scrapbook-y patterns and cutesie clip art images, definitely hit Blurb. This highly customizable site allows you to create a quality book that looks like it came from a NY publishing house, not an overnight online print shop. The books can get super expensive but remarkably, they start under $15. Sweet.


Related: A comparison of the 11 top custom photo book services for fantastic gifts 

Impressed photo books | Cool Mom Picks best photo books under $30
Impressed photo books ($29)
Your toddler’s pictures are so completely adorable, there’s no way you could make them cuter, right? Well how about adding voice recordings as you flip the pages of your photo book? Yeah, it’s a little gimmicky–but also maybe something I’d love to have. And I know a few long-distance grandparents who would love it too.


Shutterfly photo books ($14.99)
I have a shared Shutterfly page with my extended family, so we can all share family photos in one place using this tried-and-true service. But I’ve also created pages for my kids, sorted by school classes, Scout troops, and basketball teams. (I told you I’m a photo book fanatic.) This makes creating a book from Shutterfly so easy—and I have access to so many more photos than just the ones I managed to snap from my phone at our big events. But even if you haven’t been using the service you’ll find it incredibly easy and intuitive, and you can make it easy with tons of pre-made templates or go off on your own.


Snapfish photo book | Cool Mom Picks best photo books under $30

Snapfish photo books ($12)
Okay so I’m not a scrapbooker, but you might be. Or maybe you want to be? If you love the look of scrapbooking but want to forgo the work and expense of doing it yourself, check out the embellishments you can add to photo books at Snapfish–a site that has come a long way since we covered their personalized photo gifts a few years ago. Admittedly some of the designs are a tad cheesy, but they do have a few decent ones, plus the option to create designs using a Martha Stewart CraftStudio app.


Pinhole Press photo book | Cool Mom Picks best photo books under $30

Pinhole Press ($29.99)
We kind of love all of the custom photo gifts at Pinhole Press (their photo wall  calendars are in our holiday gift guide this year) including the very affordable spiral bound mini board books. These are a great way to tell a simple story with your pictures. In fact I’m planning to create a book that collects all our Christmas traditions–decorating the tree, drinking hot chocolate, looking at lights in the neighborhood–through photos. In fact, looking through the book together might even become our next Christmas tradition.


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