Zenfolio vs. SmugMug

10 min read


Short version

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What are Zenfolio and SmugMug?

Short answer, they are website builders targetted specifically towards photographers. Both come with features and perks only relevant to photographers.

In order to have a website, we need some fundamentals and tools. The tool, in this case, is the builder. All website builders will get us a website to showcase our work and sell products. The big question is "how" we archive this.

Website Builder

Content Blocks

Because Zenfolio uses a layout canvas builder, there're no blocks of content. These are already fixed onto the layout. SmugMug offers a variety of content blocks, such as text, gallery, video, social, discovery and more.


Zenfolio uses a layout canvas builder, while SmugMug uses a grid canvas builder. A layout canvas offers the least amount of customization. You don't decide where your menu appears or logo for example. You also cannot change the order of your content. SmugMug uses a grid canvas and this allows you to drop blocks of content on your website. You can choose where the menu appears or your logo.


Zenfolio offers 4 templates and SmugMug offers 21. For SmugMug, you need to go for Power plan and higher ($9-$48) to get access to the 21 templates, otherwise, you get one.


Zenfolio and SmugMug do offer extensive themes. Themes are a change of color and fonts only. While the layout remains the same, the sphere can be changed. Zenfolio offers 32 themes and SmugMug 20+

Custom Templates

There's no ecosystem for custom templates for Zenfolio and SmugMug. You cannot buy and install off-the-shelf templates. Zenfolio does mention "Custom free-form Web pages editor", which is unclear what it means, but it's definitely not a website builder. SmugMug requires hiring a developer or getting dirty coding yourself.


Zenfolio has three and SmugMug has four plans.


  1. Starter $7/month
  2. Pro $28/month
  3. Advanced $42/month


  1. Basic $6/month
  2. Power $9/month
  3. Portfolio $24/month
  4. Business $42/month

The most notable is the huge price jumps between the packages. Zenfolio's Starter plan allows you to use your own domain. SmugMug allows this with a Power plan. At some point, you want to start selling your products. You need to make the jump from $7/$9 to $42/month. That's a giant leap!

Both Zenfolio and SmugMug lack crucial features for running a store as we will see later. In no way is the price jump justified.


A portfolio with your own domain starts at $7/month with Zenfolio and $9/month for SmugMug. As a foundation for a photography website, a portfolio needs to be fast. Nobody likes slow loading websites. And it's also a requirement for ranking on search engines. Page Speed is measured using Time to First Byte and Full Load Time.

Time to First Byte

  • Zenfolio: 1 sec.
  • SmugMug: 0.7 sec

Full Load Time

  • Zenfolio: 6 sec.
  • SmugMug: 9.2 sec.

The user experience this type of Page Speed as a crashed website. They get to see something quickly, but then it takes forever before they can scroll the page. Usually, the user is gone within 3 sec. thinking it's a non-working website.

Much of the Full Load Time can be fixed by optimizing the images. This can be done by the user, but considering SmugMug is made for photographers, they should take the blame and fix it.


After a portfolio, we need a store for selling products. Both Zenfolio and SmugMug support selling digital and physical products. A store feature starts at $28/month with Zenfolio's Advanced plan and $24/month with SmugMug Portfolio plan.

Digital Sale

The digital sale happens all on your website. This means an end-to-end shopping experience for your customer. The customer never leaves your website. At the price point of almost $30, this is a requirement, not a feature or perk.

Zenfolio charges 7% and SmugMug 15% commission. This is one of the highest among website builders. SmugMug also charges $0.50 on top of the 15% if the order is less than $10.

Physical Sale

Zenfolio and SmugMug allow you to sell physical photographic products. Here also applies the sales fees of 7% for Zenfolio and 15% for SmugMug.


The number of products you can sell is a combined count of what the connected labs offer. Zenfolio claims 2000+ products, while SmugMug claims 1000+ products you can sell.

Shopping Cart

Both Zenfolio and SmugMug offer an integrated shopping cart. Your customers never leave your website, which is an end-to-end shopping experience.

Check Out

Check out also happens on your website, with both Zenfolio and SmugMug.

Payment Gateways

Zenfolio and SmugMug allow your customers to pay using PayPal and Credit Cards. It remains unclear which payment gateway they use for processing credit cards.


Because Zenfolio has more labs connected, covering more of a global market than SmugMug, they accept more currencies. While SmugMug can cover the global market and accept payments in various currencies, the shipping lacks.


The physical sale is done by selling products offered by selected labs. The selected labs are:

Zenfolio: Mpix, MpixPro, fotoflot, PictureItPostage, OneVision, Picto, Pikto, NuShots, and NuLab

SmugMug: Bay Photo, WHCC, EZPrints, and Loxley (UK)

These companies take care of fulfillment. Zenfolio allows self-fulfill, while SmugMug doesn't. Even when you do self-fulfill, you still pay 7% sales fee to Zenfolio.


Shipping depends on who fulfills your order. While you cannot control this, there's something to consider. If you want to cover the multiple markets, you need to offer your products twice on your website. This is because when you make a price list, you can connect only one lab to it. If the lab is in the US, they will use Postal Service. That's how SmugMug works. Zenfolio, on the other hand, allows you to sell multiple products from multiple vendors.


Another key factor in succeeding in online commerce is Upselling. It's the act of convincing people to make a purchase in exchange for a reward. For example, using coupons, making suggestions about what others purchased during checkout or offering free shipping when the customer buys for a certain amount.

Abandoned Cart Emails

When it comes to online commerce, the competition is fierce. Furthermore, it's much easier for people to look around, shop around and leave without checking out. In fact, 75% of the carts are abandoned! This is just the reality of eCommerce.

One tactic to get the customers back is Abandon Cart Emails. It will be sent after an amount of time, reminding potential customers that they left a cart behind somewhere. Both Zenfolio and SmugMug lack this much-needed requirement.

Domain name

Many builders offer domains in one or more flavors: a subdomain, free domains, paid domains, and custom domains.


Zenfolio and Smugmug both offer subdomains. Zenfolio gives you yourname.zenfolio.com and with SmugMug you get yourname.smugmug.com

Free Domains

Neither Zenfolio or SmugMug offer free domains as an incentive.

Only SmugMug offers you to buy domains. They resell domain names from GoDaddy. GoDaddy is expensive and lacks offering certain vanity domains for photographers.

Custom Domains

Zenfolio allows you to connect a custom domain you bought elsewhere. So does SmugMug, but only when you go for Power plan for $9/month. Zenfolio allows this in their most basic Starter plan for $7/month.


In very simple wording, marketing is how we put our product 'on the market'. This is done mainly with search engine optimization, social media sharing, and email.

Zenfolio and Smugmug have SEO and Social in working order. Much like most website builders. Zenfolio has also gone through the trouble of providing you with Email marketing capabilities. You can capture emails on your website. Furthermore, Zenfolio allows you to do email automation! While it's not as sophisticated as MailChimp, it's great to see you can make a beginning.

SmugMug doesn't have any mailing-list capabilities. You can use an HTML & CSS content block and add the code you get to embed an email-list from a third party, such as MailChimp and SendInBlue. But it should be made as easy as possible, without the need to dig into the code.


Zenfolio and SmugMug both offer "perks". Perks are extra's and are not needed to have a working website. It's often discounted external services. SmugMug is not clear what the perks are. They do list it, but it remains unclear what you get.

Zenfolio is very clear about the perks. They have three perks worth considering. The three perks are:

  1. $100/year discount on BorrowedLenses
  2. $50/year discount on Photographers Edit
  3. $10/month for Triple Scoop Music

Especially the $10/month for access to 17000+ royalty free music is well worth the money. Plus the $7/month for a Starter plan, you essentially pay $17/month for a service that will cost you $50/month otherwise, if you subscribe to Triple Scoop Music.

  • Triple Scoop Music: $600/year
  • Zenfolio Starter plan $7/month + TSM add-on $10/month = $17 x 12 = $84

Your savings are $516/year! And you can even save more if you purchase annually. Your savings will be $540.

You just purchase a Starter plan with TSM add-on and don't even bother using Zenfolio as a portfolio or store.


Neither Zenfolio or SmugMug offer bookings. Zenfolio help files suggest adding a session the same way you sell digital sales. This could be a workaround for SmugMug as well. Keep in mind you still pay the sales fees of 7% for Zenfolio and 15% for SmugMug


Zenfolio does offer to do client proofing in two ways. One way is that the client only chooses which images pass. This will cost you the $28/month Pro plan. If your clients need to choose which images need to be retouched, then you need a way to import the selection back in Lightroom, do your retouching and re-upload them. This second way will set you back a whopping $42/month.

SmugMug doesn't offer client proofing anyway. They do mention "proof delay", but this is not client proofing. It's that you can check orders before finalizing them. It's confusing for unsuspected users.

Client Delivery

Zenfolio and SmugMug have both Client Delivery. Using private password protected galleries, your clients can download per image or the whole gallery in one go.


It can happen that you sell something, perhaps a very specific custom package that is not listed on your website. You still need to get paid by sending an invoice. Such an invoice cannot be made within Zenfolio or SmugMug.


Zenfolio and SmugMug both lack signing contracts. When you work with models, brides or whomever, there's need for signing model releases. Some website builders can do this online. This needs to be done in-person with Zenfolio and SmugMug.


One perk of some builders is the ability to advertise on Facebook. Zenfolio & SmugMug don't offer this. It's definitely a missed opportunity. Furthermore, neither offer any advertising vouchers for Google Ads or Bing Ads.


Zenfolio doesn't have any possible way to integrate a third-party service. This is common among the very few layout canvas website builders. You can link to a third party service. SmugMug integrates StatCounter and Google Analytics. Other services "could" be integrated by using an HTML & CSS content blocks, but don't count on it. Often you need to place this code on top of every other code of a webpage. And this area, you have no access to.

Payment Terms

Zenfolio and SmugMug have monthly and annual payments. Both annual savings are around 30%.

Beyond the Website

While a website is the first and last touchpoint of your brand, it doesn't stop there. Behind the scenes, you also need to use tools to complete the experience a user started on your website.

Zenfolio and SmugMug don't have any CRM in place. You cannot follow a clients journey from awareness to a sale. But, almost no builder offers this. It's best to seek a third party service for this.

Try Zenfolio for 14 days | Try SmugMug for 14 days | List of Alternatives