Photobook Companies

With the advent of digital cameras there needed to be a new way for companies to make money off of personal photos and people wanted a physical way to show off their images. Most of these sites are aimed at family/event photographers, but some are meant for professionals but have opened up their services to individuals because that is a growing market.

I started looking into this because my wedding photography package is only the digital negatives. I didn’t want to pay somewhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars for a photographer to put together a book for me when I was perfectly capable of doing so myself. Thus began my search for the best place to print photobooks. As of 09/24/09 I have used four of the services. I will compare all the services prices and then write a detailed review of each of the companies as I use them. I will also try to include images of the books as I get them.

All prices are based on 20 page book hardcover unless otherwise noted.

Company 8×8 8×11 11×11 or x12 11×14 Add\’l Pages reg(del)
www.shutterfly.com $29.99 $29.99 $54.99 $1-1.20
www.mypublisher.com $29.80 $59.89 $0.99-2.99
www.inkubook.com $13.95 (SC*) $24.95 $39.95
www.mycanvas.com $29.95 $34.95 $54.95 $0.49-0.79
www.realbooks-scrapbooks.com $47 (40pgs) $67 (40pgs)
www.blackriverimaging.com
www.photobookamerica.com
www.smilebooks.com** $32.95(26pgs) $34.95(26pgs) $68.95(26pgs) $89.95(26pgs) Varies

*SC = softcover
**Smilebooks offers all it’s books in softcover, linen, leather, hardcover and with photo paper. The prices here are for 26 pages (base#) and the cheapest hardcover option.

Smilebooks

Smilebooks is a European company that will sell to the US. They are the only company I have found where you can get books printed on actual photopaper and since my complaint about the US based companies was the print quality I thought that I should splurge on my wedding album and pay the extra for photopaper. In fact, it is silver halide photo paper which is old school photopaper. Shipping was just about the same as the US based companies so I decided to try it out. I spent a month making my book, but that was because it was my wedding album and I wanted it to be perfect and it really turned out that way. I am so happy with this company. I’m going to make my honeymoon book with them as well, probably not on silver-halide paper and then I can update this based on that as well.

Upload Process: 5 (scale of 1 = really bad to 5 = perfect)

The software I used was the “on your computer” program so I didn’t upload the book until the end. They also offer an online version of the software where you upload your files and then make the book, but I didn’t use it. Overall the process was fine. I had over 2GB of photos for the book because there was 50pages of high res wedding photos, so it took a while, but I didn’t have any issues.

Ease of Software: 4

I downloaded and used the “on your computer” software and never touched the one for making books online.  The only reason I am giving this a 4 is because when you make your own layout, if you drag another photo onto the page, or delete an item, the layout automatically goes back to a preset template. It was really frustrating the first few times, but I learned to pull the image out of the printable area or put it on the adjacent page if I was not done or in progress with that page and then delete it. I wish there was a way to stop it from resetting. You can however, save your layouts which is really nice because I imagine I will use some of them again on future projects.  The buttons were not really intuitive the first time I used the software either, but after a few minutes scanning the manual under the help section I was able to find exactly what I wanted .

Customization/Flexibility: 5

This is why I love this company. The software is amazing. Once you learn where the buttons are (which if you actually read the manual is really easy) it is completely customizable. Not only do they have a ton of templates and backgrounds and effect you can use on your photos, but you can drag, resize, rotate and put borders around your photos. You can use your own image as a background with a couple clicks. It is amazing. I cannot say enough about how good this software was to me. The only downside is that you can only buy pages in sets of 8. It must have something to do with their printing or binding process. The reason this is a negative is because it requires some pre-planning or massaging of your pages to meet that requirement.

Print Quality: 5 (on silverhalide paper)

Smilebook’s print quality was better to the other photo companies but it was on silver halide photo paper and that makes it more expensive. The pages were thicker than any of the other books I have and it was lay flat!!! That makes full spread photo pages possible and is a huge plus to me. They do print a barcode and their logo on the back of a blank page at the end of the book and a barcode on the back cover :(

Overall: 5

Overall Smilebooks is my favorite of the photo book companies in this price range.

Shutterfly

Upload Process: 4 (scale of 1 = really bad to 5 = perfect)

Shutterfly allows you to choose up to an unlimited (as far as I can tell) number of photos. You then choose whether to put them in a new album or an existing one and then two photos at a time are uploaded. The only hiccup is that after the photos are uploaded to Shutterfly you have to then select the album and click “add to photobook” to add the photos to the book even though you got to the albums via “add photos” from the book. Overall it is a minor issue.

Ease of Software: 4

The Shutterfly software is very easy to use and learn.  On the left you have options for layout, backgrounds and edges. On the bottom are your photos and up top is navigation.  The organization of the layouts is based on number of photos per page which makes it really easy to find an applicable layout. You choose the page you want to work on and then in each of the tabs on the left you select what options you want for that page. You can then drag and drop the photos you want into each photo opening or clikc on the text box to add text. If the phtoto doesn’t look right you click on it in the page and there you can edit the crop box, rotate the photo, fix red eye or add effects to the photos. The only difficulty is finding the correct backgoround. You are shown a limited number of backgrounds in the immediate background tab, but if you use the pulldown at the top of the column you are presented with a multitude of options. They have some organization but it was often hard for me to find matching pages for each side of the book without using the exact same backgrond. I don’t like this option because some of the layouts looklike they need a mirrored counterpart to span two pages, but the mirror doesn’t exist.

Customization/Flexibility: 4

Shutterfly has the 2nd most flexibility of the photo companies that provide page editing software. You can change the layout and background of each page which is common to all of the programs, but you can also change the photo outline which is unique to their software. They have more font options than the other companies. Shutterfly even allows you to make modifications to the photo such as fixing red eye and other photo effects. Shutterfly has hundreds of backgrounds to choose from, but is limited in their sets of backgrounds. This means you can spend a lot of time looking for pages to match the theme of the rest of your book.

Print Quality: 3

Shutterfly’s print quality is comparable to the other photo companies in it’s price range. It isn’t the same as printed photos on thick glossy photo paper. The images are a little grainier than I expected when using high pixel images, but again, it’s not on premium photo paper. My fiance couldn’t tell that there was anything wrong with them, but I like really crisp clear photos which you won’t get from a photobook company in this price range. Overall, for the price it is good printing on decent weight paper. They do print a barcode and their logo on the back of a blank page at the end of the book :(

Overall: 4

Overall Shutterfly is my 2nd favorite of the photo book companies in this price range.

My Publisher

Upload Process: 4

My Publisher does the upload differently than the other companies. Since you use a software you install on your computer, you don’t upload the photos to the web. My publisher just has you add them from your computer to their software (which probably just means it copies them to another folder on your computer. Once you choose your photos you drag and drop them into some sort of order. This is a quick starting organization and it doesn’t really do much except allow you to start from the left and work right or group similar photos close to each other for use in the next step when you make the book. While this may seem like an extra unnecessary step, it actually really helps you find the photos you are looking for and make sure you didn’t miss one you wanted to use in the same page when you layout the book. The upload process actually takes place at the very end. When you are done with the book and place your order the entire thing is uploaded to mypublisher.

This has it’s advantages and disadvantages.

Ease of Software: 3

The My Publisher software is a little less obvious than the Shutterfly software.  (REMEMBER TO PUT IN THAT SINCE THE SOFTWARE IS ON YOUR COMPUTER YOU CAN ONLY WORK ON IT ON THE ONE COMPUTER) On the left you have options for layout, backgrounds and edges. On the bottom are your photos and up top is navigation.  The organization of the layouts is based on number of photos per page which makes it really easy to find an applicable layout. You choose the page you want to work on and then in each of the tabs on the left you select what options you want for that page. You can then drag and drop the photos you want into each photo opening or clikc on the text box to add text. If the phtoto doesn’t look right you click on it in the page and there you can edit the crop box, rotate the photo, fix red eye or add effects to the photos. The only difficulty is finding the correct backgoround. You are shown a limited number of backgrounds in the immediate background tab, but if you use the pulldown at the top of the column you are presented with a multitude of options. They have some organization but it was often hard for me to find matching pages for each side of the book without using the exact same backgrond. I don’t like this option because some of the layouts looklike they need a mirrored counterpart to span two pages, but the mirror doesn’t exist.

Customization/Flexibility: 4

Shutterfly has the most flexibility of the photo companies that provide page editing software. You can change the layout and background of each page which is common to all of the programs, but you can also change the photo outline which is unique to their software. They have more font options than the other companies. Shutterfly even allows you to make modifications to the photo such as fixing red eye and other photo effects. Shutterfly has hundreds of backgrounds to choose from, but is limited in their sets of backgrounds. This means you can spend a lot of time looking for pages to match the theme of the rest of your book.

Print Quality: 3

My Publisher’s print quality is the same as Shutterfly’s. Again, it isn’t the same as printed photos on thick glossy photo paper and the images are a little grainier than I expected when using high pixel images, but again, it’s not on premium photo paper.

Overall: 3

This is one place lower than Shutterfly for two reasons. It has less flexibility/customization capability and you can only work on your book on the one computer (because the software and project are only on your computer, not uploaded to mypublisher’s website).

Inkubook

Upload Process: 4

My Publisher does the upload differently than the other companies. Since you use a software you install on your computer, you don’t upload the photos to the web. My publisher just has you add them from your computer to their software (which probably just means it copies them to another folder on your computer. Once you choose your photos you drag and drop them into some sort of order. This is a quick starting organization and it doesn’t really do much except allow you to start from the left and work right or group similar photos close to each other for use in the next step when you make the book. While this may seem like an extra unnecessary step, it actually really helps you find the photos you are looking for and make sure you didn’t miss one you wanted to use in the same page when you layout the book. The upload process actually takes place at the very end. When you are done with the book and place your order the entire thing is uploaded to mypublisher. This has it’s advantages and disadvantages.

Ease of Software: 3

(INKUBOOK HAS TO INSTALL MICROSOFT SILVERLIGHT, WHICH MOST COMPUTERS DON’T HAVE)The My Publisher software is a little less obvious than the Shutterfly software. On the left you have options for layout, backgrounds and edges. On the bottom are your photos and up top is navigation. The organization of the layouts is based on number of photos per page which makes it really easy to find an applicable layout. You choose the page you want to work on and then in each of the tabs on the left you select what options you want for that page. You can then drag and drop the photos you want into each photo opening or clikc on the text box to add text. If the phtoto doesn’t look right you click on it in the page and there you can edit the crop box, rotate the photo, fix red eye or add effects to the photos. The only difficulty is finding the correct backgoround. You are shown a limited number of backgrounds in the immediate background tab, but if you use the pulldown at the top of the column you are presented with a multitude of options. They have some organization but it was often hard for me to find matching pages for each side of the book without using the exact same backgrond. I don’t like this option because some of the layouts looklike they need a mirrored counterpart to span two pages, but the mirror doesn’t exist.

Customization/Flexibility: 4

(ONLY HAVE PHOTO COVER)Shutterfly has the most flexibility of the photo companies that provide page editing software. You can change the layout and background of each page which is common to all of the programs, but you can also change the photo outline which is unique to their software. They have more font options than the other companies. Shutterfly even allows you to make modifications to the photo such as fixing red eye and other photo effects. Shutterfly has hundreds of backgrounds to choose from, but is limited in their sets of backgrounds. This means you can spend a lot of time looking for pages to match the theme of the rest of your book.

Print Quality: 2

Inkubook has worse print quality than Shutterfly and My Publisher. The photos are more grainy (even when I used higher resolution photos than I used on the other two sites). They also use a lighter weight paper, which makes the book feel cheaper.

Overall: 1

Inkubook really disappointed me. The paper weight and print qualty was not good. The software required me to download another plugin even though I am uploading everything to their website. They have limited flexibility and they took the entire 6 business days to even ship my book (even though it had been 10 total days).

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