So I’ve been spending a lot of time uploading old photos to my website, and now that I have a healthy base to work with, I’m working on some photobooks. Nothing too “fancy”, mostly just “year in review” type books.
I’ve used Shutterfly before, and while it puts out a decent book, I have two reservations with it. First, because they aren’t produced in Canada, you end up spending a heavy chunk of cash on shipping. Not exorbitant, just enough to notice. Price goes higher the faster you want it, as it would be anywhere.
Second, and a little more vague, the photo places often ship them overseas for production to Asia, and there is little regulation for either labour or the production methods used in a lot of the hot spots. We recently had a canvas print shipped from Malaysia (by Photobook Canada, not Shutterfly) and it came in smelling like musty canvas — turned out it was a lacquer they used on the finishing. There’s no way it would be allowed to be shipped in that condition in Canada, would never pass the sniff test, literally. The print stunk bad enough I had to put in the garage for a few days to air out. It’s relatively fine now, but not the most reassuring of experiences. And Shutterfly uses the same printing options/places.
On the plus side, they are reliable, they have regular sales, their coupons are stackable (i.e. 30% off for a sale, $10 off on books, free shipping etc. — most sites would make you choose one, Shutterfly usually lets you apply all of them to your order at once). I recently did a full year in review book with them, haven’t received it yet, but it has a LOT of extra pages (80+, when standard is 40) and price is about $75 in the end, including shipping, etc. Not great, not horrendous. None of the extra bells and whistles. And their software has a couple of painful omissions (an ability to duplicate or move pages, for instance). A solid 8 / 10 for sure on quality, software and price.
Mixbooks is the big blogger darling in the U.S. at present, with lots of people saying it is 10/10 for quality and software, maybe 8/10 for price. They are competitive with the other companies, but coupons are not stackable and their sales are not as frequent or as deep. I found the software good, but unwieldy at times. In the end, I bailed before completing an order.
Photobook Canada is one that everyone likes to say is better because it is supposedly Canadian, but the stats on their production in Canada are extremely limited. Most of their cheap stuff they farm overseas, maybe they used to do their stuff and prints here in Canada but looks like it is all off-shore now. The smelly canvas came from Malaysia, two calendars came from Malaysia. A small astronomy book I did awhile ago came from Asia somewhere. I’ve just ordered a small book as a gift, and I suspect it will also come from Malaysia. Software is not as good as Mixbooks or Shutterfly, but functional, and their cheap options are good for price at least, if not enduring quality. Their other fantastic feature, in my view, is that their software is 100% downloadable. You can build the entire book on your own computer and just connect when you’re done. It takes a while for everything to upload at that point, but it’s better and faster than working in the cloud the whole time. I used them for the calendars (and make a rookie error with them) and the canvas print (that was initially smelly and is okay now), but I should also give them credit for the fact that my vouchers had expired (I didn’t realize they did that when I bought them last January), and they extended them with no trouble at all. Nice.
I checked out a bunch of other sites this week too.
Shoppers Drug Mart has a good basic option, software seems a little limited, and prices are okay but competitive. Their big “savings” offering is that it is free shipping to their local stores (I discovered their options earlier this week when sending some simple prints to a remote store). However, the software crashed completely in basic options working with both Firefox and Microsoft Edge. I’m not willing to invest any time in buggy software.
Uniprix seemed okay, nothing flashy. Basic software, prices were okay, seemed more geared to the pamphlet-style softcovers than some of the other bigger companies. I don’t know that I gave them a truly adequate test though.
Loblaws was a surprise for a couple of reasons. First, I didn’t know they had a photobook option — it strikes me if they were kicking butt, everyone would know about them. Second, their software is the SAME as Shoppers Drug Mart. Whoever is their backend supplier has given them the same front-end interface, with only minor differences. Seemed good, not as big and powerful as Shutterfly, Mixbooks or Photobook Canada, but decent enough. I even found some default templates I liked. But here’s the weird part…I chose a special template with some contemporary features i.e. not everything was blocky, squared designs. About half the default pages had a bit of a scrap-book feel to them, a common design feature. Except when I then went to the layouts feature to see what the options were for additional pages, none of those scrap-book layouts were available to select. All the rest were blocky, perfectly squared line ups. No obvious option to copy the existing templates either, unless I wanted to copy a page element at a time. But then it got even weirder…I chose a default template, added it to a page, and the photo sizes were completely wrong. I had the book set for 9×12″ size, and it put photos down as if they were going in a 6×6″ book. In other words, just part of the page…and no option to drag them as a group to make them bigger. You could manually adjust each and every photo individually. Nuh-uh, no way. That would be incredibly time consuming if I add some 50-60 additional pages, all of which required custom layouts. However, I have discovered that you CAN duplicate the original pages, just a bit of extra manual work to do it, kind of counter-intuitive.
Lots of people have used Costco and while I admire their commitment, the software was the worst one of all. Slow, few options, etc. If you had, say, 75 photos, and you wanted it to pre-populate them into a book template, it might be okay. But 10 minutes in and I’d already found 3 things I couldn’t do in the format. Not an option. Most importantly they had a lower limit on number of pages allowed. I was two-thirds of the way through a photobook when I came to a screeching halt — I couldn’t add anything else, and couldn’t copy the project to another project (I would have just split it into two books).
Henry’s has a site that has the same back-end as Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart (same themes, etc.) but a completely different interface. Looks okay, but it won’t actually let me load any photos from the album into the layout to try it. It didn’t want to sync with other sites either. Kind of hard to do a photo book if you can’t get photos into the layout! Fail.
I think I’m going to give the Loblaw’s one another go. We’ll see if it works out. Might try UniPrix after that, based on a friend’s recommendation. In the end, I’m likely to end up back with Shutterfly, but it won’t be for a lack of trying to find a Canadian supplier.