I like using our digital photos for different things — the website, a digital photo frame, some prints around the office, custom calendars, etc. And annual photobooks — a Year-In-Review style that goes month-by-month. Except I’m a bit behind on them, having only completed three or so of the last 13 years worth of organized digital photos that are in my digital gallery. So when I added “Make a Photobook” to my #50by50 list, it wasn’t a specific commitment like “Make a photobook of (someone’s) wedding” or “Make a photobook of a specific trip or year”, it was “knock one off the long list of photobooks you want to do” i.e. get back into making them.
Starting with a Year-In-Review book
Just over two years ago, I took a look at several websites that offer do-it-yourself photobooks, and I gave a bunch a try. Some of them failed for software limitations, others for their variable quality. I pretty much ended up going strictly with Shutterfly in the end. For my new YIR book, I thought I might as well start with Shutterfly again.
Shutterfly is a solid site overall, with all the basics plus some bells and whistles. They have regular coupon deals, established history, and I can reuse/copy old projects to incrementally improve each year while keeping some basic consistency. And lots of extra product possibilities like mousepads, notepads, notebooks, magnets, mugs, etc. I re-familiarized myself with the site and didn’t see any major changes in the functionality of the web design in the last two years, still no downloadable software to do it and then upload as one piece but rather still just all online, and the default templates for “years in review” are still not particularly attractive (only two main defaults from which to choose). Still, a solid choice. There are e-share options too, but I’m not particularly attracted to them nor do I need the option since I have my own photo gallery site with more content than would go in the books.
I bit the bullet. I put together a year in review (or actually a partial year in review) for the second half of 2010. In so doing though, I wanted to revisit the basic design of their template and see if I could create a new master template that I could reuse for future YIRs. Some of it was quite simple — adding background colours, putting in the months of the year, making sure every month has at least four pages to start with, etc. It took me most of a day to put the template in some form that I could call a “master” draft to build from for the future, but I only have to do it once and it probably took me longer as I was coming back “new” to the software/website. I then copied it over to a new project for a backup. And then used that to create “2010 – Book 2”.
Choosing the photos is a bit more of an iterative process than one might think. Here’s my general work-flow:
a. I copy all the photos from Andrea’s phone, the compact point-and-shoot camera, my phone, my tablet (rare), and the DSLR, plus any that others happened to send us of shared events into a set of photos by month;
b. I then sort them into days and events;
c. I pick the best ones for uploading, sending everything else into sub-folders called “extras”, keeping about one for every 2-3 that go in the extras folder (I don’t delete photos unless they’re blurry or technically wrong for some other eason…I’ve gone back too many times to a photo that was perhaps good for everyone, but in looking at the extras, I find one that is GREAT for a specific person, allowing me to crop it to just them);
d. For a Photobook, I start with the web choices, and weed it down to a smaller list of possibles, and then let Andrea weed even further.
I uploaded the weeded set to Shutterfly and the template worked almost perfectly. A couple of little tweaks here and there, but not enough to warrant changing the master, more tweaks for colouring with the photos I was laying out in the template. I added some prose, chose some photos for the covers and inside page, and bam! I submitted the book with a 50% off coupon. Sweet.
Now I just have to wait.
Considering a Trip Book
I’m willing to experiment with other sites, just to try them out, and I’m going with some trips as the theme. But which one to try?
Last time I tried Mixbook, the software was a bit unwieldy. This time, I found 11 templates for “Year in Review” style books. The Minimalist style was a bit black and white, but cute; Linen / Vintage / Colourful YIR / A Year to Remember / Year in Review / My Year Magazine / Graduation Year in Review / Watercolour Year in Review are all more thematic or event-driven than I would like. The one called Family Yearbook would be an awesome style for people with multiple kids and I could see easy ways to adapt it. However, the Kraft Year in Review is outright awesome. Simple chronological design, exactly what I am looking for in YIR-style without weird or wonky titles for each month. My only complaint is it is a bit drab … most of the layouts could benefit from a bit more colour per page. The software seemed to work okay, and as with most, you do a lot better with everything pre-chosen before you start. Definitely a viable option, and an improvement over previous attempts.
Since the last time I tried, CostCo has updated their software and their book builder looks a little better, albeit somewhat slow to get it to click over to the “ready” stage. Or more specifically, it goes off to “prepare” the book for editing and never returns. Just sits and “spins” that it is doing something and never finishes. Maybe it doesn’t like Firefox, maybe the site is busy, I don’t know. Pass.
c. Shoppers Drug Mart
The software seems better this time than last, and I was able to navigate through a few choices to get to a reasonable option for a book. I chose their one and only Year in Review template, and it isn’t bad. The overall layout and control options are much more basic than other sites, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing — some of the others are a bit overkill. Definitely a viable option I might consider.
If you go to the Loblaws site, you won’t find their photo book options because their photo service is separate — aka Photolab.ca. And it looks surprisingly familiar. Like with my previous review, Loblaws has the exact same software as Shoppers Drug Mart for their site, it just has a different name. But functionality, templates, etc are the same. So again, a viable option.
I wasn’t overly impressed the last time I tried the UniPrix site, but a friend suggested I give it another try, as he had good luck with it. So I gave it a go. Like SDM and Loblaws, it has some basic options, nothing extravagant. And while the opening interface is different, the final operations are almost identical for the software with Loblaws and SDM. A few differences, for sure, but functionally the same.
PhotoBookGirl is an online reviewer of photobook designs, and she has a bunch of reviews of different photo sites (mainly in the U.S.), so I wanted to give a few of them a try too. Blurb was up first. Blurb has some amazing options to upload a PDF and to sell things onwards into Amazon, but that’s not my focus. When Blurb Bookify starts, you get to the editing options pretty quick but that’s because the main options of other sites — draft templates, layouts, etc. — are all missing. Pass.
Like Blurb, it has options to create a book for sale — including kids books, etc. But the templates that come with it, and the basic interface are a bit too menu driven and mechanical than designed to populate things for you. Pass.
h. Clark Color Labs
The software for CCL is pretty clean. I set up an account easily, uploaded some photos pretty fast, and wandered through their templates. I’m looking for Year In Review designs, and while there weren’t many (only 3), they were all quite vibrant in colour. A very different look and feel to the template than Shutterfly or even Mixbook. The only challenge was that some of the months were set for a single page, others were spread over two, with no rhyme or reason. Plus there didn’t seem to be a reason why in some months they chose to put the name of the month on the page and others just a symbol (St. Patrick’s Day images for March, for example). Where they make up for some of it though is in their easy to access clipart. On a lot of sites, it is hard to find good clip art to add to the layout, but they make it pretty easy, and it was easy to add the months of the year for example or change a background. Overall a pretty simple and direct option. I have no idea if the quality out the other end is any good, but it’s a pretty nice site.
The site has some power, no doubt, and if you want to start from a very minimalist book layout, it’s a great choice. There are only five main themes, variations on “white”, but no choice between a year in revew or a trip or graduation. You can add all that, but you start with a blank template. Not a problem, but why would I want to do all that extra work unless I was starting with a very unique project? Pass.
Upfront, Snapfish has some great opening choices in sizes. I’m mainly interested in the landscape 8 x 11 books, but there were quite a few other choices too. When I chose YIR, just because it is an easy way to decide if it’s viable or not, eight sample templates came up. Most of them are comparable to the Shutterfly and Mixbook options, so nothing to really sell me there. Clicking on “Travel” pulled up another 12 options. One of them was called Road Trip (which a lot of my trips are), and pre-organized around Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, etc. So a viable option again.
So that gives me a full dozen options, including the original Shutterfly.
- I’ve passed on: Costco, Blurb, Bookemon, and Picaboo;
- I’m considering: Mixbook, Shoppers/Loblaws/Uniprix, Clark Color Labs, and Snapfish.
However, there is one small feature I like about the Shoppers / Loblaws / Uniprix option. I can print it and pick it up. No shipping required. And while I can’t guarantee the quality until I try it, it’s also not likely being shipped off to the lowest common producer elsewhere. There is a bit of local production involved. I hope at least. So I’ll try one of those three first.
I’ll see how it goes and update later. In the meantime, I’m waiting for my YIR book for 2010.