Remember photo albums? They were popular back in the darkroom ages, when you had to wait for someone to process prints from a film camera. Well, they’re still a great way to capture the memories from a wedding or a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but you don’t have to stick your snapshots into plastic sheets anymore.
Today’s photo books have gone high-tech. In fact, there are many online services that can help you create one in just an hour or two and you don't need a lot of money or experience to get the job done, which means they make great holiday gifts.
I've created books using four services—Blurb, Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Walmart. All were easy to use, allowed me to upload photos from a variety of locations including social networking sites, and featured templates or themes to assist in design. Though some are cheaper, most services start at around $10 (plus shipping). For extra pages, you'll likely pay in the range of $.50 to $2. (Note: Not all books let you add pages.) Beyond that, costs vary based on factors such as book size and paper stock.
With so many options, it's not hard to find one that's right for you. As with ordering photos, you should be on the lookout for emailed promotions. They're a great way to save money.
Standard delivery is typically seven to 10 days, but you can pay roughly $15 to $20 extra to trim that to four to six days. In some cases, you can even find same-day or one-hour service.
Here are details on the four services I tried.
How it works: This versatile service not only lets you create a photo book via Bookify.com, but also lets you use professional software tools like Adobe's InDesign or Lightroom to complete your project. The site's clean design is easy to navigate. However, the wide array of options can be overwhelming.
What you’ll pay: Prices start at $12.99 for a soft cover. Hardcover books range from 7 x 7 inches to 11 x 13 inches, which costs $79.49 using the standard paper photo stock.
What you’ll get: I created a 20-page, hardcover book in a landscape format measuring 10 x 8 inches. It included a cover photo on a dust jacket, although it would have been nice to have the photo printed on the cover of the book itself, too. I paid extra for higher-end paper stock, which didn't dramatically improve the quality of the photo reproductions. But the book looked fine and I was impressed by the help, tutorials, and tips available on the site.
When you’ll get it: I chose the speediest delivery option: Federal Express, standard overnight, which added more than $20 to the price. Total cost was $72.76.
How it works: Shutterfly's website offers two ways to build a book. The first is called Simple Path; it offers few options, but still works well and creates nicely designed books. The second is called Custom Path, and as the name implies, it provides more ways to make your photo book unique. Since you can import photos from many places, including Facebook and Instagram, there's a chance you might import a low-resolution photo. But Shutterfly displays a warning icon if the photo won't print properly at a given size in the layout.
What you’ll pay: Prices start at $12.99 for a softcover 5 x 7 inch photo book, using either Simple Path (available in five sizes) or Custom Path service (available in seven sizes). Offerings are often discounted.
What you’ll get: I chose the Custom Path option to create a 20-page, 10 x 10-inch book. I paid $10 more for a matte finish on the cover, to minimize glare, and chose four different photos for the cover design template. I also was able to add text, in a wide variety of fonts and colors. Total cost was $66.51.
When you’ll get it: I chose the speediest delivery option, Rush, which added more than $20 to the price. I got the book in five days.
How it works: On the Snapfish site, one of my favorite features is the "See a book we started for you" link, which uses the photos you most recently uploaded to Snapfish. You can start with that book project and customize it, or, of course, create something from scratch. This site also deserves credit for making it easy to resize photos—I was even able to turn an ordinary image into an ultra-wide panorama.
What you’ll pay: Books are available in (from most to least expensive) premier, custom, and classic styles. Prices start at $11.99 for 5 x 7 inch classic photo books, and rise to $89.99 for an 11 x 14-inch premier lay-flat photo book. Snapfish also offers several binding options. Offerings are often discounted.
What you’ll get: I created an 8 x 11-inch hardcover photo book, which included one photo that wrapped around both the front and back covers of the book. I also added two additional photos on the front of the book. It was easy to change layouts, and to alter the size and shape of the photos. The service also included a variety of text fonts for the photo captions, and even has a spell-check option.
When you’ll get it: I chose the speediest delivery option—overnight—which added about $18 to the price. However, I saved more than $16 using a promotional code. Total cost was $34.21
How it works: This online service was the least expensive of the ones I tested, and it included some nice ease-of-use features. For instance, a step-by-step tour takes you through all the steps in creating your project. And you can quickly autofill the blank pages of your book.
What you’ll pay: Prices start at $3.88 for a 24-page mini photo book (2 x 3 inches) and cost up to $40 for a 12 x 12-inch hardcover book. In addition to the many delivery options, Walmart had one-hour and same-day services, although these offer far fewer design options. For example, the same-day service (which allows you to pick up the book from a Walmart store) only had two cover options.
What you’ll get: I created an 8 x 11-inch hardcover photo book, which included one photo on the cover and another smaller one on the back. (I choose a cover template from about 42 different choices.) I was easily able to alter the size of the photos, as well as the number of photos that appear on a particular layout. The service also included a variety of text fonts for the captions.
When you’ll get it: I choose an album that had same-day service. Total cost was $26.07.
Tips for Creating a Stunning Photobook
Here’s are some tips to consider when gathering and organizing images for a great photo book.
Give yourself time to locate photos: If you're including older, non-digital photos in your album, you'll need time to actually find and scan or photograph them. And even if they are digital photos, they may not be all on one hard drive. You'll then want to give yourself time to decide which photos you'll be keeping and which you'll be editing out of the book.
Study the online service you'll use: Although it's tempting to jump right in and start using the online photo service, it's best to take some time to study the different parts of the photobook site before you begin. If you're confused, check out the help sections of the site first.
Have a plan and stay organized: Construct a plan for how you'll present your images. For instance, you can structure the album chronologically, by geographic location, or by family members. Then, set up folders on your computer that reflect your organizational scheme.
Be selective: Choose carefully when selecting photos for a book. Be sure to check that your photos aren't blurry or marred by other flaws. If you're making an album of family photos, make sure everyone is represented and identified accurately.
Vary photos: Don't just use all horizontals. Include verticals, or portraits, as well as panoramas. You'll want to also include various types of photos, such as formals, candids, action shots, group portraits, and selfies. But don't forget landscapes and still lifes, too.
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