The DailyDigi

Photobook Reviews - 12 Different Companies Compared

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I have been promising for quite a while now that I would be posting a review on photobook printers. FINALLY, I have all of my books in and am ready to tell you what I learned. This is a looooooong post and meant to be a resource. We think that it is easier for you to find what you are looking for, at a later date, if all of this information is in one big post instead of broken up over several days.

Before we get started, I would like to thank my “super secret super spy” that let me set up accounts all over photobook-land using her name and contact information, she went in and paid for the books after I added them to the cart, using her credit card or PayPal information (for which THE DAILY DIGI reimbursed her), received all of the books and got them to me, and also dealt with issues that came up in printing. I discovered when I did the layout printing reviews, that I couldn’t leave any trace at all as to my identity. I wanted to make sure that I got the SAME treatment that any of my readers would receive, nothing special because I own this site.

I would also like to say a big THANKS to our designers that contribute to THE DIGI FILES and the customers that support us by purchasing them. This kind of a review would not be possible without your support!!



DISCLAIMER: THE DAILY DIGI paid for each of these books. TDD does not have paid sponsors, we do not accept paid (or traded) forms of advertising on our site from other sites, services, or designers, nor do we have affiliates. No special coupons or discounts were used for any of these sites (I have been offered free books, but knowing I wanted to do an unbiased review, have not used any of the offers). The only discounts used were the ones that were in the cart upon checkout and would have been given to anyone else ordering during the same time. I have not ever printed photobooks anywhere prior to this review.


I created my photobook using these supplies:

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I used several of Wendy’s toolkits for the covers (if there was one available for a printer, chances are I used it), there will be more about that in the specific printer sections.

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Photos were all taken by Lisa Hystek before we moved last summer. If you live in the Puget Sound area, I highly recommend her! I love that she will give me a CD of my photos! :)

You might also be interested in reading some tips about planning photobooks and printing photobooks.


At each site, I uploaded 12x12 layouts at 300dpi and ordered as close to an 8”x8” sized album as I could, in a hardcover format. That seems to be the most popular size with digiscrappers for photobooks. Each book contained 23 single page layouts (12 pages). I also turned off any auto-correcting features, if it was available.

Through the reviews below, you will see I note that some of the printed images appear to have noise, it doesn’t occur with all printers. I emailed my go-to-printing expert, Wendyzine and asked her about it. She said that she isn’t sure, but it seems that it sometimes happens with images shot in low light or a higher ISO and there is no explanation that she is aware of as to why one printer can print clearly and another doesn’t (here is a bit of info. though and here as well). I thought I would include my photographers camera settings here so you can see what the ISO was. Some of the noise issues were on matte paper and some on glossy.

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Scoring

These printers’ results are in alphabetical order. I rated each site in the following ways:

Intimidation Factor: How intimidated I felt about the site in general, before even setting up an account or uploading. None = not intimidating Mild = mild intimidation High = I was very intimidated and if it would not have been for doing a review for TDD, I would have quit.

Ease of upload: How easy was it to find the upload area and select the photos for uploading. 5= Awesome very easy, no problems 3= okay 1= Pretty bad,, lots of problems

Ease of creation: How easy it was to create the actual photobook. 5= Awesome very easy, no problems 3= okay 1= Pretty bad,, lots of problems

Adding to cart: How easy it was to get the photobook loaded into my cart to order it.

Inside pages color: How true the colors printed compared to my calibrated monitor. 5= perfect 3= somewhat different 1= very different

Cover color: How true the paper and element colors were compared to my calibrated monitor. 5= perfect 3= somewhat different 1= very different

Binding: Answers from printeres varied. I decided to take apart the books that I was unsure on and show you some picutres. You can decide for yourself what is most important. However, you might find this information about library bindings helpful as well as this information on methods of binding.

There will be some other anecdotal information included in each review that wasn’t part of the breakdown listed above, but things my readers would want to know. A couple of the books arrived with damage, I didn't note that in my reviews, however you can see it in the photos.

For the purpose of this review, I did not worry about how much of the layouts were cut off in printing, I feel it is a given that some of the layout will be cut off or lost in the binding. That is something that is easily fixed with Wendy’s templates and actions.

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Adoramapix

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Size and Price: 8x8, regular price for a 26 page book is $36.95 (they had a sale going on and I paid $26.99). I paid $4.99 for shipping. This was the lay-flat binding.

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Intimidation Factor: none

Ease of upload: 5 You can upload from your computer, or import from Flickr or Picasa. Here’s what the upload screen looks like (can click image for larger view):

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Ease of creation: 5 Just drag images from the side to the empty page, then click on “fit to page”. Easy!

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Adding to cart: 5, just click and order

Inside pages color: 4, images were slightly darker than on my screen, but was not noticeable until compared.

Cover color: 4, lost some detail in the textured paper that I used on the cover (almost no detail in the paper), images lighter. The cover looks almost like a metalic finish and feels more like a thin vinyl than paper. My cover turned out exactly as I had designed it, including the title on spine wrapping to the back. No templates or actions were used on the cover.

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Binding: Lay flat (it truly does lay flat and there really is no gutter), “leporello” binding (not sure what that means, but from what I was able to gather from emails, each page is a full double-page spread and then they are glued). There is NO GUTTER.

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Logo/barcode: none

Web Based/Software: Web based, nothing to install

Other information: You can only choose 14 pages, 26 pages, 38 pages, 50 pages, or 76 pages. The first page in the designer is the page on the left-inside that is glued to the back side of the cover, I wish I would have known that because I wouldn’t have printed there or would have put a dedication or something. I then would have put the inside cover opposite of that page. Most printers do not give you the option of designing this inside page, so it was different and unexpected, but I can think of some really fun things to go there!

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When I got this book I was shocked at the weight, the inside pages are printed on very thick photopaper, but thicker than any photo paper I have seen before (almost like a thin board book). I was able to easily create the cover (without a template) and see in the building software, exactly how it would look. I had a tricky spine because I wanted part of the word family to wrap around the back and I was easily able to do that.

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Artscow

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Size and Price: 8x8 book with 20 pages is $9.99 and .50 for each additional page. With a sale they had going on, I paid $15.98 for two books and $5.00 shipping (that was the price I got upon checkout, I did not enter any codes). Based in Hong Kong. I printed one book without using Wendy’s template and one using it (see below), I also paid $2 extra to have the logo removed from one, to see the difference (see below).

Intimidation Factor: none

Ease of upload: 5

Ease of creation: 5, it was very easy to tell where the trim marks were and what would print. Drag and drop interface

Adding to cart: 5

Inside pages color: 3 colors were quite a bit darker in the printing and seemed to have a lot of noise.

Cover color: 2, colors were significantly darker, noisier, and had a greenish cast to them. Cover is glossy. The cover that I didn’t use a template on had a white strip on the bottom (see photo above).

Binding: stitched (much thinner thread than all of the other stitched books, but more glue):

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Logo/barcode: barcode on the back cover and on inside back page. Logo on inside back page. The book that I paid $2 to have the logo removed, did not have the logo, but it did still have the barcode in both places.

Web based/software: web based, but requires Microsoft Silverlight to be installed on your machine. (this program does not work with PowerPC Macs)

Other information: I was unable to figure out how to lineup the spine for printing, so I decided to do another book using Wendy’s templates so I could get it right (and the books were so cheap). I was a little surprised when the books came back that the cover that I didn’t use Wendy’s template on had a white line across the bottom of the whole book cover. I thought I had it lined up correctly for printing. The cover that I used Wendy’s template on printed perfectly (except color).

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I ordered the book on March 20th and still had not received my order on April 11th. My “super-secret-super-spy” emailed them for me to inquire about the order, to which Artscow said there was a “problem with the order and they were reprinting it and it would be ready to ship in 4-5 days”. It did take me over a month to get my photobooks.

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Blurb

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Size and Price: I paid $24.95 and $6.99 shipping for a 7x7 book. The book arrived in 6 days. Blurb offers flat rate shipping: U.S. ($6.99), UK (3.99), Europe (E 5.99), or Canada (CAD $7.99), regardless of the weight or size of your books

Intimidation Factor: none

Ease of upload: 5 it was very fast. Can upload from computer, Flickr, SmugMug, Photobucket, and Picasa.

Ease of creation: 4, you have to go in and select “blank” template for each page, or apply to all pages, before creating the book (see below). I could not figure out how to customize the spine, the spine was plain white.

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Double click the photos in your bucket, then click “add to book” and the image will be added and automatically resized (see below):

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Adding to cart: Since the work is done on your computer, uploading happens when you add the book to your cart, so that actual adding it to your cart takes longer, but it all comes out even in the end (because other sites, you upload the photos before creating)

Inside pages color: 4, images were darker and more noisy..

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Cover color: 5, The color on the cover was pretty close to what I saw on my screen. There did seem to be some noise in the images on the cover. Cover is matte.

Binding: varies depending on size and cover (mine was stitched:

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Logo/barcode: There is a Blurb logo inside on the back of the last page.

Web based/software: Must download the Blurb Booksmart Software OR upload PDFs

Other information: You can also create a book from your blog. You can also get books with jackets, which is kind of fun.

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Creative Memories

I had full intention of reviewing Creative Memories’ books, however, I found out that you need to own their software to order a book (this is not the case for layouts). The software is $69.95 alone. I felt that most digital scrapbookers are not going to want to purchase the software just to print with Creative Memories, so I decided not to go to that expense and not include them in this review. I apologize for any disappointment this may cause.

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Heritage Makers

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Size and Price: 8x8 for $51.93 and shipping was $7.98 (this is for ONE book). I ordered two books from them because I decided I would review the board book as well (I have always wanted to do a board book, but was a bit put off by the cost). I was surprised when my order came and it was a regular hardbound book, no thick pages inside. I checked my account both orders say 8x8 story book. I checked my projects folder and the board book is still sitting in my account. How I got from clicking “publish” in the book builder to ordering the same book I had already received is a mystery to me.

Once a book has been published from within the builder, as far as I can tell, you cannot access it to make changes to it. So, if you decide you want to order another book, but want a minor change, you can’t do that, you have to build it from scratch. OR if you want to order the same book, just in a board book instead of storybook, you would need to put it all together again in the building software.

Intimidation Factor: mild

Ease of upload: 5

Ease of creation: 3, brought 8x8 pages onto book layout and had to increase them in size by dragging corners. Major pain! You can however, do basic digital scrapbooking with this software if you want to upload your supplies as well.

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Adding to cart: 3

Inside pages color: 3, this is a really hard one for me to rate, because the first book, the colors were much darker than on my screen. The second book though, they were only slightly darker than what I see on my screen. I was surprised at the difference between the two books. Another item of interest is that both in both books, the images appeared to be pretty noisy. Also, there were some spots that showed up in images, that were not on the original (and this only happened in the first book) notice the black dot on my daughters nose below:

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Cover color: 4, colors for the photo on the cover were almost perfect. There was a loss of detail in the textured paper that I used on the cover (almost no detail). Cover is glossy.

Binding: Stitched (with metal, the person on the phone that I spoke with from the company said it “looks like staples, but is metal stitching”) and glue. However, when I took the book apart, this is what I found:

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Logo/barcode: barcode on back, logo and barcode on back of last printed page.

Web based/software: web based, requires flash

Other information: Heritage Makers has a multi-level marketing platform. I did not go through a consultant and was still able to order a book, but when you do it this way, you are automatically assigned a consultant based on geographic location. The consultant gets a kickback of some kind for your order.

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Inkubook

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Size and Price: 8.5x8.5 book and I paid $29.95 plus $9.99 shipping. You can read more about their shipping prices (including international) if you would like.

Intimidation Factor: none

Ease of upload: 5, Can import photos from your Inku account, your computer, or Flickr. Photos populate in the bucket while uploading and as soon as they appear in the bucket, you can drag/drop into the photobook (this is a unique feature as far as I experienced).

Ease of creation: 5, just click and drag images to the page, auto-sizes the image correctly for you. The book in the building software looks almost exactly as it did when printed (the gutters were more significant in the printed book than on screen – more was cut off the binding edge). I was unable to figure out how to customize the spine, the spine was plain white.

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Adding to cart: 5

Inside pages color: 4, some of the photos had a lot of noise.

Cover color: 2, this cover was significantly darker than my original (noticeable without a comparison to the original). There was also quite a bit of noise.

Binding: glued (I could not find this information on their site and got this from their Live Chat rep.) However, when I took the book appart, this is what I found:

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Logo/barcode: On the back of the book, but can have it removed by following these instructions (from their site):

To have the logo removed contact Customer Support via either Live Chat or by emailing support@inkubook.com with the requests prior to submitting your order. The requests should include the project title and your Inkubook email address.

Web based/software: Web-based (must have Microsoft Silverlight installed, this program does not work with PowerPC Macs)

Other information: They have live chat to help you as you go, if you need it. I think this was my favorite book builder utility, very easy to use. I loved that I could work with the photos as each one finished uploading (instead of waiting for the whole batch to finish). I was able to have the book assembled by the time the photos were done uploading!

I couldn’t figure out how to customize the spine at all, if you know how to do that, please share in the comments and I will add it here.

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MyPicTales

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Size and Price: 8x8, $27.98 and shipping was $5.77 for media mail.

Intimidation Factor: none

Ease of upload: 5, since this is done on software on your computer, upload is done when you place your order.

Ease of creation: 5, Must download and install their software, (same software that Scrapping Simply uses) but, the software is very easy to use. Just drag and drip and it will ask you if you want it to be a full page image or something else, select and it resizes it for you. There doesn’t seem to be a way to add a different image to the spine (the spine is wrapped with part of the image from the design of the back cover). The software prevented me from doing a screen capture, so I am unable to show you what it looks like.

Adding to cart: 5

Inside pages color: 4, seemed to be washed out and noisy.

Cover color: 4, was slightly lighter (but kept paper detail), but noisy. This cover was glossy.

Binding: site says: glued with archival quality glue, seems to be very sturdy. When I took the book apart, this is what I found:

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Logo/barcode: none

Web based/software: My Photobook Software that you download and install on your machine (same software that Scrapping Simply uses).

Other information: I used Wendy’s template on this cover and was glad to have it.

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Persnickety/Lifepics

image 7x7, $26.99, $5.00 shipping (domestic and international). They do have the lay-flat binding, but at the time, I wasn’t sure what it was and ordered a regular book.

Intimidation Factor: none

Ease of upload: 5

Ease of creation: 4, had to have 30 photos or layouts uploaded even though the book can be smaller. Also could not get the cover to look right no matter what I did, I tried 6 different covers and changed each one trying to get right (see other information below). There were no cover actions or templates available at the time I printed (I’m unsure if there are now or not). The program shows the inside gutters exactly as they showed up in my book:

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Adding to cart: 4, somehow 2 albums were added to my cart and it wouldn't let me delete it or change the qty. to 0 for one of them. I had to delete cart contents and then add to the cart again.

Inside pages color: 4, some of the pages were exact, but some looked like they had a grey, transparent layer over them.

Cover color: 4, almost perfect, slightly darker, cover is matte finish

Binding: site says stitched, but I think the stitching is similar to those of other companies and it is done with metal stitches that resemble staples (from what I can see when looking down the spine).

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Logo/barcode: inside back of last page printed

Web based/software: web based

Other information: This order was plagued by a series of unfortunate events. I explained above how I had tried to get the cover right and couldn’t. I could tell in the preview that it wasn’t right, but was unsure of how to fix it. I decided to upload the book anyway and hope for the best. I ordered this book on March 20th. From what I have been able to gather, Persnickety outsources (which is common) to an uploading company, a different printer, and yet another binder. On April 11th when I hadn’t received the book, we (i.e. my super-secret-super-spy) emailed Persnickety. I (i.e. my super-secret-super-spy) heard back from Persnickety the next day saying that there had been a problem with my cover and the printing company had tried to contact me via phone, but the number was wrong (which, it was, I had made a typo when entering my super-secret-super-spy’s very real phone number). The printing company cancelled my order and did not contact Persnickety to let them know or email me (my super-secret-super-spy) before doing so. There were a couple of days of back/forth emails and when the printing company, Lifepics, sent a preview of how the cover was going to print, I could see that I needed to rearrange the cover similar to Wendy’s MyPicTales template that I had used before. I redid the cover using the MyPicTales template from Wendy, renamed it and uploaded to Persnickety. Unfortunately, though, when your order gets out of queue (because of the cover and cancelled order) with some of those companies, they put it back at the end of the line. I did finally receive my book on May 5th.

I have to give the printing company credit because they refused to print my order as it was (and we did ask them to print it anyway), there were other companies mentioned in this review, that just printed books with bad covers and didn’t try to contact me to let me know it was wrong. I wish that they would have tried to contact me via email when they were unsuccessful via phone.

Persnickety did an amazing job on printing layouts and I stand by that review. I hope that they will be able to share with us some things they are doing so these kinds of things don’t happen.

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Photoworks

Size and Price: 8x8, $40.92 and $8.99 shipping

Intimidation Factor: none

Ease of upload: 5

Ease of creation: 3, It took me long time to even figure out which book I would be able to customize. Once I figured that out, I had a really hard time figuring out how to make the pages blank. I finally saw the “change page layout” linked text and was able to change it to a one large photo page, but had to do that on each page (on the bottom to the right of the layout).

image There was a place to customize the spine (as you can see in the above photo) but I couldn’t get an image on there no matter how many times I dragged and dropped. I could edit the text box, but opted to go blank instead of not having the fonts on the spine match the fonts on the cover.

Adding to cart: 5

Inside pages color: 3, images were significantly lighter or washed out and noisy.

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Cover color: 1, the front cover color was actually not bad at all, but the back cover, I didn’t even recognize. I wondered if had made a mistake and uploaded the wrong paper. The texture of the paper was the same, but it looked like it had been burned (as in color burned overlay mode in Photoshop). I went back into my account and checked the album to be sure I hadn’t uploaded a different paper and I hadn’t. Here is what it looked like in the preview (what they show you right before you click order):

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Here’s what it looked like on my book (it should be the same as the paper on the front cover):

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Binding: stitched

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Logo/barcode: on back cover and on inside last page

Web based/software: web based

Other information: I don’t think Photoworks has digital scrapbookers in mind for their site. They are definitely geared more to the person that wants to assemble a photobook using their formats and supplies. This site was one of the more frustrating for me to find my way around.

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Scrapping Simply/Paper Kiwi

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8x8, $25.99 and shipping was $4.90

Intimidation Factor: none

Ease of upload: 5

Ease of creation: 5, Scrapping Simply uses the same software that MyPicTales uses. It’s fairly easy, just drag/drop and click to make auto size it the size of the page. there didn’t seem to be a way to customize the spine.

Adding to cart: 5

Inside pages color: 4, were slightly lighter than my images, there were also some funny lines on some of the images.

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Cover color: 3, cover was quite a bit darker than my images with a more pinkish cast to them (even the paper was more pink), good detail was kept though. Matte finish.

Binding: Library, glued. This binding was one of the more sturdy ones of the books I received (even more sturdy than most of the “stitched” bindings):

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Logo/barcode: none

Web based/software: downloaded software

Other information:

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Shutterfly

8x8, $29.69 and $7.99 shipping.

Intimidation Factor: none

Ease of upload: 5, I wish there was an option to upload imaged right to a photobook.

Ease of creation: 4, have to select the full-page layout and then add the photos.

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Adding to cart: 5

Inside pages color: 5

Cover color: 5, detail in paper was kept as well. Cover was glossy. (see notes below about cover printing). Was able to customize the spine (using the template by Wendyzine).

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Binding: glued

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Logo/barcode: barcode on back, logo and barcode on the back of last page of printing.

Web based/software: web

Other information: When I first started uploading layouts for printing, I thought I was going to do it without template and actions and just see how it worked out. Shutterfly was my first site and everything went well until I got to the cover. I took one look at the cover template and froze! It was very intimidating and I knew that I would not be able to create the look that I wanted without a template. I decided to do one book without a template and one with. I have to say that I am thrilled with the book that I used the template on and was able to achieve the exact look that I wanted. The book that I didn’t use the template on, had some of the printing cutoff. In the online builder, it looked good, but did not look good in the preview. I will be honest and as a newbie to photobooks, I didn’t know which to trust (now I know in most cases, rely on the preview and don’t do a cover without a template or action).

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VioVio

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8.5x8.5 $38.38, really slow shipping for $1.99, media mail for $5.00, and then various UPS, FedEx, and USPS, I ended up paying $10.00.

Intimidation Factor: mild, just so many choices and the privacy settings were a little intimidating.

Ease of upload: 5, can also upload from Flickr and Facebook. I was able to upload a zip file with all images at once. Really liked their interface.

Ease of creation: 5, Drag and drop interface, it only took me about 15 minutes to get album created once images were uploaded.

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Adding to cart: 5

Inside pages color: 2, were really washed out.

Cover color: 4, almost perfect, just slightly more red.

Binding: PUR Binding (I’m not sure what that is, but I could see some stitching from the top of the spine). Here is what I found when I took the book apart:

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Logo/barcode: back of book

Web based/software: web based

Other information: Be sure to set your privacy settings or anyone will be able to view (and/or buy) your book.

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Winkflash

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8x8, $25.70 shipping was $6.99

Intimidation Factor: none

Ease of upload: 3, I really had a hard time figuring out where to add the uploaded photos to the book building area. If it wouldn’t have been for this review, and a specific request from a reader, I would have quit!

Ease of creation: 3, this was frustrating as well to figure out how to get the full image template and add my images to it. No matter what I did, I could NOT get the cover image OR the title page to be a full page, the program would not let me change the layout to a full page! I really tried everything, including starting a new book, twice.

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Adding to cart: 5

Inside pages color: 5

Cover color: 4, only slightly darker, but remember, I couldn’t get the image on the front to fill the whole page (it is on the back). There doesn’t appear to be a way to customize the spine. Glossy cover.

Binding: We emailed them and called them (waited on hold for 15 minutes and then were disconnected) with no response. Sadly, this binding is already falling apart (and has had NO handling from my kids or husband yet). I can see that there is adhesive inside that looks like double-stick scrapbooking tape (that I use for ribbons and stuff) and I can see staples (which I am finding many companies call stitching).

Logo/barcode: barcode and logo on the back of the last inside page.

Web based/software: web based

Other information: The color and quality of printing is good, but the binding and book creating software are less than desired.

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Conclusion

I was pretty niave in my thinking that the photobooks would be as clear-cut as the layout printing. It was not. I think each company has it’s strength and each has a weakness or two. I know that for me; print quality is a huge factor (the biggest actually) in determining where I will print, but I also want my creation of the book to go smoothly, and a good binding (although I am not as concerned about it being stitched or glued), lastly, I also want it to be affordable.

There are only a couple of companies on this list that I will be unlikely to try again. I gasped, in a good way, when I saw my Adorama book. It was the only book that had that effect on me, and I am excited to print an album of 2-page spread with the lay-flat binding! Their interface is also really easy to use. I will probably be waiting for sales though.

There is a good chance that I will use Blurb to ‘slurp’ my blog and have a book made. I really LOVED Inku’s program for book building so well AND the fact that I can upload from Flickr will probably have my trying them again. I am likely to print again with MyPicTales their product was quality and the prices good. I will most likely print with Scrapping Simply again. I would really like to try Persnickety’s lay-flat binding and now that I have the MyPicTales template from Wendy for the cover, I should be good! Lastly, I will definitely be printing with Shutterfly again, the color really was excellent!

Will I do this again? Maybe….lol. It is unbelievable the amount of time it takes to upload, follow-up, keep track, and then, write and photograph! Not to mention that I am running out of ideas to hide my identity (and running out of super-secret-super-spies). I'm sure I will do it again, it will be awhile though…it will probably be a while before I do a book at all again…not to mention 12 of the same books with different companies! I hope this information is helpful to you in your quest for printing your memories!

P.S. A reader (thanks RK) sent me a link to a photobook review posted by another site. He covers several printers that I don't, so between the two reviews, you should have more information than you ever wanted on photobook printers! :) ;)

P.S.S. The winner from yesterday's feature on Kelley was Cheri, who said: "LOVE, love, love the “Chance of Rain” kit – the greens and blues are my happy colors!" You won $10 in supplies from Kelley! Check your inbox! :)

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