(Warning up front: This is a long post, so if you want to jump to the meat of it – comparing three digital hardbound book printers – click here!)
This is definitely one of my favorite things about digital scrapbooking: Printing all of my layouts together in a hardbound, coffee-table-quality book. I actually just recently received my third hardbound book, and I was giddy with excitement when the UPS man dropped it at my doorstep!
Getting your finished layouts from screen to scrapbook is easier than you might think. It’s simply a matter of organizing all of those finished layouts in a way that makes sense for an album, then uploading those photos like you would any other photo to an online photo developer who offers photo book printing.
For me, organizing my layouts for a hardbound book means I need a beginning and an end for my layouts, and because I don’t generally scrapbook my “everyday” layouts in chronological order, the best topics for hardbound books tend to be theme albums. My three hardbound books include a memorial album for my grandmother, a wedding album and a vacation album. Each had a definite beginning and end, and I knew when I was done scrapping these topics. (This is unlike my normal albums; for example, I still might go back and do a page from my son’s first year, even though he’s now 9 years old, just because the mood strikes.)
It’s easiest for me to organize my layouts before I try to create an album online. This means combining all of my JPGs for the album into one folder on my computer, then naming each file, starting with the number corresponding with the page I want the layout to occupy in the book. (Don’t forget to name the low-end numbers with zeroes in front to keep pages in alpha-numerical order. So, for that first layout of the book, name it something like “01 – cover.” Otherwise, your files will be ordered with page 1 right before page 11, page 2 right before 22 and so on.) This way, your layouts will be organized in your folder in numerical order, so you can see exactly how they will fall in your printed book. If you scrapbook in two-page spreads, you’ll want to chart out your layouts on paper so you know your two-page layouts won’t get separated into two separate spreads.
So, for the wedding album I did, I might chart something like this:
||01 – cover.jpg
|Pages 2-3 (spread)
||02-03 – title and introduction.jpg
|Pages 4 -5 (spread)
||04-05 – bride and groom formal.jpg
||06 – invitation.jpg
||07 – location.jpg
The added benefit to this numerical file-naming is that when you upload your layouts into your photo book printer’s online software, they will load in the order you want them to be placed in the book, so you avoid fishing through all of your layouts to get them in order at that time. And at the time when you’re uploading everything, you’re just ready to be done, so anything that makes it faster at that point is worth it, right?
Choosing an online printer
One of the benefits of digital scrapbooking (and the simpler, even more popular photobooking) becoming more popular over time is that there are now several options for choosing a company to print your photo book/digital scrapbook. When I started digital scrapbooking in 2006, I only knew of a couple of printers that offered hardbound, coffee-table-style books for digital layouts. Now the options are much greater, but taking the time to decide who will do the best job for your special project can be a little overwhelming.
But it pays to do your research.
My experience has been that you get what you pay for. I’ll share my specific experiences with three different printers, but keep in mind that these are simply one consumer’s experiences. Take my advice with a grain of salt, and know that not everyone will experience the same challenges. Also keep in mind that I printed these three books over a period of time that spans several years, and things change (often for the better) over time.
Here are the three companies I used and my opinions about each.
I printed my first book with Heritage Makers in 2006. They did an awesome job. The page thickness and color accuracy were high-quality. I paid about $75 for an 80-page, 12×12 book. (Note, though, that when I recently looked into printing from them again, the price had increased quite a bit.) They didn’t offer a custom spine at the time, but I believe they do now. It was a little bit cumbersome (OK, a bit of a pain) to have to make contact with and order my product through a consultant before I could do anything online, but that would be my only complaint. All in all, I loved this book, and it has held up nicely over time. I would recommend this printer to friends without hesitation.
OK, this is where I hesitate a bit. I printed with Blurb in 2007, I believe (or early 2008 at latest). I printed a small book, 7×7, and I have to say that I was a little disappointed in the quality. The color, specifically the reds, was not quite right, leaving some pages oddly tinted, which was sometimes most noticeable on tan faces. At the time, Blurb did not offer a custom cover, so I ordered a custom dust jacket on their standard album. The dust jacket was not folded on center, so the spine text was not centered on the spine, and the cover images were not centered. There were several small globs of glue on the back cover that were not noticeable when the dust jacket is in place, but when the cover is removed to make looking at the book less clumsy, are rather noticeable. The pages are a little thinner and seem to be bound a little less sturdily than Heritage Makers’ product (a look at the top of the album shows that the pages were cut at an odd angle), and the images inside were not super-crisp, either. The price was hard or impossible to beat (just about $35, I think, for a 74-page album), but I was left a little disappointed in the end. I will say, however, that I believe they now offer a custom cover, and I imagine that over time their color issues have improved. However, I have been nervous to try this printer again. (If you have used Blurb for a photo book/digital scrapbook and have had a better experience, please leave a comment below so we can share that with everyone!)
The most recent book I did was through Shutterfly. I chose a padded cover for a 12×12 book that had 100 pages, and I absolutely love the feel of the padding. The book feels substantial and very high-quality. The pages are super-thick, and the quality of the color and pages is overall very high-quality. I will say that if you design your own pages in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements (rather than use Shutterfly’s page-design software), you might choose to turn off the aut0-correct color feature. Mine had a dark gray, lightly patterned background on all pages that turned out black in the final product as a result of the color-correction process. The price of the book was a bit expensive ($120-ish, on sale), but then, when I was researching printing this time around, price hikes were across the board. Shutterfly’s sale brought its prices down to one of the most reasonable of the printers I had researched. (I’ll share more info about that research in another post soon.)
While I was very happy with the overall quality of my book through Shutterfly, I will say that I had two big issues with the printing. First, the title on the spine was truncated. So, while the title was supposed to be “Colorado 2010: A family vacation,” all that printed was “Colorado 2010: A famil.” And page 15 was blank, even though there was definitely a page uploaded and placed in the original layout online. I double-checked my online proof, and both of these issues turned out to be Shutterfly’s mistakes. After a call to customer service, though, I am happy to report that they are reprinting the books for free. I had ordered two copies – one as a gift and one for myself – and they are printing and shipping both at no cost. So in the end, I’m a happy camper, even though I will be waiting for a “good” copy for some time.
From top: Blurb, Heritage Makers, Shutterfly
From top: Blurb, Heritage Makers, Shutterfly
And that’s a wrap!
That’s an overview. I could talk about this all day, but I imagine my wordiness has led some people to move on by now! Just wanted to share my experiences. I would love to hear if you have printed hardbound books yourself and what your experiences have been like. We can all learn from each others’ experiences, and hopefully we will be more prepared to make educated choices for our next album printings!
Oh, and watch for a post in the near future detailing my research (page counts, costs, options, etc.) on several photo book printers!