Monday, February 15, 2016

Photobook Review: Artisan State (ZNO) Layflat

Artisan State (ZNO) 6x8" Layflat Hardcover ($5 Trial size)

Basic Information

Based on the less-than-lackluster customer service reviews for Artisan State, I was not too excited to try them; however, I could not turn down the $5 trial (really $10 after shipping) price for science

Note: as of March 2016, Artisan State has changed their company name to ZNO.

Basic Information
WebsiteArtisan State (link)
ProductLayflat hardcover book
Actual Dimensions
(exterior cover)
20.9 cm x 15.5 cm
(8 1/4 " x 6 1/8 ")
Actual Dimensions
(interior pages)
20.2 cm x 14.9 cm
(8" x 5 7/8 ")
Cover TypeHardcover
Spine Printing?Yes (text and image)
Type of Pages/BindingLay Flat (seamless)
Type of PaperPremium Photo Paper with a Lustre finish (Kodak Premier Digital Paper)
# Pages20
End pages?No
List Price
(excl. shipping)
$30.00 (pricing info)
Shipping Cost$5.00 (shipping info)
Promotion Used$5 trial offer
Total Price Paid
(incl. shipping)
Cashback at time of order?None
Date Ordered12/2/2015
Date Shipped12/7/2015
Date Received12/11/2015
Photobook EditorOnline

Software Review

Here are some screenshots from the online photobook editor and a few thoughts: 

The online software is easy to use, but it was not without problems. 

You can easily re-arrange spreads, but you cannot rearrange individual pages

The images have position coordinates and dimensions! But you have to click in and out of this dialog box to switch photos

It is very easy to switch pictures around, but like I mention in the prior screenshot, you cannot do this while the properties dialog box is open 

The main frustration I had with the software was buggy layouts: layouts are easy to sort through by number of images (and number of landscapes and portraits), but the little preview does not always match up to the actual layout. See the highlighted yellow layout compared to the actual layout. 

I didn't use any stickers in my book, but looking through them for my review, there are a lot of really cute ones. What do you think of my masterpiece? I am very entertained by the Stay Puft snowman. 

A limited font selection, unfortunately.

Preview mode works as intended

  • Snap to grid function works well
  • Very easy to swap pictures
  • Dimension and position coordinates! 
  • Ability to filter layouts by number of portraits and landscape images
  • 2 page layouts available
  • Trim area is clearly shown 

  • Layout previews are buggy
  • Can only rearrange spreads (not individual pages)
  • No image sort options, other than used/not used
  • To re-position an image in the frame, you must enter a separate window (extra clicks bug me) 
  • Cannot copy-paste elements
  • Cannot duplicate spreads (i.e., no easy way to re-use any custom layouts)
  • Poor font selection
  • No keyboard shortcuts

While there is a nice selection of premade layouts (especially those spanning two pages), the lack of a copy-paste function on objects and spreads means there is no efficient way to use custom layouts. If you find the existing layouts adequate, then this will not be a problem for you.

In general, I found the software to be usable, but not very streamlined. Many features require numerous clicks and pop-up boxes, and keyboard shortcuts do not seem to exist. The experience felt cumbersome to me.

Product Pictures

Cover - more on the texture later
The cover does make an unsightly crease as you open it, as well as an audible sound
Inside the front cover. The end sheets are a nice black paper. CAUTION below about not bending this first page!
The photo paper is a lustre finish, and the colour reproduction is very good
Spreads across two pages look great 
I think I customized this spread layout
Inside the back cover
Spine printing allows image wrap and text. Note that the transparent background colour I used behind the title was a huge PITA to get aligned where I wanted it, since once it was placed, clicking in that area would always select the font first. 
Close up of the seamless lay flat pages. Note that there actually appears to be a substrate between the pages (not just the photo paper glued back to back). This means very thick and stiff pages (good or bad, that's up to you!). The cover also seems to be glued slightly unevenly (see in the first picture, the spine is not at a 90 degree angle, and the front cover juts out over the back cover).
Side shot to show the lustre finish of the paper
My main pet peeve with this product is the cover material. There is a weird texture that looks very cheap to me. 
Here is a macro shot of the texture. I find it extremely unpleasant.  

Caution on Bending the Pages

As I was writing up this review, I was flipping through my book, and admiring the nice black end papers. In trying to determine whether the end sheet was cover stock weight or text weight bonded to photo paper, I gently flexed the right end sheet and heard a cracking sound. Curious as to what it was, I flexed the page all the way across (satisfying cracking sound ensued), and the black paper completely popped off the back of the first photo page:
The black end paper detached from the back of the first page. The white stuff is dried glue. 

Curious now, I flexed the exposed back of the first page, and the same thing happened, except the substrate (which I now know is a sheet of cover stock) came away from the back of the first photo page (revealing that this photo paper is Kodak Premier Digital Paper).

At least I learned something from this massacre. Artisan State layflat books use Kodak Premier Digital Paper
And then since I had already damaged this book (don't worry, I already reprinted these photos with AdoramaPix), I tested the first regular page (just the corner), and the same thing happened, although the photo paper seems to adhere better to the substrate better than the end paper does.

The regular pages are also susceptible to separation if you flex the pages
So, I thought I thought I would put the warning in my review to NOT FLEX THE PAGES under any circumstances. FWIW, I mercilessly flexed my AdoramaPix lustre photo book pages (the only other photo paper books I have tried), and there is no issue there. I suspect some spray adhesive would fix this up in a jiffy, but I don't have any on hand.

Comparison to 4x6 Prints

I was very pleased with both the colour reproduction and the brightness/darkness of the prints. Here are some comparisons to my 4x6 ProDPI control prints:

The blues in the sky here printed a little differently, but not enough to upset me. 
In this example, the photo book print is actually a bit lighter and warmer than the 4x6 print. Having discovered that Artisan State uses Kodak paper, and ProDPI uses Fuji paper, this is consistent with what everyone says about it (that Kodak = warmer, and Fuji = cooler). 
Another comparison where the photo book print is a tad lighter than the 4x6 print
Here's another example of where the blues print differently, but again, it does not bother me. 


Time for my favourite part of the review! Unfair macros! This is where things get a bit interesting because this is photo paper, and so even in these macros, there are no visible dots (just some texture from the lustre paper). That's nice, right?

Sharp edges on this sign
What a nice monkey.
Intense reptile eye! This picture was shot with a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro lens. The only lens I miss from my old Nikon gear (I have switched to Fujifilm a few years ago)
Text looks very clean as well

Final Thoughts

I wanted to mention a few other things before I wrap up my review:

Artisan State also offer a variety of different cover types (see here), though, personally, I find almost all of them to be incredibly tacky.

Most reviews I've read say that Artisan State's products are manufactured in China, but I can't confirm this based on information available on their website. This layflat trial book shipped from Texas, but it's not really clear where it was manufactured.

  • Good colour reproduction, detail and brightness
  • Photo paper 
  • Black end papers are a nice touch

  • Cover material is awful (a personal preference)
  • Pages are too stiff and thick (a personal preference)
  • Book makes a creaking sound when opened
  • Questionable construction quality (edges of front and back cover do not line up, glue between pages does not hold up to flexing pages) 
  • Potential for photo paper to stick together in humid conditions (read this for paranoia ++)
  • Software is not robust enough (cannot copy paste objects or spreads)

Overall, I do think this is a good product for the price (especially the trial price). I could easily overlook the pages separating when flexed, because you probably shouldn't do that, but I dislike the software and the cover material enough that I would not order again. Furthermore, the horror stories about non-responsive customer service definitely give me pause.

While I still need to post my review on AdoramaPix's photobooks, their pricing is just as competitive (a 40 page 10x10 book at Artisan State is $80 + $10 shipping, and at AdoramaPix is $90 with free shipping), but compared to this trial book, they have a nicer build quality, a better reputation in customer service (although not perfect, just check their Yelp reviews for unsatisfied customers!), a more robust software experience, and they provide a selection of photo papers types to choose from (at a cost though).

That said, for $5 (really $10 after shipping), if you are on the fence about Artisan State, it's better to just try it out for yourself and make up your own mind.

Additional Reviews

None worth sharing


  1. This is more for your other readers -- personally I really like the cover (from the $5 trial). For that particular material, I don't find it tacky. In fact, I feel it gives a more luxurious feel. I am a bit worried about the glue coming off though.... I guess only time will tell!

  2. I'm glad I came across this read.
    I too have the same issue with the glue delaminating off the photo paper.
    It was a great product at first but with this flaw, I am very reluctant to order anything from ZNO now. Buyer beware.

  3. Great review and I agree on the quality. I order 2 photo books from Artisan State (before they became Zno) and experienced the same issue with the binding. Their pricing is great but what's the point if I can't keep the book for years to come?

  4. Great review.. you have helped me decide! Thanks

  5. Same thing happened to me - the photos began separating from the material they were glued to - only I wasn't flexing them. With just normal use, the pages start to separate. Glad it was only the $5 free trial (which I turned into $20, but still).