Monday, April 18, 2016

Photobook Review: Bay Photo BayBooks

Bay Photo BayBooks 8x8

Basic Information

Since I liked the flex-hinge page construction of MyPublisher (just nothing else about that product!), I decided to go back to the drawing board and see what other companies had this same kind of product available. Bay Photo, a geared-to-professionals lab in Scotts Valley, CA, looked to have a very nice flex-hinge press printed product. This is one of the few labs that allow non-professionals to order. Costs are significantly higher than the consumer-based books I had tried to date. 

Basic Information
WebsiteBay Photo (link)
ProductBayBooks (Premium Press Printed Photo Books)
Size8 x 8"
Actual Dimensions
(exterior cover)
21.9 x 21.0 cm
(8 5/8 x 8 1/4 ")
Actual Dimensions
(interior pages)
20.2 x 20.3 cm
(8x 8")
Cover TypeLustre photo hardcover (satin laminate)
Spine Printing?Yes (text and image)
Type of Pages/BindingLay flat (flex-hinged)
Type of PaperSemi-Gloss smooth paper 80# weight (presumably "cover" weight)
# Pages40
End pages?Yes
List Price
(excl. shipping)
$97.50 (pricing info)
Shipping Cost$7.00 (shipping info)
Promotion Used25% off first order
Total Price Paid
(incl. shipping)
Cashback at time of order?None
Date Ordered1/8/2016
Date Shipped1/13/2016 (FedEx Home Delivery)
Date Received1/19/2016
Photobook EditorDownloadable (Bay Designer by Taopix

Software Review

The Bay Designer downloadable software is identical to Photobook Designer used by Photobook America. You can read my review of the software here. The only difference I have found, is that for some reason, Bay Designer did not work with own installed fonts.

Product Pictures

The cover is very heavy, sturdy, and professional. 

Inside front cover. Black textured end sheets feel super luxe too

The first printable page is on the right, after the black end page

Like MyPublisher, the plastic hinge is printed on when there's a full bleed photo - however, in Bay Photo's product, it is the opposite page's hinge that is printed, not the same-page hinge. Open this image for a close-up. 

One of the few two-page panoramas I printed. The flex-hinge is not amazing for this, but it works. 

The last printable page is on the left, with black end sheet on the right

Inside back cover

Back cover. My front cover image wraps around the spine and onto the back. 

You can see the spine accommodates image and text printing

View from the bottom

Flex-hinge construction

The hinge on the full bleed page itself is not printed on (see the white gap on the plastic bit)

But the opposite page plastic hinge is printed on with the image on the left (this doesn't seem correct to me, but not a big deal)

On two page spreads, both plastic hinges are printed on (but I can't tell if each hinge is printing the correct side of the image). You can also get a sense of he paper finish here. 

A close-up of the end sheets - it has a nice texture to it. A great touch. 

Comparison to 4x6 Prints

Compared to my ProDPI 4x6 control prints, Bay Photo seems a touch warmer, but overall excellent colour reproduction.

The cover is a photo print


The macro section reveals that this is indeed press printing. I upgraded to 6 colour HP Indigo printing, but without a direct comparison to the same images printed in standard 4 colour printing, I can't really say I noticed an improvement.

Issues I had with Bay Photo Customer Service

I did not have the best interaction with Bay Photo's customer service, and since that was one of the criteria I listed in my overview post as being important to me, I thought I should share my experience here.

1. Fonts in Bay Designer:

As I have mentioned, the downloadable software for Bay Photo's photo books is the same software that is used by Photobook America ("Photobook Designer"). In Photobook Designer, if you install a font on your operating system, it appears in Photobook Designer for use in your photobook. Yet, in Bay Designer, none of my installed fonts appear in the font drop down list.

I sent an email to customer service asking about this, and after 6 days of roundabout responses, I still don't understand why I cannot use my installed fonts in Bay Designer, despite them being available for use in Photobook Designer. Here is a summary of the responses I received from Bay Photo (3 employees responded) over the 6 days:
  • Uninstall and reinstall the software (Michael)
  • Check off all options in new product alerts and options when booting up the software (Beth)
  • "Only the fonts within Bay Designer can be used. There are 1500 fonts within the program. Unfortunately any other fonts cannot be added." (Beth) 
  • When I said only 156 fonts appear in my installation, I asked how to get the other 1500 fonts, and received the following response, "Of the fonts that can be used in Bay Designer only the fonts that downloaded on your computer will appear and be able to be used."(Beth)
  • When I asked for a list of those 1500 fonts, so I could download ones that would be supported, I received the following response "There is not a list I can provide you. However, the fonts you see in Bay Designer on your computer, are the fonts that are available to you." (Ashly) 

2. Colour Corrections (CC):

As I wrote in my overview post, I planned to order all my books without colour correction to have a fair baseline comparison.

My original book received from Bay Photo, however, had terrible skintones (extremely pink and orange). There was one picture that I printed on the cover and inside, and the cover version was perfect, while the inside one was awful. Considering I had yet to see such awful colour reproduction in the other ~10 photo book companies I tried (all printed without any colour corrections) and I had paid a $6 upgrade for 6 colour printing (instead of the usual 4), I decided to email customer service, in case it was simply a fluke/misprint.

I sent them the following three pictures with my ProDPI control print for comparison purposes:

Original Book (no CC) - Cover looks good compared to my ProDPI control print

Original Book (no CC) - Inside page compared to the ProDPI control print. There is also a 1mm wide white line coming down the left side of the gap. 

Original Book (no CC) - I also sent them this picture. My face is that neon orange. 

From their website, they say the following about colour correction:
We have a highly trained staff of Color Correction technicians to color correct your images. This includes adjustments for Lightness/Darkness, Red, Green, Blue, Saturation and Contrast. Each image is viewed and color corrected individually by hand. We fully guarantee all of our prints ordered through our Full Color Correction Version of Bay ROES: Bay ROES Professional.

For the image that was printed on the cover AND inside the book, I emailed and asked why there was a difference. I also mentioned the white line issue. I received the following responses from Bay Photo over the course of 3 days:
  • "The cover is a photographic print with satin laminate and the pages are press printed. These can appear differently. We can adjust the files further per your instruction matching the color on the cover." (Beth)
  • "I will address the white border issue and have a technician review the files to see if how this happened. Then if it is a production issue we can color correct the files as a courtesy." (Beth)
  • I asked about the color corrections they were going to make, and they replied: "The same adjustments would be used if this order was placed with color correction. We highly recommend ordering our color correction. There is no additional charge for color correction for this product. Our color correction is guaranteed. If you are unhappy with our color correction, we can adjust the file further and reprint the item at no additional cost. Color correction includes adjusting contrast and brightness. With No Color Correction, the customer is responsible for managing the color and brightness of the print."(Michael) 

The images above were from our engagement session with our wedding photographer, and were already adjusted for lightness/darkness, colours, saturation and contrast. Since the cover print (a photo print) had perfect colours, while the interior press printed ones looked awful, I don't really "buy" their response that colour corrections would have prevented this in the first place. If the difference between photo prints and press prints really is SO significant, why did none of my other press printed books from Snapfish, Shutterfly, Photobook America, Blurb, MILK, and even Mixbook have the same neon skintone problem? Unless what they really meant was that "colour correction" also includes calibration, which it might, but their response did not say that.

Bay Photo provided a reprint and it is 100% perfect. The white line border issue is fixed, and the interior prints no longer have the crazy neon skin tones and is closer to the cover (which looks the same as the original print). If I were to order again, I would need to select "colour corrections" and cross my fingers. However, I am not a very trusting person, and the white line issue in the first book shows to me a lapse in their quality control process.
Original non-colour corrected book on top, my ProDPI control prints in the middle, and the reprinted Bay Book with colour corrections on bottom

3. Shipping Method and Cost

In reviewing the shipping information for this post, I realized that while the shipping charge was consistent with their posted shipping policies, the description "Albums are shipped for a flat $7.00 per album for 3-day shipping" was not true, as my orders were shipped Fedex Home Delivery and took 5-6 business days (M-F) for delivery.

I emailed customer service and after some back and forth, they said that the 3-day shipping only applied to orders submitted through ROES, and not through Bay Designer. This distinction is not disclosed anywhere on their site.

Final Thoughts

Based on quality alone, this photo book is probably my favourite out of all the photo books I have tried. There is a perfect balance in substantial cover, high quality end sheets and paper quality, and print reproduction. That said, I am not sure I will order from them again based on my interactions with customer service.

As you can read above, nothing outlandish happened, but I felt like their responses were nonchalant. It seemed like they did not fully understand my questions (often missing questions in my emails completely, and I had to re-ask) or care if they had answered them properly. Perhaps a telephone call would have resulted in more clarity, or I am simply unaccustomed to Californian service. There's no way for me to know.

I realize my expectations may be too high, and my comments overly critical, but this is a premium product at a premium price, and I expect customer service to be better than this. I suspect most people have a great experience with Bay Photo, but I can only comment on my own experiences!

If I had been able to use my own installed fonts, received the reprinted book first, and the shipping policies clearly labeled for non-ROES orders, then my search would be complete and I would have recommended Bay Photo with 100% confidence. Since this wasn't the case, though, I had to keep looking.

  • Pro level construction (high quality cover, not too thick flex-hinge paper, great print quality, luxe end sheets) 
  • 6 colour printing upgrade available
  • Easy to understand pricing structure
  • Colour correction does not have an added cost
  • 25% off your first order
  • Downloadable photobook software 

  • Customer service experience was iffy
  • Quality control might be an issue
  • Only one type of paper for flex-hinge (80# cover weight), though for a charge, you can choose a texture (linen, pebble, or canvas) or UV coating (luster, gloss)
  • The binding has a little bit of excess glue (minor cosmetic issue I only noticed compared to MyPublisher and ProDPI books)

Additional Reviews

I could not find any reviews of the Bay Books anywhere online, but I did find a couple videos posted by Bay Photo that were enough to get me to try them.


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