Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Overview: Photobook Companies Roundup

It's been over 6 months since I began this photobook journey, and you would think that after creating 14 books, it would be clear which photo book company is the best. Surprisingly, it's not that simple. It really is true that most photobook companies have their own strengths and weaknesses. Which company you should choose depends highly on your preferences. I tried to summarize my experience with the following decision tree:

Click to enlarge

Companies I Tried

Here is a summary table with links to all my reviews:

CompanyProduct Tried
AdoramaPixHard Cover Photo Book, 8X12, Luster
Hard Cover Photo Book, 8X8, Fuji HD Glossy
Hard Cover Photo Book, 8X10, Fuji Deep Matte
Artisan State (ZNO)6x8 Layflat Book Hard Cover
Bay Photo8x8 Photo Hardcover with Lay-Flat Hinged pages
BlurbStandard Landscape 10x8 Imagewrap with Premium Lustre paper
MILK Books9.25x7.4 Medium Landscape Photo Books (Paper)
Mixbook11x8.5 Classic Landscape Premium Lay Flat Hardcover
MyPublisher11.25x8.75 Classic Hardcover with Photo Finish, Premium Paper, Lay Flat pages, Super Gloss printing
Photobook America8x8 Small Square Lay Flat Imagewrap Hardcover
11 x 8.5 Medium Landscape Imagewrap Hardcover
ProDPI10 x 8" horizontal Press Printed Book with Layflat Pages
Shutterfly8x8 Hard photo cover layflat pages, matte finish cover
Snapfish8x8 Premium Layflat Hardcover

Companies I Did Not Try

There are way more companies out there that I did not try. I thought it might be helpful to list out the other companies I researched, but ultimately did not try (with a short reason why I didn't try them).

  • Mpix (consumer arm of Millers/MPixpro): No imagewrap hardcover books available (image wrap only on softcovers and non-layflat books). No spine printing. Fixed layouts. 
  • Artifact Uprising: No imagewrap hardcover available. Spine printing is only available on the layflat book (with linen cover, max 70 pages/sides, and higher price). For regular non-layflat books, spine printing is only available on the dust jacket. If they were to produce image wrap covers, I would possibly try this company (although the online software is very limiting).  
  • Photobook Press: Online editor is same as Artifact Uprising, but with even more limited layout options (with no plans to add more). No reviews online, limited customization (paper types) and limited information about paper. Pricing is two tiered/confusing.
  • Black River Imaging: Editor software (Cascade) is not robust (no position coordinates or size dimensions). Flex-hinge book is more expensive than Bay Photo. 
  • MyPhotoCreations / BrideBox / DigiLabsPro: Flex-hinge (Ashbury) and seamless (Lake) options, as well as flush mount. Lake is only in square formats, but Ashbury is available in portrait and landscape formats. Free downloadable software is robust. Max pages for Ashbury is 60 pages/sides and for Lake 80 pages/sides. Not many choices provided in paper type, but Ashbury pages are coated (usually a surcharge at other companies). I may try this company in the future. 
  • Pinhole Press: Layflat pages only available in square format, and linen spine (not full image wrap cover, and no spine printing)
  • Picaboo: Poor online reviews for their flex-hinge layflat product. 
  • Artscow: Layflat books not available in larger landscape format.
  • RitzPix: Layflat books only available in landscape format (not square). Online only photo editor is not robust (no position coordinates or size dimensions, cannot copy paste objects). 
  • Costco: The only layflat option is 12x12. I believe Shutterfly produces these books. 
  • Presto Photo: Seamless layflat books are only available in 8x12 format; maximum page count of 30. 
  • HelloPics / Photo & Go: Layflat books only appear to be available in square formats. Only available in groups of 10's. Typos on website. Book editor does not appear to be robust. 
  • Photobucket Print Shop: Layflat books only available in square formats (no landscape format). Template layouts are fixed.
  • Winkflash: Layflat books are flex-hinged, not seamless. Only available in one landscape format (8.5x11).
  • MyPicTales: Few reviews and appears to use the same software as MyPhotoCreations. 
  • Smilebooks: Few reviews on this service since 2011. Some older reviews mention an unsightly barcode on back, and that pages must be added in groups of 8s. Real photo paper is used, so there is risk of photo paper sticking together. Not enough information provided on the website. 
  • HH Color Lab: Available to professional photographers only
  • WHCC: Pricing not available without account. Geared towards professionals, but I believe they are open to consumers. Does not appear to be a photo editor available. Studio sample is stamped into fly pages, 25% off, still more expensive than ProDPI. WHCC acquired ProDPI a few years ago.
  • Somerset: Offers both flex-hinge and flush mount, but only in squares. Higher base pricing (8x8 flex-hinge is $55 for 10 spreads, 8x8 album is $277). There appears to be a photo editor available. 
  • Asuka Book: Available to professional photographers only
  • Richard Photolab: Layflat books are flex-hinged, not seamless. Image wrap cover does not appear to be available. Ordering is through ROES.
  • Nations Photo Lab: Layflat books are flex-hinged, not seamless. Maximum page count in 30 (15 spreads). Software is not robust. 
  • Millers / MpixPro: Layflat books not available through Mpixpro anymore. Miller's Signature Books and Layflat Albums, but is only available to professional photographers. 
  • Clark Colorlabs: Layflat books do not appear to be available. 
  • Apple Photo Books: Layflat books do not appear to be available. 
  • Bookemon: Layflat books do not appear to be available. 
  • CVS: Layflat books do not appear to be available. 
  • Memento Press: Layflat books do not appear to be available. 
  • Chatbooks: Layflat books do not appear to be available. Layouts limited to 1 photo per page. 


Conclusion

Based on my personal preferences, the books I was most impressed with were:

  1. ProDPI: High quality cover and binding, flexible but sturdy pages, great quality press printed images, and excellent customer service. No free software, but sample pricing! 
  2. AdoramaPix: Fabulous print quality (though slightly darker than expected). Excellent build quality, although the double-thick pages are distractedly thick to me. Choice of photo paper finish and great customer service. Free software is more than adequate. 
  3. MILK Books: Love the quality of the book, layflat-ish binding (sewn signatures), paper quality, and colour reproduction. The free software is god awful. 

Out of these three, I will continue to order from ProDPI and AdoramaPix for different types of books. I plan to use ProDPI for my Year In Review and vacation photobooks, and AdoramaPix for gifts (on Fuji HD Glossy paper) or artsy projects (on Fuji Deep matte). While I liked my MILK book, the lack of spine labeling and full imagewrap cover (and terrible software experience) are enough to keep me away, but I do think they are really nice.

I hope my reviews have helped someone out there! I probably spent a lot more time and money on this hobby than I should have!

6 comments:

  1. Hi Daughter Lao Ye,

    my compls for your blog! Your idea is simply fantastic! I am a wedding photographer and I print "my" photobook with Blurb, the most important reason is that Blurb is integreted with Lightroom I use in my workflow.

    Now i'd like to level up relatively both the page quality and the packaging (Blurb doesnt provide any box).

    Can u suggest me the best option? Using Lightroom is a plus but not necessary. I could use jpg output of LR or also the free software.

    Thank u very much for ur advice!

    Davide
    (from Italy)
    http://www.davidebossi.com/

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    Replies
    1. Hi Davide!

      I would suggest you take a closer look at 1) MILK Books, 2) AdoramaPix, and 3) ProDPI.

      My only caveats are, for each,
      1) MILK Books paper quality is nicer than Blurb Premium paper, but possibly not better than the ProLine options. They have an option for a gorgeous presentation box, so I think they work really nicely for Weddings and Engagements. However, they do stamp the back cover with "MILK", so that might be an issue if you do not want your clients to know how much the book cost you to produce. Their software is very limiting, so I would go with the JPEG export method!

      2) AdoramaPix has really nice print quality since it uses photo paper, but there is some risk of unhappy clients if they do not store their books properly (e.g., away from humidity). They offer some gift box options online. The Fuji Deep Matte paper would be gorgeous for wedding photos though. I think you would also want to use your jpegs here, but the software is quite robust.

      3) ProDPI is my overall favourite; they have both press print and flush mount options. They also have some gift box options available as well. You'll have to use jpegs here, since they don't have free software.

      I hope that helps!

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  2. Hi DLY!

    thank u for ur answer! I think I'll go with Milk. AdormaPix has no box option and ProDPI browsing isnt clear, not user friendly. I think "MILK LARGE LANDSCAPE PHOTO ALBUM" could be work. I just dont understand whether the MILK Presentation Box is included in the order or I have to order it apart.
    Thank u very much!
    Davide

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    Replies
    1. Hi Davide, I believe the "Photo Albums" come with a box, but you should contact MILK books and confirm. Also, keep an eye out for promo codes - they usually have one running, so don't pay full price!

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  3. Thanks for doing such a thorough review of all these photobooks! After reading your reviews, I'll probably use AdoramaPix for wedding photos and potentially MyPublisher for travel pics. I noticed on some of your travel albums (Japan, China), that the album opened with a dot map of the country visited and the cities visited were highlighted in red. I thought this looked really cool, can you share how the maps were made?

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    Replies
    1. Glad my reviews were helpful to you!

      Re: the dot maps, I first saw the idea here http://www.thecatyouandus.com/blurb/, but since I am not very skilled in the graphic design department, mine doesn't look half as nice! The only way I figured out how to DIY myself, was to

      a) download a free clipart of a country and a repeating dot pattern
      b) in Photoshop or GIMP (or whatever editor you have available), open the outline image, select the area inside the outline, fill that selection with the dot pattern, then hide/delete the country outline
      c) go around the edges of the country and erased any partial dots to clean things up
      d) filled specific dots with another colour based on my guess using Google Maps of where a certain city was, and added text as needed

      I'm sure there's a better/more professional way to do this, but hope this helps!

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