Shutterfly, Snapfish, Artifact Uprising, Zno, mPix … the list goes on and on!
Photo book companies are amazing! And without them, Story Squad would not be possible. We need companies like these in order to print our memory masterpieces, whether they be photo books or digital scrapbooks or something in between.
But while their ability to produce hardbound books is especially critical to someone who loves to print books of their photos, their function is a bit limited, and the risks of one exclusively are potentially huge. Here’s why:
You must have a start and finish in mind before you create and print. This is HUGE!!
If you’re making a book about a specific event — say, a holiday or a vacation — this might not be a big deal. After all, you know when the vacation started and ended, so you have a finite set of photos; you won’t be taking any additional photos related to that vacation once you’re home and working on the album. As a result, organizing your photos, writing the stories behind them and creating an album is a task that’s pretty straight-forward.
But what if you want to create an album for your 8-year-old daughter — and you want the album to cover her life from age 0 to age 18? You want to work on it now, a little at a time as she grows, but you don’t want it to sit in the Shutterfly system until she graduates from high school and you eventually get around to finishing the entire book worth of pages.
You want to have a chance to enjoy it now, hard copy in hand. But you can’t print your layout(s) until the entire album is done.
Adding to the risk, Shutterfly could undergo drastic changes — or even go out of business! — before you get the album done. What if the company deletes or changes the embellishments (patterns, stickers, graphics, etc.) from its system in a few years, and you lose all of the work you have already completed on the book?
Or what if you lose your mojo around your daughter’s 15th birthday, and you never go back and finish the album? You might never be able to actually enjoy that album you’ve worked on for years!
This is where it is extremely helpful to have the ability to design a single page, save it as a JPG, and print it whenever you are ready, whether that be when your daughter is 8 or 18. If you design your pages in Photoshop and save as JPGs, you have the flexibility to print the individual pages and slip them into traditional scrapbook albums or print an entire album when you’re ready, regardless of how long it took you to complete the album’s design.
You must work in chronological order.
Because of the issue outlined in #1, above, Shutterfly, Snapfish and other photo book printers essentially force you to scrapbook or make albums in chronological order. If you don’t, it’s possible you will never print a single album!
For example, my older son is 18 years old and graduated from high school earlier this year. I love making albums, and I have been working on a variety of albums (baby, toddler, school days, portraits, sports, etc.) for him since he was born. But I can only say for sure that one of those albums is complete — his school portraits album. I know that there will never be another school portrait taken of him for elementary, middle or high school. Those photos are done, and the pages are now done, too. As a result, I knew I could safely move forward and print a hardbound copy of the album.
The other albums, though, are a different story. Although I have spent countless hours on them, they are continuously in progress. I might not touch his photos for a year (instead, for example, focusing for a while on pages for my daughter, who will be the next to graduate from high school), but down the road, I might stumble on an adorable baby photo of that now-18-year-old son that I just have to document, so I can treasure it forever! If I had already made his baby album in Shutterfly and published the entire album, I know I would never go back and add this additional layout. Doing so would mean I would have to reprint the entire album!
But because I create and save my layouts as JPGs and print as I go, I am free to create that page and slip it into a traditional album when the mood strikes. It’s safe and stored in a way that I can easily enjoy it whenever I feel the need.
(Side note: I find that this hobby is much more enjoyable when I let go of the need to scrapbook or make photo books in chronological order. For me, creating pages is much more enjoyable if there isn’t pressure of doing things in order — having to scrapbook Easter photos before I can move on to our summer trip to Florida, for example. Instead, I want the freedom to be able to create pages in the order that makes me happy. If I am having a bum day and feel like looking at happy vacation photos, I want to be able to create pages with those happy photos today, without feeling like I need to trudge through 100 photos of our Easter egg hunt and scrapbook those pages first! So, if you’re feeling like this hobby is more like a chore, let go of the pressure to do things in order! You might find it’s sooooo much more enjoyable that way!)
You give up control of your layouts.
Eventually, I’ll be ready to call all of that older son’s albums done, and I can then print them into hardbound albums. I can also print multiple copies — a copy of each to keep with me at my house for the rest of my life, and a copy of each for his home, so he can share them with his children and spouse.
This is something that is only possible if you have control of your layouts, from start to finish, and can keep them under your control forever.
Storing your layouts inside a third-party software like Shutterfly or Snapfish leaves you vulnerable to the changing trends of technology — and the temporary nature of it. True story: A friend of mine has used a particular photo book company to create her photo albums for years. She’s made several albums for friends and family, because she’s great at it and loves doing it!
Unfortunately, though, she recently logged into her account with the intention of re-ordering an album she had created for a friend more than a year ago — only to find that some of the photos and entire page layouts had disappeared from the saved project!
Theoretically, she could have redesigned those pages — but it would have meant either going back to her friend and asking for the original, printed album, so she could recreate the missing pages — or going back through all of the photos she had taken of the album’s events, figuring out which ones had fallen off and recreating those pages, hopefully without using any photos twice. And the stories behind the photos? With an extra year between when the photos were taken and when she was (re)creating the album, it’s likely some of the details would have been lost in the process.
No matter what option she would choose, the hard fact is, she had lost a ton of time and work, and had no control to get back her layouts!
(While this is a true story, we have no reason to believe that this will always happen with any provider. However, it’s a good example of what absolutely could happen and has happened, and the risk of frustration you are agreeing to take if you trust your entire albums to a tech company.)
These are your photos and memories! It’s simply not worth the risk!
You’re stuck with your first choice.
Let’s say you decide to go with Photo Book Printer 1 for the first time. You spend hours creating a perfect album of photos from your very first overseas vacation within the online software, and it is beautiful! You hit print and eagerly await the album’s arrival on your doorstep.
A week or two later, it has arrived, and you can’t wait to tear open the package!
Then you do…and you’re disappointed.
The colors are not as vibrant as they should have been. In fact, they look dull and lifeless.
The red portions of the photos look pink.
The shadows in photos are too dark and blotchy.
The text you’ve written isn’t aligned just right.
And that embellishment of an ice cream cone just doesn’t look nearly as attractive in print as it did on the screen.
What to do now?
If you’ve designed the album completely within the photo book printer’s online software, you’re probably stuck. You can reprint — but it would be reprinted by the same company, which might very well have the same problems the second go-round as it did the first.
What you really want to do is try to send it to a different printer. But you can’t — because the project is created, saved and locked in the software you started with.
If, instead, you had designed your album in Photoshop and saved them as individual spreads, you could quickly and easily upload the layouts to a new printer and try again. If you notice that a photo needs a little more “pop,” you can edit it quickly before you reprint. You can reduce contrast in photos whose shadows didn’t print well. Text alignment probably isn’t an issue, because you had complete control over the text from the get-go in Photoshop. And that ice cream cone? You could find a new, better one and quickly swap it out if you’d like.
The result? You are 1000 times happier with the new printer, and you never have to go back to the original one you chose. Bonus: You don’t have to teach yourself new layout software for the next photo book printer you choose!
This doesn’t mean that we won’t ever use Shutterfly or Snapfish!
In fact, we will! You can still make great use of the coupons you receive from your favorite photo-book printer, and you can still enjoy the feeling of a hardbound book of your photos in your hands!
So, how should you be using photo book printers?
Instead of creating your entire layouts using the software offered by Shutterfly, Snapfish or other photo-book printers — picking templates, adding backgrounds, sticking “stickers,” etc. right inside the online software — I highly, highly, highly recommend using Photoshop to create your layouts, then simply uploading your finished layouts as JPGs into the online software.
You’ll simply choose the full-page photo option for each page, then drop in the completed layout.
The finished layout is saved on your computer, ready to use again whenever and wherever you want to. Let’s say, for example, you create a hardbound album with all of your child’s school portraits, but you also are creating a school days album that includes things like field trips, first-day-of-school photos, school projects, preschool diplomas, report cards, etc. If you have saved the school portrait layouts as JPGs, you can easily use them in the school days album, too, without having to recreate the layout from scratch!
If you had built those portrait layouts inside a photo-book printer’s software, you could only use them inside that particular album. If you wanted to use them in the school days album, as well, you would have to recreate them all over again inside that specific project.
Long story short…
Don’t throw away your photo book coupons! But consider using Photoshop to design your individual layouts, so you can be in control of your layouts for years to come! You could save yourself a heck of a lot of headaches down the line.