Photo books vs. digital scrapbooks: What’s the difference?

No doubt, you’ve heard people talk about photo books. And chances are good that you’ve created one yourself. If so, you’re super-close to being a digital scrapbooker, whether you’ve realized it or not!

So what’s the difference between a photo book and a digital scrapbook-style album (or a “memory masterpiece,” as I like to call it)?

It’s the stories, and the importance we place on them — plus the artwork that we choose to accompany the photos and stories.

Note: The table below is best viewed on a desktop or tablet.

Photo Books

See more examples of photo book pages. I have saved a bunch in an album on Pinterest.

Digital Scrapbook-Style Albums

Kids Cafe - Digital scrapbook two-page layout by Corie Farnsley
“Kids’ Cafe.” Layout by Corie Farnsley. View larger image.

See more examples of scrapbook pages (single pages, two-page layouts).


Photo Books (PB): To catalog a large amount of photos

Digital Scrapbook-Style Albums (DS): To catalog key photos and memories. You can include many photos of a certain event, of course, but most people won’t try to include all of their thousands of photos in a scrapbook-style album. 

To tell and document stories

These albums document memories and tell stories in a deeper way than photo books do.

Reasons to Create One

PB: To get photos off your phone and into a format you can easily enjoy

To save your photos from technological failures

To have a means of passing your photos on to future generations

DS: To get photos off your phone and into a format you can enjoy

To save your photos from technological failures

To have a means of passing your photos and stories on to future generations

To document the memories and stories behind the photos, so you can remember more details and reminisce more deeply than if you’re just looking at old photos

To help your children and other family members understand the lives you share and what you value about those lives

To preserve the details that make someone truly special — from the personalities of children to the heart and soul of parents, grandparents, significant others and more

To allow the designer to play, add creative touches, and engage in some “creative therapy.”


PB: Usually simple and to the point

Photos might be relatively small (to fit a lot into a single album)

Backgrounds are often either plain white or plain black — or have very few design elements

The entire album is usually cohesive in design — similar backgrounds throughout, and if artwork is used, they often feature similar designs from page to page

Pages might or might not have headlines/titles.

Pages might or might not have journaling/stories/text.

DS: Can be anything! Creators let their artistic preferences determine the direction of each layout. Some are very simple; others might have 20 elements (pieces that add to the design – like flowers, buttons, word art, ribbon, stitching, staples, or other items) and only one photo.

Backgrounds are generally not just plain white or plain black. Even simple scrapbooks usually (but not always) have some color in the background.

Most pages have headlines or titles, which might be straight-forward or punny in nature.

Pages generally include some sort of designer paper (often more than one design) as well as extra elements (like fancy title fonts or flowers, buttons, etc.) that add to the design.

Pages often include writing of some sort, from detailed captions to paragraphs of text.

Pages might include a single photo or several photos.

All photos on a page typically relate to a central theme.

Every page in an album could have a unique look and feel — or pages could be designed to be cohesive (ex: same fonts and colors on every page) throughout the album.


PB: Mostly, photos. This is the focus of the album.

A few simple design elements

Photos throughout the album are often unified in some way. For example, a photo book might be entirely about a wedding, family reunion, single vacation, the first year of a baby’s life, a year-in-the-life-of-the-XYZ Family, etc.

The collection of pages usually has a beginning and an end of some sort. Once the album is bound and printed, there won’t be additional pages to add.

DS: The content’s focus is on both photos and the stories behind them.

Written content — often in paragraph format — often documents details about the photos as well as (often) deeper content, like memories, stories, personalities, etc.

Sometimes, memorabilia, like scanned certificates and newspaper articles, are included.

Artistic design elements can be extensive or minimal, depending on the creator’s preference.

Album pages are often connected in some way — either by topic, by person or by dates — but sometimes are a mismatched collection.

The collection of pages could be static (unchanging) — such as in a printed hardbound album. Or, they could be a work in progress. The creator might add or remove pages at any point. For example, a creator might make album pages for a child over 20 or more years, adding them to the album slowly over time.

Here’s the thing: A memory masterpiece that you create doesn’t have to fall cleanly into one of these two slots! That’s the beautiful thing about using Photoshop to create your albums, rather than using Shutterfly, Snapfish or another online program. Every single page is a new opportunity to create something meaningful, something that speaks to your heart, not only in design but in the written content, too. (Here are a few more reasons Photoshop is better.)

You have the freedom to create whatever you would like, however you would like. What sings to your soul? It could be simplicity and lots of photos on one day, and a single-photo layout with tons of embellishments and no words on another! Today, you might feel like using bright colors and fun patterns, and tomorrow, you might want clean, simple and sophisticated design. 

Simply put, digital scrapbooking-style albums are generally much more personal and reflective of the creator’s feelings and memories than more simplified photo books. 

Whether you enjoy creating photo books or digital scrapbook-style albums, the most important thing is that you’re preserving your photos and memories. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Just have fun!

The templates that Story Squad will be providing (soon!) will be ideal for those of you who like to go with the flow on each individual day you work on your albums. The templates are by nature simple and straight-forward; they’ll make beautiful layouts, even if you don’t use ANYTHING but the photos. But they’ll also be flexible and provide solid foundations for starting layouts that allow your creativity to go wild. Flexibility is just as important as fun when creating. Enjoy it!

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

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