As a recent bride just married this past June and as someone who has always loved photos and photography, when the time came to decide about photography and videography for our wedding, I found myself quite consumed with seemingly endless searches on the Internet to see what was out there and what we could afford. I’m sure many brides can identify with the anxiety of planning a wedding let alone figuring out how to best preserve what is definitely one of the most important days in a girl’s life! I was so happy to find our photographer Albert Yau of Secondprint Productions, who ended up doing an amazing job.
There were some key qualities that our photographer had to have. He/she had to be:
1) Comfortable shooting a combination of photojournalistic and posed photos;
2) Reasonably priced;
3) Someone we clicked with given that we were going to spend a whole day with this person;
4) Able to provide a good second shooter to get maximum coverage and multiple angles of our day;
and most importantly,
5) Someone who would shoot digital photos and provide us all the photos on disk.
That last point was key and I’m so glad to have gotten married in the digital age! I can’t imagine not having the control over the images and easy access to them.
Side note: This post focuses on affordable photo books available to the average consumer and marketed to the general public versus high-end printers who normally only work with professional photographers. (By “affordable” I mean anywhere from $30.00 for the average 20 page, 8 x 11 book to about $200.00+ for a 100 page 8 x 11 book. This is price before applying coupon codes or special deals which can often result in up to 50% off those prices or a BOGO free.)
Good news for brides is that there are several high-end printers who have recently realized the potential for working with consumers directly. Given the new reality of wedding photographers providing digital “negatives” to brides, these printers are beginning to offer the highly coveted flush-mount albums or lay flat photo books directly to non-professionals. I’m saving up to order a flush-mount or lay flat book for my personal wedding album soon and I’ll be writing a series of posts about my experiences in doing that – so be sure to check back on my progress! (Update: Check out my most recent wedding albums – a lay flat photo book and a high-end flush mount!)
Back to the topic of affordable photo books, (which can be great as primary wedding albums or as gifts for parents, relatives, bridal party etc. etc…) now that our wonderful wedding day has come and gone, what to do with the 1100 professional photos not to mention a couple hundred photos from friends and family members?
SORTING & EDITING
First task was to sort all the photographs. As a Mac devotee, I faithfully loaded all my photos into iPhoto. Then, I created an iPhoto “album” of the subset of photos that I liked most. That subset was still a whopping 500+ photos, but much more manageable.
SELECTING A PHOTO BOOK PRINTING COMPANY
I’ve been printing photo books for about 5 years now. For various parts of this wedding project, I printed several books with the following companies: MyPublisher, Snapfish, Mpix and Blurb. I used all four companies to print photos related to my wedding and engagement. Because I printed many of the same photos with different photo book printers, I have had the chance to do a side-by-side comparison of the printers and the pros and cons of each company.
Since this post is going to be a long and detailed one, I’ll compare Snapfish and MyPublisher in this post (Part I) and I’ll compare Blurb and Mpix in another post (Part II).
SNAPFISH vs. MYPUBLISHER
One morning I turned on Oprah to find that she was offering viewers a free Snapfish book. So, naturally I jumped on the chance and I knew exactly what I’d use it for. I had gotten engaged over the summer and was going to be going overseas to visit my then 97-year-old granny (now 98!) but my fiancé was not able to make the trip. What better way to introduce my future husband and his family to mine than with a book of our photos? At that time I’d only ordered photo books from My Publisher (MP), so the free book was a perfect opportunity to do a comparison.
Size: 8 x 11
Cover: full-photo custom hardcover
Pages: 12 pages (24 sides)
Pros & Cons
1) Cover & Spine
I chose the full-photo custom hardcover which is a nice feature. This is a full bleed photo that is printed directly onto the actual hard surface of the photo book then laminated with a glossy durable coating. Considering that it went overseas, was handled by about 50 relatives and then back, it’s held up quite well. The binding has remained intact and shows no signs of coming apart, but Snapfish’s binding doesn’t appear as finished as MyPublisher’s.
The back cover option associated with the full-page front cover allows for a 4 x 4 inch photograph along with custom text of your choice. The bottom right has a barcode for ID purposes. Snapfish also allows printing on the spine which is nice if you have your book on the shelf and want to readily identify it.
In comparison to MyPublisher, the closest equivalent to the full-page photo cover is the “custom jacket”. A definite plus for the Snapfish book is that it is printed directly onto the book whereas the MP custom jacket is a loose dust jacket. The dust jacket can easily get crumpled or worn if you aren’t careful or if it gets a lot of viewing (but that’s the point isn’t it???). I’m sure everyone has a book or two or ten with a dust jacket that’s falling apart so you know what I mean. Another downside is that MP charges $4.95 more for their dust jacket. Advantage definitely goes to Snapfish.
(UPDATE February 7, 2011: MyPublisher now has the photo finish cover (full photo cover printed directly on the hardcover) for the Mac as well and spine printing is allowed. Also, a lay-flat option is available from MyPublisher.
(UPDATE June 6, 2010: MyPublisher has introduced their new photo finish cover which allows for your photo to be printed directly on the front and back cover of the photo book. Downside – it’s only available for PC users at this time.)
2) Print Quality & Paper
Both Snapfish and MP have similar print quality and both say they use archival quality paper. The photos come out vibrant and clear and are comparable. For the most part, you will get what you put in, so if you’re in doubt about a photo’s clarity or exposure, leave it out if you can’t fix the photo in a photo editing program such as Adobe Photoshop. The paper is reasonably substantial to the touch and is similar to the paper quality you’d find in a book you buy from the bookstore. I couldn’t find Snapfish’s paper specs but I’ve read that MP uses a 100# paper. Both are glossy.
One thing I like about MP over Snapfish is the vellum paper added to the front and back of the book. It adds a nice finishing touch. The last page features MP’s logo. Before the logo came into use recently, MP used to print its website address in a plain black font. The Snapfish book does not have vellum pages and the first interior page opens up to a photo page. Snapfish also prints its logo on a white page in the very back of the book. I don’t believe there is an option in either book to have the logo removed. I’ve gotten used to the logos so and I’m not reselling the books so it doesn’t bother me much.
One thing I did notice is that the first page of my Snapfish book is fading around the edges. It’s about a year and a couple months old. I chose a black background for the pages in my book. The other pages are fine, but perhaps the first page gets the most wear. I suppose choosing a white background would eliminate the fading issue, but if the paper is archival quality and printing is supposed to be high quality, it shouldn’t fade so noticeably. That’s a negative for Snapfish.
3) User Interface & Software
On Snapfish, you create your book directly on their website and it is saved to the website and can be changed and edited later if you choose. In MyPublisher, you download the proprietary software to your computer, build the book on your computer and then upload it to the site. Once it’s uploaded to the site, it cannot be edited on the site. If you haven’t saved the original file on your computer or the archived file becomes damaged, you’d have to rebuild the entire book. Additionally, MP doesn’t allow you to select where its files are saved which is a major downside as the size of the MP files can get rather large. For a 100-page book (the max for MP b/t/w), the file can easily reach 800 to 900 MB which eats up a lot of hard drive space! (For those that are interested, note that I use a MacBook Pro 3.1 with 2.2 GHz processor and 115 GB hard drive.) I thought I might be able to load an independent copy of the MP software on an external hard drive and then work on the books off an external drive, but I was unsuccessful. Despite trying to point the program elsewhere, it wouldn’t work without dragging it into the Applications folder on my desktop and it then pulled the files for the books I was working on which I didn’t want it to do. MP support suggests you work on only one book at a time, but there are times where that is impractical. (I sometimes work on a few books, then save them until a sale comes up.) You can archive old book files by exporting the files and saving to an external drive and you are supposed to be able to later re-import the file back into the program if you choose to alter it or want to work on it again, but I have lost an old book by doing that, and I’ve read that others have too, so I guess it is risky.
In both Snapfish and MP you upload your photos to the program and then select your background and number of photos you want on each page from a set of ready-made templates and layouts. You then drag and drop your photos into the empty box provided in the template to create each page.
Snapfish shows you which photos you have used by putting a checkbox on the photo. You can reuse the same photo again if you would like, any number of times you would like, which is a feature I wish were included in MP. MP removes the photo from the menu when you place it and if you want to reuse the same photo you have to reload it which can be tedious. You may wonder why someone would want to use a single photo more than once. Sometimes you can create an artistic affect by repeating the same image on a page. Also, I’ve often created “chapter heading” pages to divide up the book into sections. For my wedding photo book for instance, the first section was called “Preparation”, the second, “The Photoshoot”, “The Ceremony”, “The Reception”. For each section I used a two-page spread to feature 6 photos in smaller form, which in some cases I wanted to use in a larger version within the section. It’s not a huge deal to have to reload the photo, but it would be a nice feature to not have to reload the photo.
In summary however, in terms of overall ease of use, I would have to give an edge to MP. Both programs are fairly easy to use, but MP offers a better preview window that is a bit larger than the Snapfish one and it seems to flow better (as long as your book isn’t too large in size).
4) Layouts & Templates
Both programs offer pre-made templates and layouts to design each page of your photo book. Snapfish offers 58 designs each including a subset of backgrounds varying from solid colors to patterns to graphics and other do-dads. MP offers 10 “book styles”. Both companies offer wedding themes. I favor simple and clean layouts with a grey, white or black background so I’ve never used a themed template. I also find many of the colorful themes to be a bit distracting and a little cheesy. I normally use no more than 4 to 5 photos per page unless there is a stylistic reason for it and normally don’t include captions. If I want to include a narrative, I put that on the first page of the book and let the photos speak for themselves. Given the limitations of the fixed layouts however, the layouts can get pretty monotonous, which brings us to one of the biggest disadvantages of both Snapfish and MP – the lack of custom layouts.
(UPDATE February 7, 2011: MyPublisher now allows you to customize your layouts, but it is not as flexible as some companies that offer customization. You can resize and move the photo and caption boxes, but there is no alignment tool, so you’re left guessing a bit whether the boxes line up in your layout. The instant two page spread as described below is not yet available either.)
One of the most commonly asked questions I have seen on the forums (and I know because I’ve scoured the internet for the answer to this one) is how to do a two-page spread. A two-page spread allows for a single photo to be stretched to cover two adjoining pages in a book which when done well can create a stunning and impactful affect. Why the photo book printers don’t offer a direct drag and drop feature for that while so many folks have been clamoring for it is puzzling. There are some companies other than Snapfish and MP that offer customizable layouts (like Blurb and Mpix), and there are ways to do a work around to get a two-page spread to work in Snapfish and MP and any book printer that allows for a full page bleed, but the current process requires trial and error and some work in figuring out the cropping of the photo properly so that you get the desired effect. Book size and shape also can effect the ease and overall success of using a two-page spread.
One way around that (and the only one I and others can see at this time) is to create custom layouts in an external photo editing program such as Adobe Photoshop. But that can prove quite time consuming and potentially expensive if you don’t have photo editing software. The issue of the two-page spread and custom layouts is a post topic in itself, so check back for more on that later!
Cost is about equal for both companies with MP shipping costing a bit more.
A 20-page 8 x 11 custom cover hardcover book from Snapfish costs $29.99. A similar type of book in MP measuring 8.75 x 11 called the “Classic Hardcover” costs $29.80.
Additional pages in Snapfish are $1.99 for two pages.
Additional pages in MP are $.99 for each additional side (so two sides would be $1.98)
(*Just this past week MP announced a “rollback” of pricing. A 20-page book is now $26.99 and extra pages $.79.)
Shipping for Snapfish for standard delivery is $6.99, 2-day is $8.99.
Shipping for MP for standard delivery is $8.99, 2-day is $13.99.
Out of all the companies I have used, MP has the quickest turnaround time and quickest delivery. This is assuming a non-holiday time of year, when all the companies can get understandably backed up. In fact, Snapfish sent me an email informing me that due to the high demand of the free Oprah book, book delivery would be delayed. The 7 to 10 business day time period went 15 business days but luckily I got the book in time for my trip to show granny! Since I only ordered that photo book from Snapfish, I don’t have another comparison to give as for production/shipping time. Out of all the companies, I’ve been consistently surprised at the speed with which MP gets their books to your doorstep.
(UPDATE February 7, 2011: MyPublisher is currently offering a $20 gift card! Click here for the latest MyPublisher photo book promos.)
MP has a BOGO free photo book offer for new customers that appears to always be on their website and frequently offers discounts of anywhere from 30 to 50%. I definitely recommend waiting for a sale and if you sign up with them, you will get e-mails letting you know of offers. Snapfish frequently has discounts as well, though normally not as high as MP’s.
Check out one of our newest features – the Photo Book Software Comparison tool. Take any two companies and compare their software specs side-by-side: We’re currently working to update this tool…stay tuned…
Wow that was a long post! Thanks for reading. Want more? Check out Part II for reviews of Blurb and Mpix. If you’re a bride or groom you won’t want to miss my series of posts on wedding photo books – check out my DIY wedding photo guide.