August 18, 2010 Update
If you’re looking for info on Photobook America, click on this link for more info on the recent coupons and deals plus a mini-review of Photobook America including the latest 70% off Photobook America Groupon.
By the way, I’ve tried several photo book printers since the time I wrote this post. Check out my growing list of photo book reviews.
June 20, 2010 Update
The comparison chart I mentioned below is now LIVE but even better than expected – it’s an interactive tool! Do your own match-up of any two photo book companies in our database (26 and counting) and find the right photo book for you! We’re currently updating the comparison tool, but in the meantime…
We have so many NEW tools for you to help you get your photos off your computer and into your hands:
I am planning to put together a comparison chart of the features offered by various photo book printing companies, but with new printers and new features cropping up everyday, that task is going to take a bit of time.
This post is to summarize my experiences with the companies that I have used personally. New features get added every day – so I’ll try to update any information and try new companies as time goes on.
Since I’m writing this while the Oscars are on…the nominees for “Best Photo Book Printer That I’ve Used” are: MyPublisher; Blurb; Snapfish and Mpix. Clicking on any of the above links will take you directly to the company’s site. For an overview of these photo book publishers and a complete list of the photobook products they offer, check out my photo book company reviews.
PROGRAM & CUSTOMIZATION
I’ve been printing photo books about the last 5 years. I have had the most experience with MyPublisher. What drew me to MyPublisher was the ease of use of the software and the free book with book purchase offered to all new customers. With MyPublisher you download the software to your computer, select the photos you want to use and drag and drop the photos into the templates. When you’re finished you preview the pages of the book and then upload them to the site. The ease of use however is what may also be its biggest limitation. Perhaps to keep the program and interface simple, MyPublisher purposely limits customization to the templates they’ve provided. You cannot customize the templates or change the layouts and the themes are a bit cheesy looking (a common problem with many photo book printers). Additionally one big criticism is the inability to place a photo as a two-page spread (where a single photo is stretched across two pages), and the inability to use a photo as a background to other photographs layered on top. The provided layouts therefore can get a bit boring and after doing a number of these books, it’s not long before you look for more flexibility. One option is to use an outside layout program like Photoshop to do custom layouts, but that process takes more effort and more time. If you’re laying out 100 pages (which is the maximum allowed by MP), you’re looking at a significant investment of time. Similarly Snapfish does not allow for customization of templates. (UPDATE – 4/6/11: MyPublisher has since added the ability to modify templates but only for it’s PC software for now (Mac updates generally lag behind by several months). The customization allowed is not as flexible as some companies, but does allow for some basic options.)
Blurb and Mpix differ from the other two in offering complete customization by allowing you to create your own templates and by altering their templates. Both offer software that has to be downloaded onto your computer. Blurb allows you to create custom templates and save them for future projects. You can also do a two-page spread and place your photo as background for the template.
This customization is one of the biggest plusses for Blurb and Mpix in comparison with MyPublisher. Out of these 4 companies, Snapfish’s program is online. You have to upload your photos to the program before you can use them.
MyPublisher only offers traditional landscape options: 7.75 x 5.75 softcover, 11.25 x 8.75 hardcover and a 15 x 11.5 size. In contrast, Blurb also offers 7 x 7 square and 12 x 12 square along with 8 x 10 portrait, 10 x 8 landscape, 13 x 11 landscape. Snapfish offers 8 x 11, 8 x 8 and 12 x 12 hardcover books as well as 5 x 7 softcover and other smaller format softcover books such as mini books. Mpix offers softcover books and hard cover books including suede hardcover books. Since my focus is on custom hard cover books I won’t focus on those other options. Hard cover books from Mpix are offered in 5 x 5, 8 x 8, 10 x 10 and 8.5 x 11 in both portrait and landscape options.
To summarize then, out of the four reviewed here, only MyPublisher doesn’t offer a square book option. Mpix offers the smallest square option at 5 x 5. So, your choice of printer may depend on what type of book you want if a particular size is important to you.
COVERS & CAPACITY
As for cover options, MyPublisher is the only one out of the four that doesn’t have a full bleed photo cover printed directly onto the surface of the book. A glossy dust jacket is offered, but it can get worn from regular handling.
(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.)
Snapfish offers an option to print a full-page photo directly on the front cover of the book and a small 4 x 4 photo of your choice on the back. The spine is printable as well. The cover finish is glossy and laminated.
Blurb’s cover is the most customizable. Blurb allows a full-page bleed on the front cover and back cover, and titling on the spine, printed directly on the hard cover surface for complete customization of the exterior of the book. The cover is matte which means that it doesn’t show fingerprints and has more of a “real book” look to it.
Mpix offers a high gloss laminated type cover and allows a full bleed photo in front and back. It’s shiny and most like a glossy photograph. It doesn’t appear that the spine can be titled though unless I missed something. The big disappointment I had with Mpix however is that my 5 x 5 book, upon my first opening it, separated at the binding in the rear, exposing the staples holding the book together. After that, I was afraid to open it too much. I’ve never had that problem with the other printers. Also Mpix only allows for 50 total pages for the 5 x 5 book, which especially with a smaller book, isn’t quite enough pages for most of my projects. In contrast, you can get up to a whopping 440 pages in Blurb (100 max in MyPublisher and 150 pages max for Snapfish).
Out of all the printers, MyPublisher has the best print quality. The photos are clear, colors are well saturated and the vellum pages in the front and back give the books a nice finish. The glossy paper has a nice heft and feels substantial.
Snapfish’s printing and paper quality is similar to My Publisher, though not as sharp in my opinion.
Blurb’s print quality is very good, but not quite as sharp as My Publisher. I ordered my books using the premium paper option which the website says is a 100 lb, silk finish which is 35% heavier than the traditional paper (80 lb. and matte). The paper feels substantial and feels slightly heavier and a tad more stiff than the MP paper, though the MP paper has a glossier finish than Blurb. I’ve never ordered the regular paper, so I don’t know from personal experience how different it looks or feels.
Mpix’s print quality was better than Blurb in that it was brighter and the photos appeared sharper and less grainy, but the print quality slightly under the quality of My Publisher’s. I ordered the pearl paper which lent a nice sheen to the pages – not as glossy as MP, but not as matte as Blurb. I was expecting more from Mpix printing since I’ve ordered prints from them before, and their metallic finish prints with luster coating is really amazing, but I would have to say that I was disappointed with the print quality and the durability of the book. When you add in the fact that the small 5 x 5 Mpix book at 50 pages was $50.00 before shipping and the 7 x 7 Blurb book with 80 pages was only $33.95 with premium paper option, the Blurb book is a much better deal.
As for pricing just a few days ago, MyPublisher announced that they were “rolling back” the pricing of their books from $29.80 to $26.99 for a 20-page book and extra pages went from $.99 to $.79. MyPublisher also frequently offers specials and coupons which can get you up to 50% off their books. It is definitely worth waiting for a coupon or offer if your book isn’t time sensitive. Snapfish is similarly priced to MyPublisher and also offers special deals from time to time, though I’ve seen more deals offered by MyPublisher with more frequency. Snapfish tends to cycle its deals through the greater variety of other photo products that it sells.
MyPublisher is the speediest printer in my experience. Even with selecting normal delivery I’ve had books in hand just a few days after placing the orders. However, their speed may also be the cause of some more recent issues with printing. Lately, I have had some issues with inconsistent printing with some photos in a recent book coming out reddish in tone. Upon contacting MP, they provided a coupon code for a free reprint. I thought that ordering during the holiday season may be the cause of the printing inconsistencies since I’d never had problems with prior books. So I waited until after the holidays but the book still came back with problems. The reprint corrected the color issues, but there were odd wrinkled marks in the center of several pages. It appeared that a few of the pages got crushed while going through the press leaving behind wrinkled pages. Not pretty. Again, MP provided another free coupon code. I have to say their customer service has been very good both via phone and email. I wouldn’t mind them slowing down a wee bit to make sure that the books go through a little more quality control. I haven’t used customer service for any of the other companies. I would say that Blurb takes the longest to print their books – sometimes a good two weeks or more to receive books with standard shipping. (Note that shipping times may vary due to high order volume such as during holidays.)
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO…
For a standard landscape book, MyPublisher beats out the rest. The price is reasonable (especially with coupons – see coupon below!), they are super fast and the print quality is the best in my opinion. The software is easy to use (albeit a hard drive space hog) if you don’t require customization and are happy with the standard templates provided. Despite the recent printing issues I had on my last couple books, because they promptly responded and offered to correct the issue, I wouldn’t be hesitant to order from there again.
If you want a square book, I would choose Blurb. I’ve printed four books this past year with Blurb – all of them in a 7 x 7 format. Blurb is very affordable and allows for complete customization. They also provide you with the ability to not only share, but sell your book online. I also plan to try Blurb’s portrait sized 8 x 10 book in the near future. These sizes are not available from MyPublisher.
I would not recommend Mpix for photo book printing even though I love their regular print quality for 4 x 6 prints and enlargements, unless you really want to have a small 5 x 5 square book that you can easily put in your purse. The 7 x 7 from Blurb can also serve that purpose though, so Blurb pricing wins out.
I hope that sharing my personal experiences helps narrow down some of your choices as there are a lot of options out there. Also check out the following posts for more comparisons of these companies. See this post for Snapfish vs. MyPublisher and this post for Mpix vs. Blurb.
Note that from time to time I will update or write new review posts as I try other photo book makers.
Post a comment below and let me know about your experiences with any of these printers. I’d love to hear your opinion!
Happy photo book making!