When I first started this blog four years ago, there were few photo book companies offering lay flat photo books for the average consumer. Most of the lay flat beauties out there were marketed only to pros and for the obsessive DIY bride like me, that left just a few options.
That’s how this blog began – the more I researched options for making my own wedding album, the more my head was swimming with all the information I was finding. I thought there had to be other brides and grooms out there trying to navigate through the photo book mire and I decided to start this site. About 10 wedding albums and tons of birthday, travel and baby photo books later…as they say, the rest is history.
With the fourth anniversary of this blog approaching, I thought it would be a good time to revisit lay flat books and compile an overview of what options are currently out there. Several more photo book companies have added lay flat products to their line ups since I first started this blog. I frequently get questions emailed to me and posted on my Facebook fan page from newlyweds who want to make their own wedding albums so I hope this will help everyone navigate all the exciting choices out there.
First of all if we’re talking about lay flat books, I should show you what a standard photo book looks like. Below, you can see the book’s pages do not lie flat and some of the image isn’t quite visible in the middle because of the way its bound. It’s like your garden variety book you may find on your bookshelf. This particular one is a Deluxe size photo book from MyPublisher.
Below is also a MyPublisher book but with the lay flat upgrade which typically adds $15 to $45 to the cost depending on the size of your book.
Here’s a close-up side view of the MyPublisher lay flat book which shows how the binding flexes. There’s a thin laminated hinge that is visible, but blends into the background. This is what I’ve been calling “flex hinge” in the chart below. There is a small gutter with this book.
One of the main differences you’ll see in lay flat photo books is the type of paper that is used. There are two basic options:
1) For some companies, upgrading to a lay flat book means only a change in binding and not a change in the actual paper used. (MyPublisher – shown above, and Picaboo);
2) For others a lay flat book is a completely different product altogether, different binding and different paper. (Mixbook, MyPhotoCreations, Picaboo, BrideBox, ArtsCow, Shutterfly, Snapfish.) (AdoramaPix only makes lay flat books.) The upgraded paper may be real photo paper or may be digital press paper – usually the printed page will be fused to another surface giving the page a weightier feel. You can see from the photo below that there is a white inner core to the pages. This is a photo of the Lake from BrideBox. If you want a detailed comparison of standard paper vs. photo paper, and information about the differences in how they are printed, check out this two-part series on paper options.
A Special Type of Lay Flat Album – The Flush Mount
I frequently field questions from brides asking, “Where can I get a professional photo album with super thick rigid pages that lay flat?“ This dear friends is what you’re looking for – a flush mount photo album.
A flush mount album is typically the most expensive album you can get. It’s the high-end luxe version of a photo book and used to only be offered to pro photographers, but are now readily available to consumers. Most companies targeted to pros do not sell to consumers, but there are some that do. The ones that do however may not offer software which is as user friendly as the interfaces offered by the more commonly known companies, so they may not be the best option for beginners. My site focuses on companies that market to the average person.
As mentioned, flush mounts are a special type of lay flat photo book. Note, “All flush mount albums are lay flat books, but not all lay flat books are flush mounts.” I have sometimes seen comments or reviews from readers disappointed when they’ve ordered a lay flat book, thinking that lay flat instantly translates to thicker pages (like a flush mount), so be sure to make note of the specs in my handy dandy lay flat photo book comparison chart below.
In a flush mount, the image is printed on real photo paper and then fused onto a hard, stiff heavyweight board. If you look closely you can see the core in between the two pages of photo paper. The pages are very thick and you cannot crease the page unless you were intending to and at that point, you would be purposely trying to harm it. These types of books will give you the thickest pages you can typically get. The thicker pages make the book feel more upscale, and correspondingly they are more expensive. Because of the higher price, you’ll usually see these albums used for special occasions like weddings, anniversaries and milestone birthdays.
The super thick pages typically mean you can’t have a ton of pages in your album. Usually flush mounts max out at around 20 to 30 pages (meaning sides). I have seen some go up to 70 or 80 pages however. Flush mounts are printed on real photographic paper which results in a clearer image – you don’t see the individual dots that make up an image like those you’ll see in a digitally press printed book. Again, be sure to check out my post about photo paper versus standard paper for more details.
Flush mounts are offered with leather covers and full photo covers, as well as acrylic, glass, and metal covers too and in some cases you can have a title embossed. You’ll typically get a nice matching presentation box with these types of books.
This is not the type of book I leave out on my coffee table. For one, I have a toddler running around the house and two, I have a lot of adults running around the house. Either could accidentally damage my lovely book. You might say to yourself, why make a book that you’re scared to show off? Well, I will show it, but I just don’t leave it out. I also have other less high end wedding photo books that I do leave out and don’t worry about. A flush mount is an heirloom in my opinion, so I’ll look forward to passing it on one day with the rest of my photo book collection…
Flush mount or not, every book has a gutter. The gutter is the very center of the spread where the book folds. Some photo books will have a separation in the middle (an actual split) while others will just have a crease. The ones that just have a crease are printed on a single sheet of paper that is folded in the middle. If you love to make two-page spreads where a single image or layout encompasses both pages of a spread – like my wedding layout shown above – then you naturally want the smallest gap possible. Even where there is a gap, it’s pretty small as you can see above. The most important thing is not to place anything too crucial like someone’s face in the gutter!
What’s nice about a lay flat book is that it lends itself to designing across the spread, and by that I mean not only the ability to have a single photo take up both sides of a page, which is a common feature now, but also allowing for stickers and other clip art, borders etc. to be used across the middle of the page. Nearly all of the companies allow you to do this. (At left is my AdoramaPix book). Of the ones listed below, Shutterfly is the only one that doesn’t easily allow for that, but there are workarounds and you could always design your own pages in an outside program. You’ll find more specifics on each company in my reviews in the chart below. I chose an 8 x 8 square hardcover book for comparison purposes. If the company doesn’t make that size, I picked the next closest size and noted that in the chart.
One of the most controversial topics that come up in photo book circles (okay I’m exaggerating here, but I have to make this sound exciting) is the logo. For the professional photographer, a logo is a no-no. You don’t want to spend hours and hours designing a book for a client only to have the printer slap their brand on it. Some of the books below do not come with any company branding while others allow you to remove their logo for an additional fee. For some companies the logo cannot be removed. On some books you may also find a small barcode which some may find unsightly. I have heard some folks have cut out the logo page with a sharp razor – which may or may not work in all cases depending on where the branding appears. Not all companies make this info easy to find by the way, so I had to chat a lot of them up this morning!
Lay Flat Comparison Chart (Updated 2015)
||Product (8 x 8 unless noted)
||Binding / Gap||Base Price (20 pg. 8×8)/ Extra Page Cost||Min/Max Pages||Logo / Barcode* / Pay to remove
||Photo Book Girl’s Review
||Hard Cover Photo Book (Custom cover, real leather, or leather-lux)||5 Photo paper options: Pro Luster or HD Glossy etc.||Folded / Seamless||$35.60 / $2.56 for 2 pgs||14 – 76||None||Review|
||Hudson Flush Mount Album Hard Cover (real leather, or leather-lux)||7 photo paper options: matte, luster, metallic, linen etc.||Folded / Seamless||$126.00 / $5.20 for 2 pgs||10 – 76||None||Review Software review|
|ArtsCow||Deluxe Photo Book||Photo paper w/750 gsm premium card stock||Folded / Seamless||$34.99 / $1.50/pg||20 – 32||No / Yes – on back cover not removable||Review|
|BrideBox/ MyPhotoCreations||Ashbury (8.5 x 11)||No – 100 lb. text fused to cardstock||Flex hinge / Yes||$79.99 / $2.00/pg||20 – 80||None||Review|
|BrideBox/ MyPhotoCreations||Lake||Photo paper fused to cardstock||Folded / Seamless||$109.99 / $3.50/pg||20 – 80||None||Review|
|BrideBox/ MyPhotoCreations||Anza Flush Mount (leather cover)||Photo paper fused to hard board (thickest)||Accordion/ Yes||$209.99 (20 pgs)/ $369.99 (30 pgs)||20 or 30 (fixed)||None||Review|
|Mixbook||Premium Lay Flat Hardcover (8.5 x 8.5)||Archival paper fused to cardstock||Folded / Seamless||$79.00 / $0.50/pg||20 – 99||Both – back page and on box not removable||Review|
|MyPublisher||Classic w/lay flat upgrade (11.25 x 8.75)||120 lb. or 170 lb. or super gloss (same paper as standard book)||Flex hinge / Yes||$54.99 / $0.99/pg||20 – 100||Both – back page – Pay $10 to remove||Review|
|MyPublisher||Premium Flush Mount Album leather cover||Photo paper fused to hard board||Folded / Seamless||$270.00 / $10.00/pg||20 – 90||Both – back page – Pay $10 to remove||Review|
|Photobook America (and Photobook Canada)
||Hardcover Lay Flat (Imagewrap or debossed)||400gsm E Photo Matte paper||Folded / Seamless||$54.99 / $1.50 for 1 pg, must add in increments of 8||24 – 160||None||Review|
|Picaboo||Classic w/lay flat upgrade||100 lb. text (same paper as standard book)||Flex hinge / Yes||$54.99 / $1.00/pg||20 – 90||Yes (back page vellum) / No – not removable|
|Picaboo||Flush Mount (11 x 9) leather cover||Photo paper fused to masonite board||Folded / Seamless||$399.99 / $10.00/pg||20 – 90||Yes (debossed on back cover) / No – not removable|
|Shutterfly||Standard Book w/lay flat upgrade||Double-thick 110 lb. photo paper fused to cardstock||Folded / Seamless||$54.99 / $1.00/pg||20 – 110||Both (back page) – can be removed with purchase of Pro Gallery Plan ($99)||Review|
|Shutterfly||Premium Leather||Double-thick 110 lb. photo paper fused to cardstock||Folded / Seamless||$99.99 / $1.00/pg||20 – 110||Both (back page) – can be removed with purchase of Pro Gallery Plan ($99)|
|Snapfish||Premier Lay Flat||100 lb. paper fused to cardstock||Folded / Seamless||$49.99 / $2.49 for 2 pgs||20 – 100||Both (back page) – not removable|
Chart is a representative list of lay flat photo books, not all styles or options are noted above. Prices researched as of 2/26/2014. *For those companies that allow you to pay to remove a logo, I am not 100% sure whether the barcode can also be removed as well.
A Lay Flat Book for Every Budget
Hope this helps you navigate through the options. There are many choices and as you’ll see from my reviews, I like many of them for various reasons. For me, I think about what kind of book project I’m doing and then I pick the appropriate product from the appropriate company. Because there are a number of affordable lay flat books to choose from, I make lay flats for more than just special occasions. I do a lot of my vacation books as lay flats as that type of book is suited for beautiful landscapes and panoramic shots. Additionally in particular I like to make “board books” for my toddler as the stiffer pages are more baby-proof and often drool proof (be sure to watch for sharp corners though).
Of course I’m always on the lookout for sales. Even though lay flat books may not have sales as often as the standard books, there’s a couple things to remember:
1) For some companies like MyPublisher and Shutterfly for example, you still get the discount off the base price of the book and the extra pages, even if the lay flat upgrade fee itself is not discounted. So, the 70% off free pages MyPublisher promo I have that’s running for the next two days will still get you the discount on the pages themselves;
2) None of the flush mounts I have listed above are on promotion now, but I have gotten special coupon codes for our readers from time to time. Be sure to check out my deals page for the latest deals on photo books and other photo gifts.
If you’ve narrowed it down to a couple options, be sure to click on my links for a more detailed review of that product. If I’ve tried it before it’s linked, if you don’t see it here, I haven’t tried it yet. Regardless, I’d love to hear about any of your experiences with these books or with other companies you’ve tried.
Please note, this post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and place an order, I may receive a referral fee. Regardless, my views are entirely my own and an honest review is always given.