The focus here will be on hardcover photo books (though some photo book companies may use the same interior paper for both softcover and hardcover photo books.) Also, the survey is on the average paper offered by most photo book companies as their standard paper (and in a few cases upgraded paper), therefore books that are printed on real photo paper or flush mounts are not included in this comparison.
The contenders ranked in order of paper weight (arranged by from lowest lb. to highest, with those with the same weight listed alphabetically). These are the specs supplied by the company. If you want to read my more detailed review on each of the companies, you can click on the links below.
|Company and Size of Book
||Paper Statistics (as provided on company website)|
|Aperture (Apple) 13×10||100 lb. text gloss|
|Blurb 7×7||100 lb. silk-finish matte premium Upgrade (Standard is 80 lb.)|
|Inkubook 8.5×11||100 lb. archival quality silk paper|
|Mixbook 11×8.5||100 lb. archival-quality silk, semi-gloss|
|Mpix 5×5||100 lb. text stock, pearl finish|
|Picaboo Classic 11×8.5||100 lb. glossy, archival quality|
||100 lb. gloss coated, text weight|
||106 lb. (approx. conversion from 157 gsm)|
||110 lb. Mohawk, clay-coated|
|MyPublisher Classic 11.25×8.75
||115 lb. archival, acid free cover stock|
|Photobook America/Photobook Canada 8×11
||146 lb. (approx. conversion from 216 gsm) premium silk Upgrade (Standard is 115 lb./170 gsm)|
|MyPublisher Deluxe 15×11.5
||182 lb. archival, acid free heavy weight cover stock|
What does the paper’s weight tell us?
Without getting too technical, the weight in pounds refers to the weight of 500 sheets of a standardized size of that type of paper. In countries using the metric system “gsm” refers to grams per square meter. I used a printing company’s site to calculate the conversions from gsm into pounds.
So, does higher paper weight automatically mean more thickness and higher quality?
Not necessarily. If you take 100 lb. of text paper and compare that to 100 lb. cover paper, that doesn’t mean they are equivalent. Cover paper is typically heavier stock to start with. Also, there’s a matter of texture – a matte type paper usually feels different to the touch than a high gloss paper for instance. Stiffness of the paper also affects how thick a paper feels. For those reasons the numbers can’t tell us the whole story.
I decided to pull out all the books and do a feel test. No calipers here. I know that it’s not “scientific” and it is going to be subjective, but this whole blog is based on my personal experience, so that’s all I can go by. Wherever I felt that it was too close to call, I asked the hubby to give me his opinion. Very scientific. Look for my new upcoming TV show – Photo Book Mythbusters!
Weight & Stiffness – How thick does the paper feel? Does it bend easily?
(click on the graphic for a full size image)
From the above set of books, it was very easy to determine which book had the thickest and sturdiest paper. Easily, MyPublisher’s Deluxe photo book – the largest of all the books surveyed at 15×11.5, had the thickest, most expensive feeling paper. At 182 lbs., in this case, the specs don’t lie. I decided to make my honeymoon photo book series in this big and beautiful size. Then, as you may expect, Photobook America’s upgraded 216 gsm/156 lb. paper was a close second. As mentioned in my Photobook America review, you wonder at first whether you’re accidentally turning two pages instead of one since each page is so thick.
From there Mpix’s 100 lb. pearl finish is a close match to Artscow 106 lb. paper in weight, and I found Mpix’s paper slightly more stiff than Artscow’s paper.
After that point, it was really difficult to rank the rest. From Artscow to Aperture the difference was very slim. The feel of the thickness of the papers were so similar, I had to try bending the pages to see how easily or difficult it was to bend and that’s how the stiffness factor came into play. So, from the middle of the pack, it goes from more stiff to less stiff, but very similar thickness overall. I therefore relied on the flex of the paper to rank them. From there, I would put Mixbook, Snapfish and Picaboo in a second group, as they were very close and hard to rank, again looking more at stiffness rather than thickness.
To Gloss or Not to Gloss?
Gloss/Sheen – The texture of the surface affects its feel. Is it shiny or matte?
Some folks like a higher gloss paper as it arguably has a more “photograph” like finish. It’s like having a choice between gloss finish or matte finish on your 4×6 prints – you may have a preference, you may not. However, it’s important to note, of the books listed above, none of them come close to approaching the gloss finish of a photographic print, so that’s not what is meant here when I say a book has a glossy finish – it’s more about the level of reflectiveness.
The most reflective is Mpix’s pearl finish. The paper also has texture in addition to the pearl sheen. Artscow’s paper in contrast is smooth and has the most reflective quality for a smooth paper. The printed photos themselves in Artscow also have a more glossy quality. The ink appears to sit on the surface of the paper, instead of being absorbed into the paper.
Photobook America’s upgraded premium silk paper is the least glossy. I also assume that the standard silk paper is probably a matte finish as well, just at a lesser thickness. Another point to note is that Photobook America’s hardcover has one of the most matte finishes I’ve seen. So if you like a matte cover with a matte interior, Photobook America and Blurb are the best options to fit the bill.
Blurb’s matte paper is an upgrade, which for this 7×7 book size ranges from an additional $4 to $7 depending on page count. Is it worth it? I read in some forums that it isn’t. It’s hard for me to say because I’ve never ordered a book from Blurb that wasn’t premium paper. I would imagine though if the premium paper feels similar in weight to the standard papers of the other companies, then I would always upgrade to the premium paper unless cost were a primary factor (standard Blurb paper is listed at 80 lbs.) I haven’t tried their new lustre premium paper upgrade yet. (UPDATE: Blurb has new upgraded paper options. See my Blurb proline review here. Since this post, I’ve also gotten to review the standard Blurb paper.)
Again just as with the thick to thin spectrum above, when you’re looking at the middle of the pack, the differences are harder to quantify and are negligible.
A Note About Covers
Recently a Facebook fan mentioned that she didn’t like glossy covers and wanted to know which photo book companies offered matte covers. When looking at full custom cover hardcovers (where your image takes up the entire cover), Photobook America, Blurb and MyPublisher have the most matte exteriors. Apple Aperture is in the middle with a semi-glossy cover (underneath the bonus dust jacket) and the rest have glossy covers. Mpix’s book has the smoothest and highest gloss cover.
The other glossy covers do not give off a smooth reflection, the gloss reflects a textured surface. Inkubook was the one book I noticed which had matte pages but with a glossy cover. The top image is of the Photobook America/Photobook Canada matte cover and the bottom is of Inkubook’s glossy cover. You can see what I mean about the glossy covers not being smooth but rather reflecting off a textured surface.
Opacity is also another factor that some folks pay attention to. I do as well, but because I tend towards black backgrounds, which naturally makes the page more opaque than if I used white backgrounds, I usually don’t have any problem with bleedthrough. Generally, thicker paper will mean higher opacity. I will mention opacity issues in my individual reviews if I feel it’s relevant, but I don’t recall any of these books – even the ones with the thinnest paper – having any bleedthrough issues.
Another factor to note is that the size of the page could affect how stiff the page feels. A book at 5×5 size may feel stiffer than the same book at 11×8 for instance due to the tightness of the binding, so take that should be taken into account here. My books were not all the same size as shown in the chart at the top of the post.
Summary – What’s the Best?
Most folks would agree, the thicker the pages the better. Thickness implies quality. Thickness also means durability and a lesser chance of worn pages and creases developing over time. Deluxe is not “deluxe” for nothing though, you pay about twice as much for MyPublisher’s Deluxe book than their Classic size, but the thing is massive (and heavy due to the heavier weight paper). Other companies that make a similar size and style are Kodak Gallery and Mixbook. That may make an interesting comparison at some point.
Side note: you may notice that I did not include AdoramaPix in this comparison, or Picaboo’s Madison book or the high-end flush mounts for that matter. That’s because their papers are very different. This post was meant to be about the more typical paper choices versus what I would call “specialty papers”. AdoramaPix books feature glossy, real photo paper, with very stiff lay flat pages. The Picaboo Madison is printed on heavyweight pearlescent 110 lb. lay flat card stock.* I really like the paper and print quality of both books but they didn’t fit into the topic of this survey. *(UPDATE: Picaboo changed it’s Madison paper to a 110lb. semi-gloss archival paper some time this year. Since I haven’t made the Madison with the new paper, I can’t comment on it personally.)
Overall, that I didn’t think that any of these books had “cheap-feeling” paper. As with both sets of criteria, especially towards the middle of the pack, it became very difficult to say one was measurably different from the other.
It’s just like what the Best Buy salesman told us when my folks and I were looking at the bewildering selection of flat screen TVs some years back – “Sure if you’re looking at the screens all together, you’re gonna notice differences, but once you buy one and take it home, you probably can’t tell if one is brighter or sharper than the other cause you’re not watching two TVs side by side!”
Similarly, if you’re making a photo book as a gift, your recipient will be more focused on the photos and time and creativity that went into it rather than analyzing the quality of the paper (unless you have a very discerning recipient). Of course, paper quality will be more important for pros or when making books for more important occasions such as weddings or anniversaries, but for the average vacation photo book, it may not be as important. Most definitely there are differences in paper quality, but only when comparing one end of the spectrum to the other end will you really take significant notice of the difference.
Okay, I’ve blabbed enough. Do you agree or disagree with the results of my paper survey? Please comment below!