Yea! I’m so glad to be out of January. Even though February is still cold where I live, as time passes, I feel like we’re making progress towards Spring. One thought that warms me up is Valentine’s Day. It’s cheery, and it’s full of bright, warm colors like red and pink. Plus, I don’t have to apologize for cute heart overload.
For Valentine’s Day I decided to make photo books for Photo Book Baby’s grandparents. The books pick up from where I left off from the Christmas 2012 photo books I made for them. (This past Christmas I made canvas print wall galleries and calendars for the grandparents, but no photo books (shocking I know!) Photo Book Baby was only four months in the last book I gifted them, so this book covers months five through seventeen – and what an eventful thirteen months it has been! I hope they don’t see this post since I haven’t given them their presents yet!
I took advantage of some recent sales and while scouting out new book designs for my recent Valentine’s gift ideas post I found a really cute template at Shutterfly called “Hello Love”. I decided to use this template as a starting point for my books.
One Photo Book Design = Many Gifts
I promise I will get to the actual lay flat review, but I also want to talk a bit about the process of making a photo book and then creating different versions of it for your recipients. It’s efficient, it’s easy but still very personalized. That’s one thing I love about making digital photo books (versus traditional scrapbooking). Can you imagine having to make two or more scrapbooks by hand? (Been there done that!) Not that I don’t appreciate handmade, handcrafted gifts, but I think photo books are just a modern version of that. No less thought goes into making a digital photo book, but it’s safe to say that less manual labor is involved. You also don’t have to stockpile lots of physical materials. You can reuse digital clip art and backgrounds to your heart’s content.
I actually ended up making four versions of Photo Book Baby’s Valentine Photo Book. One for each set of the grandparents, one for uncle and one for me! Yes, it ended up so cute I had to make one for myself. Mama’s prerogative right? Each book was about 30 pages. Even though it encompassed about a year’s worth of photos, it was purposely not intended to be a huge book – think of it as an extended Valentine’s card.
The smaller size also made it more manageable as I didn’t want to make this epic book. I picked the best of the best shots of the year. One set of shots were my favorite photos of Photo Book Baby and the other set of shots were of the recipient and Photo Book Baby together.
I narrowed down a whole year of photos down to about 200 and from there, I only used a small subset in the final book. For more on how to select and edit photos for your photo book check out this post.
I first laid out the book for my in-laws and completed that book. While having that book open, I clicked on the “Save as” button and saved the book under a different title, thus creating a second separate version of that book for my folks. In Shutterfly when viewing all of your projects, you can also create a duplicate of your book by selecting “Make a new version“. Similarly many other photo book companies have a duplicate book function thus making it so easy to create multiple versions of a book. In fact, even if you were going to make a completely different book with a different topic, duplicating a past book is a big time-saver and an easy way to reuse your pre-made layouts.
For this Valentine’s project, the basic layouts were the same for each version with the main focus being on Photo Book Baby – after all he’s the star of the show! I also added little captions regarding his milestones (first steps, first words, new teeth etc. in the appropriate month). Then, I just changed out the supporting photos with photos of Photo Book Baby and the person for which the gift was intended.
Shutterfly’s Lay Flat Pages
I actually didn’t realize that lay flat pages were an option outside of Shutterfly’s Premium book line (the one with a genuine leather cover). I’m pretty sure that when I first saw the lay flat option it was only available with a leather cover and these options to upgrade the regular books came sometime afterwards. The Premium book starts at $99.99 for 20 pages in the 8 x 8 size.
I have a preference for full photo covers, so I don’t normally look too much at other styles. It was during the process of remaking several versions of this book did I notice that I could pay an additional $25.00 for lay flat pages (for the 8 x 8 size). So the base price for 20 lay flat pages is $54.99. After discounts I paid about $40.00 for this book (I added 13 extra pages for a total of 33 pages). I was able to take advantage of a 40% off photo book promo that included a discount on lay flat pages as well as stack other Shutterfly coupon codes such as free shipping so I got a great deal on this book! By the way, there’s a FREE Shutterfly $10 off code right now through 2/6/13 which you can use for anything on Shutterfly’s site.
The pages are very thick and stiff, but bendable (versus the non-bendable flush mount photo albums). The paper is not real photo paper, but is a close match in feel and appearance to those photo books I’ve had printed on real photo paper (AdoramaPix and MyPhotoCreations/BrideBox). According to Shutterfly it is “double-thick professional grade paper with a satin finish”. The glossy covers are the exact same as the standard hard cover photo books – the only difference is the interior pages. In comparing the standard book to the lay flat book, the color is pretty much a match, with the lay flat pages maybe a touch more yellow in tone (but only very slightly noticeable to me and probably not to anyone else). There is probably also a touch more contrast in the standard book than in the lay flat book.
The most noticeable thing is the raster (the tiny dots that make up a digitally printed image). (You will not see dots when an image has been reproduced on photo paper). I definitely see more dots in the standard version than in the lay flat version. The images in the lay flat version show less dots (less dots are more desirable) and a more even, smoother tone. I hope you can see that from my photos – I didn’t take these in the best light, but I hope these help illustrate what I mean. Basically, higher print quality, thicker and sturdier pages as well as the convenience of not having to hold down the lay flat pages when you’re viewing them is what you’re paying for.
Similar to both AdoramaPix and MyPhotoCreations/BrideBox (Lake photo book) Shutterfly’s lay flat pages have no gutter (there’s no gap in the center of the spread) so that’s a definite plus. But, unlike the others, Shutterfly’s software doesn’t allow for a two-page spread (having a single image span both pages of the layout). In fact, if you try to drag an image or embellishment from one side to the other, it will assume you mean to trash it and it will go “poof” and disappear. Hopefully Shutterfly will upgrade its software to allow users to design across the pages to really treat the two pages as a whole spread versus as individual pages. Doing that will also maximize the nice feature of having gutterless lay flat pages. (CORRECTION 2/5/13: A PBG reader posted a comment that Shutterfly does have a two-page spread function that I missed. When you hover over a photo, it says “use as spread”. Doing so will pop open a box for you to select the part of the image that will show up on the spread. This method only allows for a single photo centered across the spread however. There is a “hack” you can try if you want it off center and to add other photos to it – I’ll add more on this later.)
Another addition I hope they add is a “copy” or “duplicate” button – that would make layout design much, much easier. I often duplicate text boxes or photo boxes to make sure they are the same size for consistency. Having to recreate each box and hope they are the same size is not an efficient way to make custom layouts. The guides that pop up aren’t as precise as I would like. If you’re using most of the theme’s layouts an not altering them much, then you may not miss these features, but if you’re into customizing like I am, it’s nice to have the option.
Summary – The Pros
I really love the lay flat pages. The thick paper is a nice option to have and won’t get crinkled or bent if you let little hands flip through the pages. The upgrade isn’t cost prohibitive and makes sense the more pages you have since the additional fee is a flat rate. The cost is $30.00 for the 8 x 11 size and $40.00 for the 12 x 12 size and Shutterfly does run promos on the lay flat books from time to time, though not as often as on the standard books. The print quality and color reproduction is very good and I was impressed with how the book looked in comparison to the standard books. The standard books are still nice quality, but the lay flat books do look a bit more special. The “dots” are less apparent and the images overall appear more even-toned than in the standard photo books. I often pick Shutterfly when I want to make a photo book as a gift and don’t quite have enough time to make my own layouts. I often can find an attractive template to use which cuts down on design time. I’d definitely consider upgrading in future to the lay flat pages to make the gift extra special.
My negatives have to do with the software than the actual book itself. As mentioned above I’d like to see them add a copy function
and an instant two-page spread option. But one way around that is to use your own design software – you just have to split your layouts into individual jpeg pages and upload. Hopefully Shutterfly will update its software – the photo book companies are continuously upgrading their software and I’ve often seen things in my wish list eventually adopted as I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to see these changes. I don’t see any negatives for the lay flat pages except for increased cost, but that’s not a downside in itself, it’s just an option to consider. Whether you like the heavy double-thick pages is a personal preference. If you want your book to look like a “bookstore” book (which I have had some readers specifically say they prefer) then this option may not be for you.
Want to Read More of my Shutterfly Reviews?
If you’d like to see my other Shutterfly photo books, read more about Shutterfly’s software and see the latest Shutterfly promos, check out my main Shutterfly reviews page. You’ll find links to all that on the company’s main page.
Have you made a lay flat book with Shutterfly? I’d love to hear what you think about your book. Please feel free to comment below.
Please note I am an affiliate of Shutterfly which means I may receive a referral fee if you click from my site to Shutterfly’s and make a purchase. I was not asked to write this review by the company. These books were paid for entirely by myself and my opinions are entirely my own.