UPDATE: 2017 & August 21, 2012 – See my LumaPix FotoFusion Review
UPDATE: June 24, 2012 – See my Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 Review
This is an overview of a new series of posts where I plan to review external software programs for designing your own photo book layouts. These are programs you can purchase in lieu of using the free software provided by the photo book companies. When I first review a photo book service, you may notice that I use the company’s built-in software so I can give readers a full sense of how well the software works. I think it’s important to do that because if you’re new to photobooking, you’re not going to want to pay for software. So, you may be wondering, with all the photo book companies out there offering free software, why pay for photo book software?
What are the advantages of having your own photo book design software?
- Having your own software provides the ultimate flexibility – you can print your book with any photo book company running a promo, and not be wed to only one company. You can also choose to print the same book with more than one company (i.e. print a high end flush mount wedding photo album with one company and then order a less expensive version for parents’ albums with another company);
- It allows you to keep your design on your computer. After some time, some companies may delete your photo book or albums (usually with advance e-mail notice) to clear up storage space. Some companies allow you to buy additional space if you need it;
- You won’t be hindered by photo book company software that doesn’t have the features you’re looking for. If you find the right external photo book software that suits your needs, you won’t have to relearn how to use new software every time you want to try a new company’s printing service;
- You can create templates for yourself on your own software to cut down the time spent recreating them. (Note however that some companies allow you to save your templates for reuse such as Blurb and Photobook America.)
- Many of these programs also incorporate photo editing software, so you can get two features in the same product. Photo editing (post-processing) is really a must to get better looking photos and therefore better looking photo books. Check out my posts on photo editing. Will your recipient notice that your photos are post-processed? Maybe not, but the more you put your photos into print, you’ll begin to notice the difference yourself;
- If you like the digital scrapbook style and you have lots of clip art and embellishments, you don’t have to reload your elements into different photo book companies;
- (NEWLY ADDED) I don’t print my own books at home, but if you like to print your layouts on your own home printer, you can do that!
- (NEWLY ADDED 3.5.14) Unfortunately some companies have gone out of business or merged with other companies and that can leave your projects inaccessible. With your own designs saved on your own software you’ll always have the option of reprinting or editing your books at will.
- (NEWLY ADDED 5.4.15) Especially if you’re doing a project over a long period of time or putting in a lot of hours on it, if you want more assurance that your work won’t be lost over a software glitch or some incompatibility with your computer’s operating system and the company’s software, having your own design software can greatly reduce the chance of your work being lost.
How do you use your own software with a photo book company?
- Figure out the dimensions of the photo book you wish to create;
- Check out whether the specific photo book company has tips on suggested margins and adding a buffer. (usually in the FAQ or Help section). If that sounds like too much work for you, in my opinion, the best thing is to do a test layout first before you go and design all your pages;
How to make a test layout
- Open a new document in your program and set the dimensions to the page size of the final book you wish to create;
- Keep important text, embellishments and important elements away from the margins;
- Save your layout as a jpeg (I always save at the highest quality the program will allow);
- Upload the jpeg just as you would any normal photo to the photo book company’s site;
- Check the preview – does it look the way you want it to? Anything cut off? Tweak until you get the right layout (this may mean changing the page dimensions by adding more cushion, or moving text boxes, or resizing titles);
- One you get a good final layout, use this base layout as a guide for all the rest of your pages;
- You can reuse your layouts and make minor changes to them to create new designs. Do not reinvent the wheel each time and create 100 separate layouts for a 100-page book. Create say 10 base layouts that you can rearrange and reuse. Read more of my tips on reusing layouts.
Who may not want to use an external program?
- If you’re a beginner, I recommend just sticking to the company’s software for now – see if you enjoy the process (I think you will!);
- If you want to create a simple book, the photo book company’s auto layout function will probably be fine and you can make a book in minutes. (For example, this function is called Simple Path in Shutterfly);
- If you’ve already found a photo book company that you like (hopefully with my help 🙂 then the pros I listed above may not be as relevant to you.
Do you already use your own program? If so, let me know about it!