© 2012 photobookgirl make your own photo book layouts

Using External Software to Design Your Photo Book Layouts (Updated 2015)



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?

  1. Figure out the dimensions of the photo book you wish to create;
  2. 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

  1. Open a new document in your program and set the dimensions to the page size of the final book you wish to create;
  2. Keep important text, embellishments and important elements away from the margins;
  3. Save your layout as a jpeg (I always save at the highest quality the program will allow);
  4. Upload the jpeg just as you would any normal photo to the photo book company’s site;
  5. 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);
  6. One you get a good final layout, use this base layout as a guide for all the rest of your pages;
  7. 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.
Here we go!
The companies’ software I plan to try are Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Lightroom 4, Adobe InDesign, Lumapix FotoFusion (please note, clicking on the Lumapix link will automatically download the software) and Creative Memories (b/t/w it’s killing me to walk away from my Mac in order to try this last one since it’s PC only but we finally got a new PC laptop so I won’t pull my hair out trying to use it.)  If I find any other interesting looking software I may add to the list.  By the way, I’ve already tried and reviewed Aperture and MyPhotoCreations   (MyPhotoCreations prints photo books but also allows you to buy their software so you can print on your own printer or send to other photo book companies (please note it doesn’t allow you to export jpegs so this is not an option if you want to print to other companies.) I’ve also created layouts before with Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress.  I’ll talk about these programs most likely in comparison to the others.  What’s great is all of the above offer FREE TRIALS.  You can try them out along with me without breaking the bank!  I’d love to get your feedback too about what you think.

Do you already use your own program?  If so, let me know about it!




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  1. Yuki
    Posted June 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm | #

    I also recommend trying My Memories Suite (http://www.mymemories.com/). It is very user friendly and since everything is laid out specifically for making photo books it is much faster to use than the adobe products. If you don’t want the ‘scrapbook’ look you can make very modern layouts using the program.

    • photobookgirl
      Posted June 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm | #

      Thanks for letting me know Yuki. I see there is a free trial for that too – I’ll check it out. Great!

  2. Lesley
    Posted June 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm | #

    can’t wait to read this series of reviews.

    • photobookgirl
      Posted June 19, 2012 at 11:45 pm | #

      Great to hear – wow, now I have some pressure to make sure it’s good! 🙂

  3. Rui
    Posted June 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm | #

    Thank you for posting this series. I’m looking forward to reading more of them.

    Here I have a question for you: how do you handle the two pages spread when you use Photoshop Elements to create photo book layout?

    • photobookgirl
      Posted June 21, 2012 at 1:25 am | #

      Please stay tuned – I’m currently working on that post… 🙂

  4. Posted June 21, 2012 at 9:11 am | #

    I always use InDesign. It’s specifically a book making software; it makes it easy to update your books. For example, I just decided I wasn’t going to print a 146 page book with Blurb since 7×7 seems a little too small – now I need to adjust everything slightly to print at 8.5×8.5 with Inkubook. It will be much quicker than redoing the whole book with different software.

  5. Stevie
    Posted June 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm | #

    I am so glad you are doing this! Just last week I was searching the web trying to find someone who had done just this – a comparison of software specifically for making photobooks. I could only find a comparison for making scrapbook pages. You are awesome!

  6. Amy
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 5:51 pm | #

    I do a lot of photo booking and I happen to have access to a lot of good printers. So I need to be able to print at home. I used version 2.5 of Picaboo for years and LOVED it but they stopped allowing local printng. I went to MyPhotoCreations and got around the clunky software okay UNTIL it was time to print. The software behaves completely inconsistently and does not allow printing a page range (this is a big issue when you have built a 40 page photo book). When my printer dialog comes up I can select any printer (or print to a PDF) but the page range isn’t an option. Support said it was an issue with my printer. I haven’t even selected a printer at this point! Very upset with the company, they have made it impossible to actually do anything but buy the book from them. Better to not offer a license to self-print if it does not let you print locally. Boo!

    • photobookgirl
      Posted July 22, 2012 at 6:38 am | #

      I haven’t tried to print at home so I’m sorry I don’t know what your issue could be. I do notice that depending on which program on my computer I’m using and which printer I want to use, it does change my options on printing. I agree with you that page range is an odd thing to not have control over. Does your printer dialog have lots of pull down menus? Maybe it’s under another heading. I say that because this weekend I was doing a lot of printing via Adobe Acrobat, Photoshop and it did make a difference what printer I was using and which program I was trying to print from. it was a bit confusing to say the least and I had to waste some paper before I finally got the end product I was looking for. Since you do a lot of printing at home, can I ask if you’ve found it to be more economical? For me, I didn’t think it was, since ink and other consumables seemed to cost so much and my printers were always running out of ink. Also how do you bind your pages?

      • Amy
        Posted July 25, 2012 at 9:17 pm | #

        The deal is these companies don’t make money when you don’t buy through them – so they really don’t test the printing parts of the software very well – and support for it is pretty bad. It took a lot of complaining, but they finally gave me a software key that allowed me to export to a pdf. If you have Adobe (which I do) when you go to print something you can make it print to a pdf. Their software was not working with that. The page range thing is “just how the software works” you can only print all odd pages or all even pages. Dunno why anyone would want to do that. I can’t print a page range but now I can export to a pdf and print a range from there so Im happy.

        It’s economical for me only because I work for a huge company & have access to all sorts of printing options. I agree, if I didn’t have the access, it would not be economical and I would just get the books from the companies. The only thing is, I really like to have a pdf version of it in case something happens to the books. When you go through a company, there is a big chance they won’t be around in a couple of years. Sad, but true.

        For binding I buy digital scrapbooks from Pioneer off of Amazon. They have top feeding covers that an 8.5×11 sheet of paper fit into. I have a toddler that likes to look at pictures and tear pages so these are perfect for now. If I bought the big fancy books she’d pull ’em apart.

  7. Val Chellen
    Posted January 1, 2015 at 9:32 am | #

    If there any updates on external software in the works, I’ll look forward to reading them!

    My concern with relying on companies’ software, as you have noted, is that they go out of business. I also *love* your idea of using different companies to print your books, but only having one piece of software to learn. For those of us who don’t always find technology delightful, that would be wonderful!

    • photobookgirl
      Posted January 27, 2015 at 1:18 am | #

      I really like Fotofusion. You’ll see my review of that if you check my site. Yes, several companies have gone out of business or been bought out – and there goes your book designs. There could also be some server issues and again, lost books. So, I’m a huge advocate of buying your own software for so many reasons!

      • Rachael
        Posted June 23, 2015 at 9:11 pm | #

        Hi, I’ve been using Fotofusion too and found it really great for easy layouts and changing photos and what not. But I’m a Mac user and have upgraded to 10.9.4 and now the software doesn’t work, and the company won’t get back to me about a solution, do you know any solutions to this problem?

        • photobookgirl
          Posted June 23, 2015 at 11:19 pm | #

          I’m using 10.9.5 and it works for me. Is it just a matter of reinitializing the software? (Like re-entering the code key?) I think I recall I had to do that for mine. Hope you can figure it out with them.

  8. Carole Malo
    Posted February 22, 2015 at 8:57 am | #

    I’m using Storybook 4.0 from Creative Memories for years, easy software dedicated to digital scrapbooking. I always created my own template and add embellishments and texts easily. I bought a lot of digitals kits on Internet to use in photobooks.
    So, I created my pages on Storybook 4.0 than saved them in J-Peg then created books as only one pictue by page. My favorite photobook is My Publisher.
    Please note that Creative Memories does’t exist anymore but has been replaced by Panstoria Artisan software.

  9. Karl
    Posted July 11, 2015 at 9:26 pm | #

    Thanks for this article. It’s helpful.

    But I still can’t find the software I need. Maybe someone can offer a suggestion.

    I want to produce print-on-demand books. Simple text novels, no interior graphics, with self-designed covers. But I can’t use the Createspace tools, Indesign tools and other “cloud” tools. The computer I write on is not connected to the internet. So I need a program I can install and activate without being online. Something on a disc.

    I need to save both covers and interiors to pdf, so I can upload those two simple files to Createspace, Ingram or whoever from a friend’s computer when the files are ready.

    Does anyone know of a book design program that’s sold on disc? User friendly & inexpensive would be nice. I don’t need a lot of features, but cover templates in the standard sizes would be necessary.

    Thanks again for the article, and for the comments.


    • photobookgirl
      Posted July 12, 2015 at 1:26 pm | #

      Hi Karl,

      I refer to a few different software applications in the article that may work for you. Lumapix Fotofusion is downloaded so you work offline. You can export to PDF with the extreme version. MyPhotoCreations also referenced, also seems to meet your specs if you buy a commercial license. I believe some of the adobe products will do the same as well, but you can confirm that on their site with free trials. Most software trials nowadays are downloaded off the internet even if it can later be used offline, so I don’t know how that will limit your ability to try them out – most have a 30 day free trial. Hope that helps!

  10. Lori
    Posted September 24, 2015 at 8:43 am | #

    Hello photobookgirl! Thanks so much for putting this helpful info together. My head is kind of spinning as I was not aware the option to create a photo book layout & not be forced to print using the company I created it with existed-I just always wanted to export each page as a pdf or jpg so I print on my own. But I am still unsure what software is right for my needs. Here is my need: each year I have a cookie swap. I thought it would be fun as this is the 5th year, to have a photo album sitting out from previous years. But I don’t want it bound-I want to add to it each year. So I am looking for a program to lay photos out automatically (like the auto fill feature from Shutterfly-I just don’t have time any more to customize unfortunately) and export the pages as pdf or jpg so I can print on my own. I’d only be printing a few pages each year to add to my book and I plan to use a leather binder from http://www.centuryphoto.com & I customize the cover with a cute vinyl cutout. Then I’ll slip each page in an archival plastic sheet protector. Not the prettiest thing in the world, but it’s easy, holds up & allows me to add to the book. Are any of these companies a fit for me? I looked at each one but without downloading each one to try I couldn’t be sure. It seems that to have the feature of exporting the pages myself I lose the auto fill feature & have to customize each page. Can you help? I apologize in advance if I missed where you covered this! 😐

    • photobookgirl
      Posted January 27, 2016 at 11:16 pm | #

      Hi Lori, Sorry I missed your comment. I would recommend Lumapix Fotofusion. It works well for me and I’m pretty sure there is an auto placement function.

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