More than You Want to Know About Photo Books

I love making photo books for myself and others. For my 2010 Photo Project, I shot over 800 photos throughout the year.

I used Adobe Lightroom to organize the photos automatically. Whenever I imported a photo with the keyword “2010”, and that photo was both flagged and rated 5 stars, Lightroom automatically added it to a smart collection (called, of course, “2010 Photo Project”). The photos weren’t physically moved on my hard drive, Lightroom just kept track of where they were.  I could look at the collection any time and see what else I needed to shoot. I also did minor photo editing in Lightroom (mostly color correction). When I was ready to make the books, I had Lightroom export the photos to a folder, converting them to jpgs and changing the color space to sRPG at the same time. I used those jpgs (not the original photos, still in their place on the hard drive) to create the photo books. (Each company has their own requirements for best photo quality, check on their websites for details.)

I made three sample books from different companies. These companies are changing their products and improving service all the time, but in November, 2010, here’s what I found.

(Left, My Publisher, top right, Mpix, bottom right, Adorama)

I was happy with all of the books I received. All three companies had very good image quality and sturdy, well-made books. they arrived in excellent shape, very well packed. Prices vary widely, based on book size and number of pages.

My Publisher

My Publisher offers three choices of book styles. Their classic hardcover is 11.25″ wide and 8.75″ high. The least expensive cover is a linen cover (11 colors available) with a cutout window showing the photo (and/or text) of your choice. Next up in price is the photo finish (shown above), with photos and text printed directly on the book itself, with a glossy finish. For the same price, you can get a book jacket that allows you to customize the front, back, spine, and two inside flaps of the paper jacket. Most expensive is the leather cover, which, like the linen, has a window in the cover for your photo/text.

My Publisher also offers a deluxe hardcover, which is 15″ wide and 11.5″ high. The same cover options are available at this size. I used this size to make a “coffee table” book of a friend’s floral designs–it was beautiful. They also make a very affordable paperback pocketbook with a soft cover that is 7.75″ wide and 5.75″ high. All books are priced for 20 pages, with the option to add more pages.

The paper quality is very nice, good glossy surface, colors and blacks are deep and rich. This is the lightest weight paper of the three companies, but it’s quite sufficient, even on the largest books. I prefer the photo finish to the book jacket, especially on the deluxe books, because the jackets do tend to tear with rough use. My Publisher puts their logo on the last page of the book, unless you pay more not to have it there. I’d just cover it with your own logo on a sticker. There is an expensive option to have “lay flat” pages, I haven’t tried it.

Their software used to be very difficult, but it’s much easier to use now, it’s simply drag and drop into your chosen template. I wish all three companies would make it easier to just put the same number of photos on every page, but once you figure out how to do what you want, it’s pretty easy to design the books.

My Publisher is the provider for Costco’s photo books. If you are a member and go to Costco.com, you can download software that allows you to make the books and automatically gives you a 20% discount. Add in their occasional sales, and this is a very affordable way to make your photo books. I wish they would discount shipping for multiples of the same book. From order time to receiving the book was four days, with very good email communication during the process. Once your book is uploaded, you can invite people to see that book online, and even order a copy, using a password. You can see my sample book here, using order number M1788119 password 2079092.

Mpix

Mpix is a long-time provider of professional-quality prints and other products. They offer softcover books, hardcover books with photos/text printed directly on the cover, and suede cover books, with metal stamped text available. They also start at 20 pages,  with the ability to buy more. They have more sizes to choose from than My Publisher, including square books. You also have a choice of text stock, pearl, or linen paper. Above is a custom hard cover book, 11″ wide and 8.5″ high.

The pages are weighty, very glossy with gorgeous colors and blacks. Image quality is excellent. The heavy black matte pages at beginning and end match the inside of the covers and make a very professional look. I wish you could put photos/text on the spine and back, as well as the front cover. The software is a little hard to navigate until you’ve figured it out. Again, I wish there were a simple template for just photos on every page.

Mpix prices are more than My Publisher, but the book feels more professional and there are more size options. From upload to delivery took two days, the fastest of the three.

Adorama

Adorama is a camera store in New York, but it’s also much more. They do custom printing and photo books, along with other products. Prices are slightly less than Mpix, though it really varies depending on size and number of pages. They do offer quantity discounts (multiples of the same book). You cannot add a custom number of pages, but they do offer many options, from 14 to 76 pages. They offer a number of sizes, from 6″ wide and 4″ high to 12″ square. Above is their hard cover photo book, 8″ square. They do allow you to put photos/text on the back and spine, as well as the cover.

Adorama has the heaviest pages, they’re glossy and rigid, very heavy duty. They actually print the pages as one long sheet of paper, and glue them together, accordian style. This means a photo that stretches across two pages will have no seam in the middle. They also start inside the front cover and end inside the back cover–no end pages. I love the heavy-duty pages, they don’t show fingerprints and you don’t worry about bending or tearing them.

Their software, however, makes me crazy. I never could figure out the simple, several-photos-on-a-page format I wanted. Since I made this book, I talked to their very-helpful customer service (hey, Ingrid!) and figured out what I need to do. They also have some forums for questions. But I love these sturdy books so much I’m going to format my own pages in Photoshop and bring them in as jpgs.

Adorama prices are comparable to Mpix. They do have occasional sales, and allow discount prepayments (buy now, make the book sometime in the future). From upload to delivery was five days, the longest of the three.

The Winner Is…

My conclusion is that I like all three companies, for different reasons. My Publisher for price and ease of use, and the biggest size book. Mpix for fast delivery and high quality. Adorama for unique, durable pages.

For this project I went with My Publisher for my personal final book, just because I could use the huge “coffee table” book and fit in more photos per page. I think I’ll also make a smaller, more durable one from Adorama, too. But the next time I want an elegant look, it’ll be Mpix.

Of course, you’ll have to find the right company for your project, and there are more providers, and more services, all the time.