I wanted to shift gears a little bit and do a post on photo books, even though they are only tangentially related to shopping.
In the past few years, my husband and I have been fortunate enough to be able to take 1 big vacation each year… and sometimes more than 1. Among other places, we have been to England, Italy, France, Peru and India together! We love traveling together and we always take lots of pictures to remember the amazing things we’ve seen and experienced.
Once I come home, I try to assemble a photo book in order to tell the story of our trip.
Over the years, I’ve created 15+ photo books for vacations, our wedding and for our baby’s birth. I still have to do one of her first year! That is a big project that I haven’t had a chance to tackle yet 🙂
The company that I used for most of my photo books, is Shutterfly. I love the finished product and their software is top notch. There are several choices of sizes and cover materials but I usually stick with either the 8×8 size or 8×11 and hardcover. I’ve also ordered a softcover book before, and recently got a 12×12 book as well.
Cover Choices and Quality
Shutterfly offers several choices for hard covers: glossy, matte, padded, cloth, leather and premium. I’ve only ever ordered the glossy hard cover and the cloth hard cover. They also offer a softcover matte book which I’ve also ordered in the past. Hardcover glossy is their standard finish–hardcover matte is an additional $5.00.
The glossy cover has a full bleed (meaning, the photo reaches the edges and wraps around so that there is no border). You can also choose to write something on the spine of the book and place photos on the back. There are many design choices for the covers and you can choose any number of photos in the various templates.
The cloth hardcover book has a die cut window where a photo is displayed. Keep in mind this is not a die cut into the first page of your book. The photo is actually mounted between the cover and the endsheet. You can see in the below photo.
Both styles of covers have a nice textured endsheet pasted between the cover and the first page of your book which is a bit glossier than this endsheet. The backcover also features the same endsheet material.
Softcover books do not have any endsheet as they are bound a little differently.
Page and Photo Quality
Shutterfly only has 1 weight for pages, but they are nice and thick. The pages are glossy and colors look vibrant on the page. Photos have always printed out nice and clear in the book as long as the original image uploaded was of high enough quality.
A new offering is layflat pages. I haven’t had the chance to order this type of book yet. The photos above show the standard pages which do not layflat. Layflat pages is available as a premium upsell when you order your book. The additional cost for my book was $25.00.
Software and Design Choices
The design software is Shutterfly’s strongest suit. There are 2 modes you can choose from: Custom Path and Simple Path. I always choose custom since I want to be able to decide where my photos go and what the pages look like. To be honest, I’ve never done Simple path — this is where Shutterfly lays out all your photos in the book for you.
In Custom Path, first choose a theme for your book such as “travel” or “baby” or “family fun”. This will establish the look and feel for the design elements. You can then storyboard your book, meaning decide how many & which photos you want on each page and the software will auto-layout the page. There are many templates for each page, grouped by the # of photos each template supports. For instance, if you wanted 2 photos on a page, there are templates for showing 1 dominant photo and 1 smaller one, or 2 square photos, or 1 horizontal and 1 vertical, etc.
At this point, I usually make sure I’m happy with the layout, background and any embellishments that Shutterfly has added for me such as borders, stickers and other design elements.
The software allows you complete control over the # of photos per page, where they are located, how big each photo is, where each text box is, how big the text is, etc. It’s extremely flexible.
Shutterfly automatically inserts a logo on the last page of your book. You don’t have any choice in the matter. (It’s the same with all the Shutterfly cards as well). It would be nice if you could opt out of the logo, but I think almost all photobook companies insert their logo somewhere in the book.
Shipping & Customer Service
The book comes packaged in a clear bag within a bright orange cardboard mailer which protects the book well. I’ve never had any issues with dinged corners so far. They typically include a coupon for your next order as well.
Shipping and customer service are probably where I’d like to see Shutterfly improve. Shipping seems to be done through “UPS Mail Innovations” which is a UPS + USPS program. UPS delivers to my local post office and USPS delivers “the last mile” to my house. It is extremely, extremely slow. Add to this that production of the book takes 2-3 days. From time of order until time to receipt of the last book I made, it was 8 business days. I’ve experienced up to 11 days in the past! Yikes!
I sent mail to customer service a few years ago letting them know how I was dissatisfied with how slow the delivery was (and that it missed their promise date) and all I got was a form letter telling me where to find their shipping guidelines. Nothing annoys me more than receiving a canned response that doesn’t even address my problem. I hope that they have improved in this regard since that time, but I haven’t had any complaints since then.
Promotions and Pricing
Shutterfly always has a sale. This both makes me very happy and infuriates me! It seems like there are always promotions so you never should pay retail. You can enter in all of the special codes to your heart’s content and it will apply the deals that work for the items in your cart. You are generally able to stack 1 “dollar off code” (e.g. $10 off your purchase) with 1 “percent off” code (e.g. 30% off photo books). The shipping coupon (usually free shipping with purchase of $30 or more) is calculated after all discounts have been taken. There are often free items being offered, with just shipping being charged so when you’re making an order, it is worth checking to see what you can get for a nominal increase in shipping costs.
I’ve been a happy customer of Shutterfly for 5+ years now. They have outlasted several competitors which they’ve acquired. After trying other photobook companies, I think Shutterfly’s software makes it easy to create a book to your specifications while still keeping it easy to use.