December 14, 2018

Picture this: DIY photo books

We love taking photographs, don’t we? According to Yahoo, 880 billion photos were taken in 2014. Sadly, most of the photos we take remain on our smartphones or SD cards, never to see the light of day. My mother, who witnesses her five children busily snapping photos like paparazzi at every family get-together, constantly complains that although everyone’s taking photos, she never gets to see any of them. 

In our digital age, photos aren’t printed — they’re shared on social media. And even when we do have our photos printed, they typically end up in shoeboxes rather than being displayed in photo albums. 

Thanks to a growing number of online book-printing sites, however, more and more people are compiling their pictures into photo books. And this is not your bubbe’s photo album. The new generation of photo books are bookstore-quality, bound publications that can look like coffee table books. You can create them with drag-and-drop ease, incorporate text, borders and backgrounds, and choose from various binding options. 

Following is a comparison of three popular photo-book publishing services. There are, of course, many more, but rather than confuse you, I am comparing three services I have personally used, so I can speak from experience. 


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I have used to print photos from my digital camera for more than a decade. When it first launched its photo-book capabilities in 2004, I was an early adopter and became a book-making fiend. Even though the technology was so new at the time, Shutterfly managed to make the creation process extremely user-friendly, easy enough for a novice to figure out  — for we were all novices at the time. 

Fast forward to 2015, and Shutterfly is the dominant player in the photo book market. In fact, when I did an unscientific survey of my friends and family, almost all of them use Shutterfly. Part of the reason is that the site, with its many premade design templates to choose from, is geared to the beginner. 

I would recommend Shutterfly to anyone who’s new to photo books, although I have been using the site less frequently, as I don’t use its pre-designed templates, and other sites offer more design flexibility at a lower price.

Presto Photo

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I was also an early customer of Presto Photo, then known as, back when it was run out of the founder’s house in North Carolina. At the time, I was actually not looking for a resource to print photo books, but rather to print press kits. I had been making press kits by making colored photocopies and placing them in a pocketed folder, but the photocopies were expensive, about $1 a page. With Presto Photo, I was able to create a soft-cover, professionally bound press kit that looked like a booklet, or an annual report for about half the price of color photocopying. 

A few years ago, when I was taking a furniture history class at Santa Monica College, our final project was to write a paper comparing and contrasting four pieces of furniture from two different periods. Not content to write a simple paper with some photos attached, I created a hardbound book through Presto Photo using photos I’d taken at the Getty Center and adding text and other illustrations. Needless to say, the other students really hated me for that.

One advantage of Presto Photo is its huge selection of sizes to choose from. Unique to them are mini-sized albums as small as 3 3/4-by-
2 1/2. I’ve made them for unique and memorable party favors. 

While Presto Photo is not as easy to navigate as Shutterfly, it does have drag-and-drop features. I like it because it also allows me to design my book in Photoshop or InDesign first, then upload the PDFs.


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Jaws drop when people see the books I’ve had printed through Blurb — they are absolutely gorgeous. Blurb offers hard-cover books with dust jackets, so they look like professionally printed books you would find at a bookstore. I have made coffee table books with my vacation photos, wedding photo books for friends, even cookbooks. And the price is surprisingly affordable. A 100-page hard-cover book with dust jackets costs less than $50. 

What I like about the Blurb book creation process is that you can assemble the book using Blurb’s free downloadable software. Then you upload the book when you’re ready to print. I’ll admit, it’s a little tricky to work with the program. But once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty manageable. They do offer an online bookmaking tool as well.

Not only does Blurb make books that look like they belong in a bookstore, it also functions as a retail site from which you can sell your book. You can set the price mark-up you want and keep the profits. They will even help you sell your book on Amazon, or as an e-book through the Apple iBook store.