Best photo book: 10 reviewed £1590

25th Nov 2011 | 12:09

Best photo book: 10 reviewed

We test ten of the best photo books

Best photo book: 10 reviewed

A photo book of your own images is more than just a simple photo album. It's a personal collection printed and professionally bound in a form that wouldn't look out of place in a proper bookshop.

Such a product would have cost a considerable amount of money not so long ago, but thanks to the abundance of companies providing a photo book service, it's now easier and cheaper than ever to upload your shots and order a photo book using your computer.

We selected ten photo book companies and tested their services from start to finish. We looked at the design process, the freedom you have in creating your book, including text and image layout, the delivery times, and crucially, the finished product's print and bind quality.

Read on to discover what we found…

Blurb

Blurb 20-page large landscape with premium paper

Blurb offers a comprehensive set of tools to create your photo book in square and standard large portrait and landscape formats. The smallest option measures 18x18cm, while the biggest landscape book is 33x28cm.

To design your book you can choose between the Bookify Online service in your web browser or download the BookSmart software (available for Mac and PC). The tools allow for image placement, size adjustment and positioning anywhere across the page (or across a double-page spread).

There are many default layouts available, each of which can be customised to suit your preferences. The 'Edit Layout' mode is the platform for more intricate editing – a grid enables accurate positioning with x and y coordinates.

In the main layout there are trim and safe guidelines to help position images. Zooming in shows images in detail, providing a good feel for your creation. There's a page view line at the bottom of the screen, which can be used to shuffle the positions of pages. It's also easy to preview the book as if it were a final version.

Blurb software interface

Where Blurb really excels, however, is in its features for more demanding users. Blurb offers a plugin for Adobe Lightroom and InDesign (which is up-to-date and compatible with the latest CS5.5 version) to provide absolute creative control. If you don't have this software, you can get a professional to do the work for you and use the PDF To Book feature instead. Every angle is covered.

Once your book's designed, it's stored online, where you can even make it available for public purchase should you so wish.

Blurb's biggest drawback? Its delivery time. The 12 working days we had to wait after ordering was among the longest production time. The book looks good – the cover is well-finished and the ProLine end sheet and premium paper are effective, but the overall image quality is a touch more grainy than in the books of some of Blurb's competitors. On balance, however, Blurb is a professional experience from start to finish.

Product details

Price: £42.74 (20-page Large Landscape with Premium Paper (Lustre Finish), ProLine end sheets and Hardcover with ImageWrap)
Size: 33x28cm
Postage: £4.99; £11.99 (priority)
Web: www.blurb.com
Formats: Mac and PC download or online
Delivery time: 11 working days

We like

Good layout presets
Full creative control
Intricate adjustments possible
Plugins & PDF uploads perfect for professionals
Online book store

We dislike

Slow production and delivery
No large format options
Could do with more design detail regarding the spine gutter size

Score

4 stars

Apple

Apple 20-page xl hardcover book

Apple's Mac-only photo book service runs directly through its iPhoto program installed on all Macs. Hardcover books come in two sizes (both with 20-page pagination): L (28x21.5cm) costs £20.39; XL (33x25.4cm) costs £41.72. As with most products from Apple, that's rather expensive – in fact, it's the most expensive service in this test.

Using iPhoto is convenient, and it means that photos of any size can be used, unlike with some other companies. However, the collection of page presets is somewhat small, and you aren't able to make intricate adjustments to them. You simply drag and drop your images into ready-made templates. For some presets, this seems too restrictive. For example, on the 16-photo single page template, all 16 frames must be used for photos, and it isn't possible to use, say, the 16th space, for text.

Apple software interface

Fortunately, full bleed and double-page spread layouts are included, and the latter has the very cool ability to show exactly how your image will look when it crosses the fold – no more guess work! Once images are placed, they can be enlarged using a slider, and easily dragged around the image box area.

When Apple's photo book arrived nine working days after ordering, the packaging was an impressive sight. The book itself has a printed jacket rather than a print on the cover – Apple doesn't provide this option. Print quality is top notch, so it's just a bit of a shame that there isn't more room for manoeuvre in the production process.

Product details

Price: £41.72 (20-page XL Hardcover book)
Size: 33x25.4cm
Postage: £5.99

Web: www.apple.com/ilife/print-products.html
Formats: Mac via iPhoto
Delivery time: Nine working days

Like

Easy to use
Photos already in iPhoto
Great for the novice
Gutter previews in double-page spreads


Dislike

Expensive
Mac-only
The rigid presets offer no ability for tweaking the layout

Score

2 stars

Jessops

Jessops 26-page large landscape photo paper

Like Amazon, WHSmith and others, Jessops uses the CEWE PHOTOBOOK service for its photo book printing. The downloadable Jessops Photo software enables you to create photo books from A4 up to 30x30cm.

A Mac version of the software is available, but the shortcuts failed to work in our tests, and when attempting to use the photo book Assistant (for automatically filling pages and providing tips) the software was prone to crashing.

Images can be manually imported, synchronised with iPhoto, or pulled in from a Flickr account. There's a variety of preset page layouts, and it's also possible to assign image size and placement, and crop images within the new outlines. However, enlarging is made difficult by the need to open an image in a separate viewer, approximating the size, and then viewing it in the book format after.

Jessops software interface


For those without additional image-editing software, Jessops's built in Photo Show provides options to adjust hue and saturation, reduce redeye, crop, and apply effects. Or a one-click Auto Correct tool will tweak your images for you.

After placing the order, the book arrived just over a week later, which was a decent turnaround time. The way the pages are glued to the spine means the book can open flat on every page – there's no loss of image in the gutter, and as such, images spread over two pages are shown seamlessly. Images look true to the original files, and the print quality is great. Considering the limited features of the layout software, the end product is very good.

Product details

Price: £35 (26-page Large Landscape Photo Paper)
Size: 28x21cm
Postage: £3.91

Web: http://photo.jessops.com/photo-books.html
Formats: Mac and PC download or online
Delivery time: Eight working days


We like

iPhoto and Flickr integration
Built-in image editor
Well-finished end product

We dislike

Unstable software
Shortcut limitations in Mac software
Awkward photo enlargement

Score

4 stars

Bonusprint


Bonusprint 24-page landscape xl – hard cover

Bonusprint offers downloadable software, an online Flash-based design tool, and an iPad app. All three methods have a fast image importer that means you can create your photo book in a jiffy. Even large files in excess of 20Mb didn't prove a problem for the software.

The software has an intuitive layout, where clicking to drag an image's position or pulling its corners to resize will feel natural to designers and Photoshop users. Image aspect ratios can be retained, or you can crop and re-proportion images too. Photos can also be enlarged within the program by using a slider once an image is clicked, and it's also possible to set transparency for quirky effects.

Bonusprint software interface

Bonusprint's photo book software offers plenty of text options too. You can select from 90 fonts, use underline or strikethrough, select from a full colour gamut and apply drop-shadow effects.

The Landscape XL books start at £49.99 (add £5 for a printed cover), while the Large and Medium versions are a more affordable £24.99 and £13.99 respectively. Square book options are also available.

Postage varies depending on the book size ordered, and the extra £7.99 on top of the XL is something to consider when ordering.

Bonusprint's turnaround period was impressive, with the book landing on the doormat just six working days after ordering. The book has reasonable print quality, although prints have lighter tones, and shadow areas were less dominant than in the competition's prints – in some cases this may work as a benefit to avoid muddy shots, but it also means shots lack the same richness and depth they could possess.

Product details

Price: £49.99 (24-page Landscape XL – Hard Cover)
Size: 39x29cm
Postage: £7.99

Web: www.bonusprint.co.uk
Formats: Mac and PC download or online, plus iPad app
Delivery time: Six working days

We like

Software, online, iPad options
Plenty of control over design
Quick image preview

We dislike

Expensive
Needs more pro-spec upload options

Score

3 stars

Yophoto

Yophoto 30-page printed hard cover

'The Professional photo book People' is Yophoto's bold website statement, and from what we've seen, that's a very apt description of the service.

The downloadable software is compatible with Mac and PC, and provides plenty of control. Placing images over single or double pages is no problem, and you can resize and reposition with accuracy. If an image gets too large for appropriate final quality, then a warning pops up to let you know.

Yophoto software interface

You can apply image effects with easy-to-use sliders for exposure, contrast, saturation, temperature and colour tints. Masks can add edging to an image, and clipart and backgrounds can be imported too. Working with the software was easy, although the latest Mac version did pose a couple of problems re-opening a book once the volume was unmounted – something that ought to be ironed out in future editions.

The book arrived a mere four days later, and the quality of the well-wrapped contents was impressive. What sets the Yophoto book apart from all the others is the traditional hand-threaded binding. This makes a much 'tighter' book – it's harder to turn the pages, but it's sturdy and has a quality feel about it.
The print quality is also very good, with detailed images that look bright and stand out from the pages.

The print colours were superior to all the other books in the test.


Product details

Price: £34.99 (30-page Printed Hard Cover)
Size: 20x20cm
Postage: £4.99 (20x20cm); £5.99 (30x30cm)

Web: www.yophoto.co.uk
Formats: Mac and PC download
Delivery time: Four working days

We like

Very fast delivery
Colourful and detailed prints
Threaded binding
Easy to use software


We dislike

Tight binding increases the size of the gutter
Not as much versatility in size options as its competitors
Some software problems while re-opening saved books

Score

4 stars

Bob Books

Bob books 26-page large square hardback

Bob Books offers a download software package to manage your photo book creation, or if you want to entrust the work to the company's design team, a designer can do it for you (charges start at £15).

If you're going it alone, then the Bob Designer 2.0 software is capable, and includes a variety of preset layouts. You also have the ability to manually resize and position images yourself. Shots can be spread over a single page or a double-page spread. If resolution dips too low then a prominent warning sign will pop up in the centre of the image.

Bob books software interface

Bob Books uses the same base software as Jessops/CEWE, and therefore, the control over your photo book is fundamentally the same. The software isn't exactly the same, however, and we did find the Mac version suffered some instability – the program froze on more than one occasion when in the Photo Show editor.

Print quality is top notch. Images look as they should, and the ability to unfold the gutter completely flat is a huge bonus for displaying images that cross the gutter. The print quality is identical to that in the Jessops book, due the fact that it uses the same software – and one would assume – the same CEWE printing service.

Product details

Price: £37.99 (26-page Large Square Hardback)
Size: 30x30cm
Postage: £4.50

Web: www.bobbooks.co.uk
Formats: Mac and PC download
Delivery time: Seven working days

We like

Photo Show editor for picture adjustment
Image position and size control
iPhoto and Flickr image integration
Premium paper
Design service available

We dislike

Unstable software
Awkward photo enlargement

Score

4 stars

Albelli

Albelli 24-page landscape xl

Albelli is a name you're likely to hear more of in future. A subsidiary of Albumprinter BV, this Dutch printshop is the largest in Europe, and it's rapidly expanding. UK companies Bonusprint and Fotobook were recently acquired alongside other European trading names.

Albelli's photo books can be created using a downloadable program, via Flash-based software in a web browser or by using an iPad app. Pointing the software to iPhoto or your main image directory previews images rapidly, and files in excess of 20Mb aren't a problem.

Albelli software interface

The software's layout is intuitive, and placing and repositioning images feels natural – whether importing an image at its original aspect ratio or resizing across a single page or a double-page spread. There's bags of control. Enlargement once an outline box has been positioned can be altered via a slider at the base of the image. Transparency, multiple fonts, a full selection of colours, and drop-shadow effects are also available.

Albelli's large-scale book is well-presented, but the images have shadow areas that look a little washed out compared with other competitors. Choosing the gloss paper finish proved to be a mistake. It's a question of personal preference, but the glossy images don't feel right in a book context, and the paper is prone to fingerprints.

Product details

Price: £54.95 (24-page Landscape XL)
Size: 39x29cm
Postage: £7.99

Web: www.albelli.co.uk/products/photo-books
Formats: Mac and PC download or online, plus iPad app
Delivery time: Seven working days


We like

Software, online, iPad options
Plenty of control over the design
Quick image preview

We dislike

Expensive
Needs more pro-spec upload options

Score

3 stars

Snapfish

Snapfish 20-page custom hard cover

Creating a photo book with Snapfish can only take place within your web browser as there's no downloadable software. Uploading files of a good size was no problem, including files up to 20Mb. However, the Flash-based interface can be very slow to activate, or will often time out entirely. Seeing a spinning circle of dots isn't uncommon, and that doesn't make the creative process any faster.

Creating your Snapfish photo book is a very pre-set affair that can limit creativity, particularly regarding the cover. On the other hand, if you're a novice, then the limited choices and drag-and-drop ease may work to your benefit, and there are a wide selection of single-page layouts. However, images can't stretch over more than one page, and when it comes to enlarging or resizing your shots via the Edit Photo section, the resulting pop-up area within the browser only offers a stepped zoom in/out mechanism that's limiting for precise control. Repositioning is far more fluid, but because it's not possible to see a direct preview of image position on the page, this can cause problems when attempting to make left-hand and right-hand pages correlate. On occasion, the edit window failed to load.

Snapfish software interface

Text can only be filled based on a pre-set design, meaning it's not possible to place your own words around or on an image.

Snapfish's order process was hassle-free, and the book arrived in an astonishingly fast four days. However, the final print quality, while passable, isn't great. The colours are flat, there's excess blacks in shadow areas, and the prints seem a little soft (particularly on the cover). The margin text also bleeds over to the back of the book, which doesn't look professional.

Product details

Price: £24.99 (20-page Custom Hard Cover)
Size: 28x20cm
Postage: £3.99

Web: www.snapfish.co.uk/snapfishuk/photo-books
Formats: Online
Delivery time: Four working days


We like

Fast turnaround
Easy drag-and-drop process

We dislike

Flat, sub-standard print quality
Restrictive design process
Problems loading images for editing
No downloadable software

Score

2 stars

Lulu

Lulu 21x18cm

Lulu's online service covers not only photo books but a wide variety of self-published eBooks and so on. Its photo book section is limited to 23x18cm and 21x18cm; while it may not provide the premium paper or large sizes of some of its competitors, it is a cost-effective way to print images on a smaller scale.

Images are limited to 10Mb. Shots can be imported from Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket and SmugMug. Laying out your book in Lulu's browser software involves dropping images into placeholders chosen from a range of presets. There are 44 layouts, but images can't be manually placed outside these.

Lulu software interface

However, it is possible to enlarge images via an accurate percentage slider or to click to drag the image around its placeholder confinement. The Flash-based software is slow to update an image to its native resolution, but a short wait will allow for an accurate preview. The final pre-print book view is also provided as a PDF for your records, or should you so wish, personal printing at home.

Production time was the slowest of all those on test. It took the book a fortnight to arrive. The quality of the book seems reasonable at first, but some pages were stuck together, which caused some tearing, plus subtle marks on the cover are also visible, and images have a more muted colour palette compared with the majority of the others on test.

Product details

Price: £14.47
Size: 21x18cm
Postage: £2.99

Web: www.lulu.com
Formats: Online only
Delivery time: 14 working days


We like

Cheap
Easy import from Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket, and SmugMug

We dislike

10Mb upload limit
Rigid layout
Small book sizes
Slow delivery time
Some pages stuck together

Score

2 stars


Photobox

Photobox 26-page a3 personalised hard cover with premium quality paper and matt lamination

Photobox is among the better-known online printing companies. With an online-only production process, you'll need to ensure your browser has the latest Flash player installed.

Photos can be uploaded to your Photobox account, but there's a 10Mb limit per file. Should you have a gallery of larger shots, then the faff of resizing will eat up a lot of your time (and Photobox can't perform these adjustments).

Photobox software interface

The browser software enables you to reposition, crop, and enlarge images. However, the small browser window doesn't feel as intimate a work area as some of competition. It's not possible to work across a double-page spread either, and we encountered issues where text boxes got stuck in front of images.

Enlarge a shot to excess and a graphic notifies you of a dip in quality. If you're uncertain about anything else, then another big plus point is the live online chat feature, which enables you to ask questions and get responses in real time.

It took just over one week for the book to arrive. The image on the matte cover appeared dark and dull, and there was some blistering near the spine. The images in the book were good quality, but the limited file size may be problematic at larger print sizes. The biggest problem we experienced was that photo areas we left blank printed up as black boxes.

Product details

Price: £53.97 (26-page A3 Personalised Hard Cover with Premium Quality Paper and Matt Lamination)
Size: 37x28.5cm
Postage: £3.99
Web: www.photobox.co.uk/shop/photo-books
Formats: Online only
Delivery time: Eight working days


We like

Good system for image-quality assessment
Live online chat

We dislike

Blank areas printed black
10Mb per image upload limit
Image preview is poor

Score

2 stars

Conclusion

Jessops 26-page large landscape photo paper

Verdict

Each photo book company put on test produced the goods to a good standard, but it's when examining the finer details that the differences can be seen.

At the lower end of the results some companies put too many restrictions on uploading sizes, and the web-only production process of others doesn't offer as much versatility as the rest of the competition.

Those companies with rigid drag-and-drop designs (Apple, Photobox, Snapfish, and Lulu) may be great for novice users looking for simplicity, but their services may not be appropriate for more demanding users looking for a truly personal product. However, Lulu does offer great value for money, and Apple's product is well-finished.

For the top-tier productions, however, it was a tough call separating the services.

Bonusprint and Albelli (fundamentally the same company with different branding) produced great products, and Blurb proved to have the best design software of them all. Blurb offers a truly professional system that's very stable, easy to use and it offers bags of control too. The final book wasn't our absolute favourite (though really not that far behind), but this has to be the professional's choice. Its biggest downside, however, is a fairly lengthy production and shipping process.

In second place is Yophoto, a UK-based company that produced a top-quality book in a short space of time. The company's software is easy to use and the final product's threaded binding is unlike any other finish on offer from this group.

But the companies that came out on top did so not for their design software – which proved a little unstable and lacking by comparison to others – but for their top print and binding quality. Separating Bob Books and Jessops is nigh on impossible, as the two books are identical, with the exception of the different company logos on the back of each book. For the casual user who'll only order the occasional book and doesn't have loads (if any) photo-editing software available on their machine, the downloadable service from both of these companies produces a final product that looks fantastic.

The flat binding means double pages don't lose any of the images in the gutter, and the fantastic paper and print quality just shines. Users with a higher design standard may choose Blurb for its PDF To Book and Adobe plugin features, while those looking for a more traditional, handmade feel will like Yophoto's product. But from a more casual user's point of view, both Bob Books and Jessops impress.

Disclaimer

Quoted prices are reflective of the order placed with each individual company. Not all books are the same size, or have the same paper finish or pagination. Delivery times are not guaranteed – the times we've reported are based on this reviewer's order experience.

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