Digital Home Thoughts: The Great Photo Book Round-Up Review: Who Makes The Best Photo Books?

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Great Photo Book Round-Up Review: Who Makes The Best Photo Books?

Posted by Jason Dunn in "Digital Home Printing" @ 06:30 AM

MyPublisher Photo Book Review

www.mypublisher.com

MyPublisher Photo Book Review

Figure 53: The MyPublisher Web site.

This section of the review has been updated as of April 2011 with new book options. MyPublisher now has photo finish (image wrap) covers, lay-flat pages, and a Super Gloss Printing option that has to be seen to be believed.

MyPublisher is one of the heavyweights in the photo book industry - they've built and shipped more than 5 million books since 2002. They offer hardcover books in 11.25" x 8.75" (Classic), 15" x 11.5" (Deluxe), and 5.75" x 7.75" (Pocketbook) sizes. Softcover books can also be created at the 7.75" x 5.75" in size. They also offer a book style called the "My Mini" which is a small 2.75" x 3.5", 20 page softcover book. The quarter-inch and three-quarter inch sizes are curious - there are only so many brands of high-end printing presses in the world, so I wonder why MyPublisher has such unique sizes? MyPublisher uses "premium 115-pound high-gloss archival quality paper" in their Classic Hardcover books. They now offer photo finish (image wrap), book jacket, linen or leather covers.

Building the Book

After downloading the 11 MB MyPublisher 4.0 software client (the current version as of April 2011 is version 6.0), it installed quickly and I was starting to build my book within a couple of minutes. The first few screens are selecting the product you want to build - photo book, calendar, greeting cards, or book jacket - followed by the size. This visually-driven approach is much nicer than the text-based drop-down menu approach from the companies that use the My Photo Books software. After selecting the books size, I was presented with a choice of ten different book styles, including Bestseller, Wedding, Baby Boy, Travel, Collage, and others. I selected Just Photos, since all my photos are full-page images, and opted for the Book Jacket as the cover style. They also offer the typical picture window option, but I've never been a fan of those. Selecting the images was next, but I discovered that MyPublisher doesn't like PNG images:

MyPublisher Photo Book Review

Figure 54: No PNG files for you with MyPublisher.

The back of my book was a PNG file, so after I converted it to JPEG, the book-building process could continue. It's a bit odd that PNG isn't supported by the software - it's not as though it's an unusual or rare format.

MyPublisher Photo Book Review

Figure 55: The MyPublisher book building software.

The MyPublisher software has a nice user interface, but it's pretty sluggish and can become unresponsive at times. I saw the spinning blue "This application is doing something, hang on" Vista circle icon more than once, and this is on a system with a Core 2 Extreme X6800 CPU at 2.97 Ghz, 4 GB of RAM, and a Western Digital Raptor 15,000 RPM hard drive. It looks like it's multi-threaded, because when I dropped an image onto the page, I saw overall CPU usage shoot up to 69%. Dropping an image onto the page and waiting for it to resolve takes 5 seconds...I shudder to think how slowly this software would be on a single-core, lower-speed CPU. On the plus side, the images in the layout are crisp and clear, and seem to be full resolution, so you can see all the details of your images on the page.

MyPublisher Photo Book Review

Figure 56: Selecting the page layout.

A source of frustration with this software is how it locks the page into using certain photo layouts. Instead of assuming full-page images and customizing from there, or at the very least allowing a full-page layout to be implemented with a couple of clicks, the MyPublisher template makes all right-hand pages multi-image layouts. And, bizarrely, there's not even an option to force the page layout to a single full-page image. The only thing I could think of doing was deleting all the pages, then inserting new pages that are set to a full-page image. That's an ugly approach to take; the developers of MyPublisher 4.0 should re-work how this part of the software works.

MyPublisher Photo Book Review

Figure 57: Is that thin white line going to show up in my photo book?

Another point of curious design is the decision to show the user a thin white line next to where their image is on the page. At first I thought this meant that my image didn't cover the entire page, and that white line was showing me that I'd have a white line on my page - that's the whole idea behind WYSIWYG interfaces after all - but when I tried to move my image on the page toward the white line, it didn't cover it up - meaning it's not really part of the layout. I think MyPublisher is trying to make the book as realistic-looking as possible, but that shouldn't come at the expense of usability. And speaking of moving the image, it's irritating not to be able to move the image with the keyboard - it's easy to nudge an image around using the arrow keys in other applications, but in MyPublisher 4.0 you have to click on the image, then click on the hand icon, then click and drag your photo - and watch it move up or down even if you only meant to move it left or right.

One of the nice touches is the ability to customize the inside of the dust-jacket; you can add three blocks of text and one image on the inside-left flap, and the same for the inside-right flap. If you were creating a collection of your photos, this is the place you'd put your photo and bio. There's also a toolbar that pops up when you click on any of your images, and this toolbar can be used to rotate your image left or right, mirror it horizontally, convert it to black and white, auto-adjust your photo, crop, remove red eye, resize an image, zoom in or out, and move the image around on the page. I had to click on some of those icons to figure out what they did because the MyPublisher 4.0 software lacks pop-up tool tips to tell the user what each icons means.

When I finished previewing my book and clicked on the Purchase button, the software informed me that there was a typo - my last name of "Dunn". Having a spell checker built into the software is a great touch - there's nothing worse than paying a bundle of money for several copies of a photo book and then finding a typo in them. The order process is fast and efficient - it's not until the very end that the software uploads the book, and depending on the speed of your connection, it might take a while.

The Results

MyPublisher Photo Book Review

Figure 58: The MyPublisher photo book, front. [HIGH-RES IMAGE]

MyPublisher Photo Book Review

Figure 59: The MyPublisher photo book, back. [HIGH-RES IMAGE]

MyPublisher Photo Book Review

Figure 60: The MyPublisher photo book, spine. [HIGH-RES IMAGE]

Even before I got the book, I was impressed with MyPublisher's ordering process - their system is very communicative about the status of the order. As I mentioned earlier, I'm not tracking the printing and delivery speed of each book publisher, but I will say that MyPublisher was the fastest overall process from when I clicked Order in the software to when the book showed up. We're talking days when most of the other companies took a week or more.

MyPublisher Classic Hardcover with Dust Jacket Cover

Please click on the video above to watch it on YouTube in 1080p full screen mode.

Book Details: 11.25" x 8.75" hardcover book with book jacket, 60 pages
Book Cost: $60.59 + $12.99 for shipping to Canada (FedEx, 3-5 business days)
Paper Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Print Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Cover Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Overall Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Spine Printing: Yes

MyPublisher Classic Hardcover with Photo Finish Cover

Please click on the video above to watch it on YouTube in 1080p full screen mode.

In late 2010, MyPublisher started offering a photo finish (photo wrap) cover, so they sent me another copy of the baby book with this new cover. I loved it! MyPublisher already had excellent paper quality, and superb print quality; the only thing I didn't like was the dust jacket. It's a personal preference thing of course, but having a photo right there on the permanent cover of the book is great - so this new addition from MyPublisher scores very high in my books!

Book Details: 11.25" x 8.75" hardcover book with book jacket, 60 pages
Book Cost: $60.59 + $12.99 for shipping to Canada (FedEx, 3-5 business days)
Paper Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Print Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Cover Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Overall Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Spine Printing: Yes

MyPublisher Classic Hardcover with Photo Finish Cover, Lay-Flat Pages, and Super Gloss Printing

Please click on the video above to watch it on YouTube in 1080p full screen mode.

In early 2011, MyPublisher added two exciting new options to their books: lay flat pages, and super gloss printing. The combination of these two options makes for an expensive ($129.35) 60 page book, but the results are jaw-dropping. The lay flat pages make for an impressive visual, and the paper and print quality of the images on the super gloss printing is simply stunning. Everyone I've showed this vacation book to has been wowed - they've never seen anything like it. Other book publishers might catch up one day, but for now, MyPublisher has something very unique in the market. Remember that coupons change everything - if you order two copies of your book during a BOGO (Buy One Get One) promotion, you'll effectively get them for 50% off.

One thing worth noting: the paper that comes with the super gloss printing option isn't very thick (heavy), so a 60 page book doesn't get very thick and lacks the, shall we say, "gravitas" that a 60 page book from Photobook Canada with the upgrade paper would have. There's a certain association of quality we associate with an object's weight, so this is something to keep in mind if you're doing a wedding album or something that you want to feel "serious". The super gloss printing looks insanely good for the paper being so thin!

Book Details: 11.25" x 8.75" hardcover book with book jacket, 60 pages
Book Cost: $129.35 + $12.99 for shipping to Canada (FedEx, 3-5 business days)
Paper Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Print Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Cover Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Overall Quality: Poor > Average > Excellent > Superb
Spine Printing: Yes


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