Friday, August 8, 2014

PSA: Comparing Photo Books From Shutterfly and Blurb

I recently ordered 2 photo books from Blurb after having used Shutterfly for years. I wasn't sure how the finished products would compare, but now I know, so I'm writing this post to help me remember and to help anyone else who is wondering.

I make photo books for 2 different things: 1) Photo books that *I* will keep once the children move away, that tell the story of our entire family, and 2) Photo books for each child, containing mostly pictures of that child, which the child will take with him/her when he/she leaves the house.

I've been using Shutterfly for....well, since we got a digital for 12? 13? years. I was hesitant to move to a different site because so many years of my pictures are stored there and it's always such a hassle to upload lots of pictures. But, inevitably, when I would have 5 or 10 or 18 minutes here and there to work on photo books, I would have problems uploading my pictures or getting my project to load because of some issue with the site. Also, Shutterfly continues to add to their layouts and other options, so one of the books I was working on became obsolete, I had a hard time learning the new system, and there are now SO MANY options for backgrounds, layouts, and embellishments ("stickers"/decorations) that I became paralyzed with indecision. (But mostly it was the rage from the loading problems that did me in.)

A Lovely Person recommended Blurb to me, so I looked into that site. One thing I liked about Blurb right away was their program, BookSmart, that can be downloaded onto your computer, allowing you to work on your photo book offline. Another thing I liked was that the kind of photo book I was interested in could have 240 or 440 pages, depending on the kind of paper I picked. I was a little sad that there weren't any embellishments offered, but they had a variety of customizable photo layouts,  85 patterned backgrounds (whose colors can be changed to pretty much any color there is) and any color of solid background you could possibly want. Lack of embellishments, although a little sad, simplified the process for me and saved me A LOT of time.

Now for the detailed comparisons!

Kinds of paper
Shutterfly offers one kind of paper.
Blurb offers Standard Paper, Premium Paper Lustre or Matte, Proline Uncoated, or Proline Pearl Photo.

*I wasn't sure which of Blurb's papers would compare to Shutterfly's. If I used Standard Paper, I could get up to 440 pages in a book, but if I used Premium, I could only get 240. Since I am expending so much time, energy, and money on these books, and I want them to last FOREVER a long time, I decided to try Premium Paper Matte for my photo book and Premium Paper Lustre for Jeffrey's, so that I could see what the difference was between the two, and so I could compare the Premium papers to Shutterfly's standard paper.

Results: Shutterfly's standard paper is equivalent to Blurb's Premium Lustre Paper. It's a nice thickness with a little bit of shine. I think I will use the Premium Matte Paper from now on because I prefer to not have a glare on the pictures.

Types of Covers
Shutterfly offers leather, silk, linen, cloth, padded, hard matte covers for their premium or upgrade options, and hard or soft covers (with pictures and/or text printed on) for their standard option.
*Jeffrey's first photo book has a standard hard cover; the cover has a shiny finish (which is easy to wipe off if it gets fingerprints or something sticky on it).

Blurb offers a softcover, hard cover with a dust jacket, or hard cover with ImageWrap (meaning, no dust jacket and pictures/text printed on the front and/or back of the cover).
*The Family book and Jeffrey's second photo book have a hard cover with ImageWrap; the cover has a matte finish (which does not seem to wipe off quite as easily).

Shutterfly offers books in sizes: 8x8, 8x11, 10x10, 12x12, or 11x14.
*Jeffrey's first book is 8x11.

Blurb offers books in sizes: 7x7, 7.75x9.75, 10x8, 13x11, or 12x12.
*The Family book and Jeffrey's second photo book are 13x11.

13x11 book on the left, 8x11 book on the right

The top book contains 101 pages (and has been well-loved).
The middle book contains 112 pages.
The bottom book contains 182 pages.
I am terrible at visualizing what size something will actually be, so I was pleasantly surprised today when the 13x11 books came and I saw the size of the pictures. For some things, like birthdays, where there are 40 pictures of the same event, I like to use the 9- or 16-picture layouts to keep a lot of the pictures but not use up a lot of pages with them. I always worry the pictures will turn out to be too small, especially with the 16-picture layout, but they were perfect!

Design Options
Shutterfly offers 2 book-making options: Custom Path (1-25 pictures per page, you design the book yourself, including backgrounds, text and fonts, and embellishments) or Simple Path (1-4 pictures per page, the computer organizes your pictures onto pages according to the dates and you can go through an adjust some things). In Custom Path, there are LOTS OF OPTIONS. LOTS. OF. OPTIONS. Backgrounds, page colors, embellishments, fonts, picture layouts, and now you can "customize" the picture layouts, which means you can change the size of the picture box, add or delete text boxes, and move things around on the page.

Blurb's BookSmart offers 85 patterned backgrounds with colors that can be changed, all sorts of solid colors for backgrounds, a variety of picture layouts (and the option to save layouts that you've designed), the option to "edit" the layout by changing the size of the picture boxes, adding or deleting picture and text boxes, and moving all of those things around on the page, and a variety of fonts.

Verdict: If you love designing things, having LOTS OF OPTIONS, and scrap booking, Shutterfly is what you want. If too many options make you feel overwhelmed and unable to make a decision, and what you want is a basic photo album with pictures and some text talking about the pictures, you want Blurb's BookSmart.

Note: Blurb has other book designing options, besides BookSmart, but I haven't used those.

Uploading Things
For Shutterfly, you add pictures to your book from your computer, your Shutterfly account, your Facebook, or your Instagram. You have to be online while you do this. I have had problems with uploading taking A LONG TIME. Once your pictures FINALLY load After you have your pictures, you make your photo book online, at the Shutterfly website. I have also had problems with this site refusing to load or loading very slowly. When your book is finished, you order it from the website, which is pretty quick if the program isn't running slowly/refusing to work that day.

For Blurb, you add pictures to your book from your computer, Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa, or Smugmug. I only got pictures from my computer, which was fast, and did not require me to be online. I never had any problems using BookSmart to work on my pages; the program never froze or worked slowly. When I was ready to order my book, I uploaded it to the website, which took over an hour (it was a VERY large file), but I was expecting that, wasn't in a hurry, was able to do other things online at the same time, AND it never froze and had to be restarted, so that didn't bother me.

Shutterfly: Jeffrey's 8x11 book, without sales, would cost $39.99 for the first 20 pages, plus $1 per page for additional pages. His book has 101 pages (ultrasound pictures to 18 months old). I can't find the information on their site after 5+ minutes of looking, but I think 101 was the maximum number of pages I could get at the time; that may have changed.
Total for this book, with no coupon codes would have been $120.99+shipping (which, AGAIN, I have looked and looked for on their site and cannot find, but it ends up being a moot point because they usually have a coupon code that gives you free shipping).
From Blurb, as similar sized book would have cost $61.01+shipping.

Blurb: The Large Landscape (13"x11"), Hardcover ImageWrap would cost $60.81 for the first 20 pages, plus $0.50 per page for additional pages. The Family book has 182 pages (January 2011 to the end of July 2013).
Total for this book, with no coupon codes would have been $141.81+shipping.
From Shutterfly, the similarly sized 11x14 book would have cost $312.99+shipping.

*The price of the basic 20-page book is the reason I put so many pages in my books; most of the cost is the initial book, so it's cheaper for me to make fewer books with more pages than to make more books with fewer pages. But if you're making a smaller-sized book for grandparents or for one event (for example: a certain family vacation or family event) then this is irrelevant.

Coupon Codes
*Shutterfly's shipping price depends on the amount of money you are spending, but they often have a free shipping if you spend $30+ code. They usually have a 30% off photo books coupon, often have a 40% off coupon, and sometimes offer a 50% off coupon; the coupons sometimes specify a certain size of book. Also, I am signed up for Shutterfly's emails, and will receive a "free 20 page photo book" coupon a couple times per year, so you could sign up for emails and try making the free book to see how you like their system.

*Blurb: I have only been signed up with them for about 2 months. A couple weeks before that 2 months was up, I received emails from them offering 20% off if I spent one amount or less, or 30% off if I spent more than that before it had been 60 days since I signed up with them. I've also seen 15% and 25% off codes from them. I have not yet seen any free shipping codes.

Final Thoughts
For me, the biggest downsides to Blurb were that I would like a few more decorative options, and I would REALLY like to be able to copy an entire page layout and paste it into another book project, but that isn't possible at this time. (The Shutterfly site isn't cooperating with me again tonight, but, from what I can tell/remember, I can't copy pages there either.) Everything else was a positive for me: ease of use of the website and program, price, and quality.

I was happy with Shutterfly's quality, and I enjoyed the decorative options before there were so many, but my frustration with their site is a HUGE downside.

Also, there are MANY places out there that make photo books, so GOOD LUCK choosing one!