I've been making photo books since 2010. I don't remember how I first learned about them, but I do know the first company I really knew the name of was Shutterfly, and they were the place I went to when I wanted to make one. The first photo book I made was an 8x8 book of our honeymoon, for Jason for his birthday. When it came, I think I liked it even more than he did. (Man, I'm like those people that give golf clubs or something to their spouse, when their spouse doesn't golf and they do.)
During the rest of 2010 I made a few more 8x8 books, but in 2011 didn't really do anything with photo books until the end of the year. That's I got bit by the "record my personal history" bug - and I've never recovered. I decided that I wanted to document my entire life in photobooks, and I've been working on that since.
At some point, I researched all the photo book companies (either in 2010 or 2011), and decided to stick with Shutterfly for most of my projects because they seemed like the best fit for me in quality and price. (To see the different reviews I read, check out this post: Photobook Comparisons.) In total, I've made fifteen books with Shutterfly, and I thought it was high time I finally wrote a review on them. So, bear with me for how long this post is - I guess I've got a lot to share after having made so many Shutterfly books!
Number of photo books I've made with Shutterfly: 15
For the most part, the software is fine. It can be buggy, and there are some improvements I'd like to see made, but overall it's not at all bad to work with. You upload your pictures to the Shutterfly site and work on your book online, so you can access it from any computer (which is great). They have a large selection of page layouts, backgrounds, and embellishments. On top of that, you can fully customize each page's layout until everything is just where you want it, in the dimensions that you want it. One thing I wish Shutterfly would implement, though, is being able to save your custom layouts. Some layouts I alter in similar ways over and over again - I'd like to be able to save it so I could just select my customized layout without having to do it all over again. But, overall, the software is just fine.
Very good. I've always liked Shutterfly's paper; it's nice and thick, and I've never noticed any bleed-through (being able to see the picture on the other side of the page). It's good paper.
Shutterfly's photo quality is very good. In the earlier books (the ones I made in 2010), the pictures were more grainy, but they seem to have gotten better over time. The pictures are very clear and bright. With other photo companies, I've had problems with the pictures sometimes turning out too dark, but I've never had that problem with Shutterfly. With those companies, I now know I have to brighten images before uploading them to the software. With Shutterfly, I don't have to worry about that. I know it's hard to illustrate printing quality with a picture of a picture, but here's an attempt:
|Nice, bright, and clear.|
|This is the first book I made, printed in 2010. You can tell (or at least my very picky eyes can) that the picture's a bit more grainy.|
|Printed earlier this year (2013) - nice and clear.|
Shutterfly's binding is good, but it can look a little bit different on every book you get. Here's the binding on a bunch of the books compared; I'll give you the page number and dimensions.
20-page 8x8 book:
20 page 8x8 book:
111-page 8x11 book:
52-page 8x11 book:
20-page 8x8 book:
The binding on the four 8x11s:
And five 8x8s:
I have had a problem with the binding before, but it was successfully resolved by customer service. Last year, I ordered a 20 page 8x8 book. When the book arrived and I was flipping through the pages, I noticed that I could see right down to the glue between two of the middle pages. You shouldn't be able to see that - usually the pages are tight enough that it would take real effort to see down that far. But there it was. The pages seemed very vulnerable along that seem - they laid too flat and seemed like they could come off really easily. Here's a picture I took at the time:
So, I contacted Shutterfly customer service and explained the problem - and they offered to send me a free new copy of the book, with free 2-day shipping! I was very impressed with their customer service, and when the new book came it had no problems with the binding. So my take-away message with the binding is this: in general, it's very good. And on the occasions that, for some reason, it isn't good, customer service will replace your book with no hassle.
The cover quality at Shutterfly is very good. I always go for the regular hardcover. They have a couple different options - softcover, matte, padded, cloth, leather - that I haven't tried and I'm not likely to. I have done the premium leather cover for my layflat wedding album, but that's something I'm reviewing next month and I'll talk about it then.
Here are the covers of my 8x11s:
I do wish Shutterfly offered more cover layouts in their software. You can customize the layouts - add more pictures, move things around, etc - and while I don't mind doing that with the inside page layouts, I'd like to have some more ready-made cover options for the covers available. For some reason, they don't offer the "Get more layouts" option in the software for the cover like they do for the inside pages. You either have to choose from one of their smallish selection of cover layouts, or go into customization. I don't know why they just don't offer the same, full selection of layouts for the cover that they do for the inside pages.
Here are the spines:
And the backs:
And the 8x8s:
Shutterfly offers a lot of sizes of photo books. They recently added a couple more, and now have (height x width) 5x7, 7x9, 8x8, 8x11, 10x10, 12x12, and 11x14 photo books. I've always made 8x8 or 8x11 books. When I first started making photo books, I always made the 8x8 size because they're cheaper and Shutterfly often has "free 8x8 book" promotions. But before I made my Girls' Camp book, I did some calculations and realized that 8x11 books (which are actually 8.75x11) had 96.25 square inches of space per page vs. 64 inches per page in the 8x8 books - and that's a big difference! For a 20-page book, you get 645 more square inches to put pictures on. And ever since I made and received my first 8x11 book, I definitely prefer that size. I still make 8x8 books sometimes - they're great gifts, and they're a good size for a "single event" (one birthday, or photoshoot, or vacation) type of book. But for the types of books I usually make (year reviews and the like), 8x11s work better.
Here's an 8x8 book compared to an 8x11 (really 8.75x11) book:
Shutterfly offers a very large selection of page layouts, and full customization on top of that. I use the customization feature pretty often, to nudge pictures and text around or to change dimensions and sizes of pictures.
Here are all of the page layouts in some of my 8x11 books, and the layouts of some of my 8x8 books. You can flip through the pages by clicking the buttons. (For mobile users - I don't think the embedded widget will work for you guys. I'll post a couple regular pictures of layouts after these widget things.)
My "Girls' Camp" photo book, the first 8x11 I ever made:
Below is the book that covers my junior year at BYU, the year Jason and I were engaged. I went more "digital scrapbooking" with this book, creating my own layouts in Photoshop, using my own backgrounds, and then uploading them to Shutterfly. I like how the book turned out, but I'm still more of a just-do-it-all-on-the-website type of person:
And here's my "Freshman and Sophomore Years at BYU" book. I think this one might be my very favorite of all:
And a couple 8x8 layouts:
Shutterfly books start at 20 pages and can go up to 111 pages. Additional pages have an additional price per page (which is different based on the dimensions of the book you're making). When books go on sale, extra pages go on sale too.
Here's the thickness of a 20-page 8x11 book compared to a 111-page 8x11 book:
Shutterfly is very reasonably priced, if you buy order your books during their sales and use special offer codes. I've gotten really, really good deals by stacking special offer codes and sale prices.
Things I've learned over the course of making so many Shutterfly photobooks:
- I personally prefer the 8x11 size. I can fit more pictures on each page and I like the layouts better. I like the size in my hands and on my shelf.
- In general, I prefer more pictures on a page vs. less. It's just how I like to tell the story. I made my first couple books intuitively like this, but then after reading a lot of reviews on the website Photobookgirl and her saying that she recommends not putting more than 6 pictures per page, I began to question my methods. "Maybe I should be putting less," I thought. "That way each picture will get more attention." So that's what I did with the "First Half of 2011" book that I made this year - I spaced out the pictures a lot more and put less on each page. And you know what? When I finished, ordered, and received that photobook, I liked those layouts the least of all. That's just not my style. I've learned just to trust my instincts about what I think looks good. And that's what you should do, too - trust what you like.
- Feel free to use as many pages as you need to tell the story. When I first started making photo books, I felt very constrained about making sure I didn't go over the first 20 pages, because I didn't want to pay for each additional page. But you know what? The extra pages are worth it. And they're usually on sale, and don't cost that much anyway. Just this week, by stacking several deals, I got an 82-page 8x11 book for $18.77, including shipping. Just do it. Just use as many pages as you want. It's worth it.
- To get the best prices: Always, always, always wait for a sale. Sign your email up with Shutterfly so that you get their coupons and special codes in your email. Search online for promo codes before you order anything. Like them on Facebook so you see the deals they post to their Facebook page. When I buy Shutterfly books, it's almost always with at least one special offer code AND during a sale, so that the offers stack on top of each other.
Whew! That was one long review. If you have any questions about Shutterfly or my experience with them, feel free to ask! Happy photo book making!
To check out more of my photo book reviews, check out these posts:
Shutterfly Premium Leather Layflat Photo Book Review
Shutterfly Calendar Review
York Photo Photo Book Review
MyPublisher Photo Book Review
AdoramaPix Photo Book Review
Collage.com Photo Book Review
Photo Book Comparisons