Comparing four different photobook printers

With so many photo book printers in the marketplace, it’s tricky figuring out which one to use. Too many choices contribute to paralysis, and that’s not good when it comes to your photo collection because unprinted images are in greater danger of being lost (depending on how many back-up systems you have in place — unfortunately, most people have no backups). The bottomline line, then, is any photo book printer is better than not printing at all.

To summarize further, just about any printer has its pros and cons. For example, some people value price above all else. Other people demand and easy-to-use interface. Still others require long-lasting quality. Not wonder it’s tricky to choose just one.

With all that in mind, I recently printed a client’s photo book with four different vendors including three that I don’t see reviewed in very many places. Just to see which one I liked best. My comparison is a small sampling of a much larger marketplace, so consider this to be one opinion among many (click here for a pretty comprehensive review of 10 top vendors and here for a comprehensive look at 12 vendors plus a lot of images). And if you have comments about your experiences with any of the following vendors (or others), please chime in.

So that I was comparing apples to apples, I used the exact same photos and design for each of the four books. That means I didn’t use the design interface offered with the individual vendor (if there is one). The design was a 20-page 8-by-8 hardcover photo book, heavy on full-color images, light on text. I designed my books in Storybook Creator 4 (now known as Panstoria’s Artisan), and I uploaded finished PDFs to each website. The cover was simply a pattern (background) I created.


Shutterfly cover

Shutterfly is my go-to-vendor because I think the company offers pretty good quality for the price, and it’s very fast.

Pricing: $32.61 including $7.99 for shipping

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 4 days (fastest of the four)

Print and Color Quality: Very good. In fact, I found no discernible differences on the print quality of the interior pages among the four vendors I used.

Binding: Glued. Glued bindings lay flatter than sewn bindings. Generally, glued binding are considered to be poor quality because eventually all glue dries out, and those pages will fall out of the book. In my experience with Shutterfly, this would take decades but if you’re creating a book for future generations, beware.

Shutterfly back coverShutterfly logoNotes and irks: The flysheets are textured but otherwise kind of cheap feeling. Shutterfly imposes its presence on your book with its logo on the inside back page. And there’s a small-but-still-obvious bar code on the back cover. Like many vendors, Shutterfly offers deals and coupons frequently. Create an account, and you’ll get word of sales via email.


picaboo cover

Picaboo is more of a boutique printer, one not always found in other online photobook reviews.

Pricing: $26.48 including $8.99 for shipping (I had a coupon; create an account and get tons of email deals)

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 8 days

Print and Color Quality: Very good.

picaboo binding

Binding: Sewn. Seems secure, but it’s kind of sloppy looking.

picaboo glassine logoNotes and irks: For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to customize the binding. So it came out white and clunky. I suppose if you want all your books to have the same color (and you label them with titles), this might be an asset; I thought it was a big drawback. Like Shutterfly, Picaboo loudly brands itself — with a printed glassine sheet in back. No bar code, however.

Panstoria Print Shop

panstoria cover

Panstoria is the same vendor that distributes the design software I used. So if you don’t use Artisan, you can’t use the print shop because there’s no online design interface. I like the power and control of the software so this isn’t a problem for me, but novices might find this frustrating.

Pricing: $37.67 including $7.68 for shipping

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 14 days (this was the longest processing time of the four vendors)

Print and Color Quality: Very good.

Binding: Sewn.

panstoria cover sway

panstoria logoNotes and irks: I liked the flysheets; there’s also a blank glassine “protector” sheet between the flysheet and the first printed page (a sign of attention to detail and quality to me). However, the cover itself is starting to curl — ugh! The branding is obvious with Panstoria’s name and a tiny QR code on the inside back page.

Professional Photo Albums

Professional Photo Albums

This vendor is a business-to-business model, so one has to be a member of the Association of Personal Photo Organizers to access it (meaning novices can leave their project design to a pro). The user interface is more complex (which is good when you want precision like an expert would, bad when you want ease of use).

Processing Time (from time of order to delivery by standard means): 11 days

Print and Color Quality: Excellent. Quality is especially apparent on the cover, which came out brighter and crisper than any of the others. This leads me to believe they are color correcting on press, which speaks to the quality.

Binding: Glued.

professional photo albums back coverprofessional photo albums flysheetNotes and irks: The book is actually 8.25-by-8.25, and the minimum number of pages is 26 (not 20) so I had to create six additional pages. So even though this is the most expensive option, you get more for your money. The flysheets are the best of the bunch, a heavyweight textured cream-colored paper. There’s no logo to be found anywhere, though there is a bar code on the back cover.

Have you used a photobook printer? Liked it? Disliked it? Please share.


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