Okay, here we are at part 3 of our 4 part series on photo book services. This installment is going to deal with HP’s Snapfish photo service. Originally self-owned, it was purchased by HP about a year ago. Seems to be the most inexpensive of all the services (not taking into account Blurb’s 40 page max for the same price).
Binding: Soft, Hard
Size: 8.5 x 11 (landscape) other sizes available
Cost: $19.99, $24.95 (leather), $27.99 (custom jacket)
Added Pages: $1.99 (2 pages)
Shipping: $6.99 via UPS Ground
Max Pages: 100 (double sided)
Layout Software: Website
This products stumbles out of the starting gate, but in the end finishes pretty well. There’s a Safari plugin that allows you to upload your images, but it doesn’t work in Leopard. Dang, and I just upgraded all my systems. I contacted them for assistance, and they said “Wait a couple of months and check back.” Nice. Luckily, I am not without resources. I moved the photos over to my PC and uploaded them from there. The process was pretty quick and painless other than that. Once in a Snapfish album (yes, you need to sign up for a free account), you can then start a Project. This is the first of the services I discuss where you have to upload your pictures first. The upside is when you’re done laying it out, you buy it and voilá, you’re done. The down side is getting the photos uploaded sometimes can be a pain.
The website offers a wizard to walk you through the selection process from Project type to Cover style and also offers an EasyFill or Create from Scratch option (I think you know what I did here). I did go back and tried the EasyFill. It did have a nice option to either stick to the number of pages and have it select photos, or to add the number of pages it would take to use all the photos, or to allow you to choose the photos yourself. It wanted to use 48 pages for 90 photos or would only use a mere 34 photos for 20 pages. You can try redoing it a few times, it gives you different numbers each time. Again, you’re better off laying it out yourself. Since you are maintaining your photos on Snapfish, you can use photos from multiple albums and you can also elect to use the captions in the existing albums rather than retyping them in the project.
There is a nice Tabbed navigation bar at the bottom with all of the options you need to build your project. A little out of order, in my opinion – Pages, Backgrounds, Layouts, Borders, Themes and Covers. They should read Covers, Themes, Pages, Layouts, Backgrounds and Borders, don’t you think? Anyway, they each have a popup menu with categories. They have selection of 21 Covers, 11 Themes, 58 backgrounds (!) and 5 Photo borders. The backgrounds were especially nice. The page layouts were certainly more in keeping with iPhoto than with Blurb – the proportions were right and mostly were designed to maximize the full letter size. The Layout popup was grouped by photos-per-page which is fine, and there were quite a number to choose from, with even a few mirrored pages! Someone was thinking…
The project comes with 20 pages already in place and you can adjust the layouts on-the-fly by drag and drop. You add pictures by drag and drop, you change backgrounds by drag and drop, you change the borders by drag and drop. I think you get the picture… For the backgrounds and borders, you can apply them to all pages by clicking the check box before dragging. Sweet. I found that going back to my book, I can apply a new background, but was having trouble with the borders. That may bear some looking into. Like the other services, you can hide used images, and otherwise they have a checkmark. In-line editing includes rotation, sepia colors, zoom, brightness, enhanced color, and flip horizontal/vertical. When done, you can preview the book and then make a purchase. The preview shows the low-res images. Your book size, number of pages and cost are alway displayed (which I like). The software is fast for a web application.
Onto the printed piece. The response email was very detailed with links back to the order. The shipping email is also detailed but with no tracking info. Amazingly, it shipped 3 days after I placed the order and was first to arrive. Yet out of all of the ones I reviewed, it had the poorest packaging. It came uncovered in a cardboard box. They die-cut a hole in the cover to show the first image underneath. That certainly will be subject to dust and abuse. No printing on the cover or spine. The custom version has a printable slip cover, but for more money. White end pages (funny, they were black online). Color balance of the photos were good, especially the flesh tones. Snapfish logo on end page, no headers, footers or page numbers (that doesn’t bother me – it’s a photo book).
What would I like to see? More mirrored layouts. Layouts with non-caption options, like iPhoto. Working border selections (I tried it in FireFox and Safari). Overall, I see this placing above Blurb because of book size, layouts, backgrounds and image quality, but falls short in the cover and software of iPhoto. However, it’s a great price and also a fast turnaround for those last minute gifts. Next week we are looking at the KodakGallery.