Printing Family Year Books: a side-by-side brand comparison
A few years ago, I realized that although publishing a family blog was fun and all… that trend was DEAD. I wanted an easier, mobile-friendly way to print an annual family photobook, but I was unsure of HOW these days… Should I use Chatbooks? Vistaprint? Shutterfly? Snapfish? Google’s photobooks? There are dozens more “best photobook”-printing options out there and all are slightly different! I researched and compared and came up with a handy chart, but first, you have to decide: What is important to you? What kind of photobook is actually doable and enjoyable for your family?
5 Main Methods to Printing a Photobook:
- Auto-ship: Simplest and easiest. Connect to your Instagram or your phone “favorites” and companies like Chatbooks (and now Shutterfly!) will automatically send you a book when you add 60 photos! These books are inexpensive, and the quality holds up surprisingly well!
- Basic: One photo per page. No overthinking it and you’re DONE! (Google photo books, Freeprints, and many more).
- Hybrid: Not full-on “scrap-booking”, but more customization available than basic and auto-ship. (Printastic, SimplePrints).
- Scrapbook: Use their templates to make a super cute book! (Shutterfly, Mixbook, Snapfish).
- Free-form: Create your perfect book, exactly how you like it. (Blurb, Adobe’s In-design, Project Life).
There’s also “Print your blog”: I have experience with 3 companies I will detail soon in another post!
As you can imagine, the time and money investment go UP as you go down that list. So, for that reason, Chatbooks are brilliant! Cheap, easy and surprisingly great quality. Spoiler Alert though: I don’t use Chatbooks for my family yearbooks. I’ll tell you all about my current fave method for those in a sec.
Once you decide on what method/investment you’re comfortable with, then you need to find the best photobook company for YOU. Do you want your book to be a certain size? Do you want a spot to add text? Will you have room in your budget for the length of book you want?
Here’s what I decided I wanted:
- An EASY-to-use app: I’ve gotta be able to work on it in small chunks of time and it’s gotta be intuitive and quick.
- Customizable pages: I want to write some text and easily place multiple photos on each page. So I have to look past the “basic only” photobook companies- those are usually just one photo per page.
- Size and Shape: I think square is ideal for family albums because the spine holds up better than landscape, but allows you to open up the pages and experience the photos more than portrait does! And 8×8 or bigger is great on my eyes, and Grandma’s!
- Quality: I want the photos to look clear enough on decent paper, but photo books can get super expensive! I also want my kids to be able to thumb through our photobooks frequently and have these books hold up over the years. Just FYI: every company I researched below now offers the option for a hard-cover- awesome :).
- Pages: Printing a year at a time could mean 150-300 pages. Some companies have a max at 100 pages– so that’s an important thing to check and plan accordingly. I found I need around 150 pages when I’m “hybrid photo-booking” a year at a time!
K, once you’ve defined what YOU care about, now you can move onto the chart…
Here’s a little more info about my experience with each of the companies I’ve used:
My current favorite is Printastic:
You guys know my list of needs, and I like a little customization in our books- which means all the basic companies were out. I tried several different “hybrid/scrapbooking” apps, and Printastic came out as the big winner in user-friendly/intuitive. They give me the collage options I need, but they don’t over-complicate it! Every page allows for up to 4 photos, and 2 lines of writing… Unless you want to journal a whole page of writing- and they have one very basic layout for that too! There are 24 different layouts (which is the perfect way to avoid feeling overwhelmed with decision fatigue) and my favorite thing is their “drag, drop and swap” feature. It works WAAY faster than every other company I tried.
My 9×9 hard/plush Pintastic 2018 yearbook of 148 smooth pages of quality ink ended up costing just under $100!
In fact, our Printastic book is my 2- year old’s favorite book to flip through when she’s grumpy and chooses to entertain herself- so this book has seen a LOT of use. My daughter flips through our Chatbooks and old “blog books”, but she REALLY likes this Pintastic 2018 yearbook ’cause she’s in it the most! I am sad to report that a couple of the pages have ripped at the corners. None of our other books have ripped pages. I’m using Printastic for this year’s book though because they are the best photobook company for what I need!
* Note- For my 2018 yearbook, there were 3-4 pages that I wanted to include more writing than the app allowed, so I found PicCollage to be the easiest app to make a really cute, but timeless “journal entry” style page that was totally free form. I added a couple of photos on some of these PicCollage pages too and it was easy to save and then add them to the book.
I’ve also used:
Great quality, super easy. I used this company to make a “basic” book after I got a Blog2Print book in the mail and realized it was terrible! So— Simpleprints came to the rescue to help us still enjoy the photos from that “blog book failure” time-frame. I ended up just adding our top fave photos, all in random order and I love it! They do allow for basic collages (up to 6 photos per page) and it’s great quality all around. They also allow for up to 4 lines of writing, but getting the pics to the spot you want them was more time-consuming than Printastic, so that’s the only reason I don’t use ’em!
Hopefully, you are familiar with Chatbooks and how you can get your first book free! Their video is seriously THE most hilarious “mom-life” commercials of all time. Oh! They made some new ones I hadn’t seen until recently: here and here!
I started using Chatbooks in 2013 when they first started out and after you posted 60 photos on Instagram, Chatbooks would send a book. They have come a long way since then. Chatbooks currently offer 3 options for books: $5 tiny books for kids to enjoy, your original Chatbooks that are 60 pages and brainless to make, and as a third potion you can have a little more custom option with hardcover and sizes up to 8×8. They have some collage options now, but I would still classify them as “basic” (and auto-ship, of course!) because they are pretty limited. You can add other contributors like your spouse– Smart, right? They still specialize in easy, inexpensive, good quality books!
If you are new to Chatbooks, you’ve gotta try them- Click here to get your first book free! We get a $10 store credit for referring you too! Win-win? Yep!
Of all the books my kids are constantly looking through, Chatbooks pages seem to be the most resilient! (Their soft-covers…not-so-much- but hey, they are worth what I paid for ’em!) Friends tell me they have great customer service if you have any issues too.
I used them to create a gift for my parents: I took some of their photos from a special cruise they went on, guessed which were their faves and made a cute little book! The book includes 20 pages- which goes super fast when you can only do one photo per page. Then they reasonably charge $8 for shipping since you’re getting the book for FREE! Then I figured, we might as well do the hardcover and the lay-flat pages- so by the time I got the extra pages in and all the upgrades, it cost me $20 for a really nice, thoughtful gift!
*Note- I thought I could just upload pics from my parents’ computer to my google photos, but somehow the quality didn’t transfer over. I think the company’s product is all great quality, but the photos didn’t turn out that well– I was warned FreePrints could be iffy. So check the photo quality as you’re gathering any photos from other devices!
Wow! I haven’t used Shutterfly in years, and I was blown away in talking to my friends about them. I used their program to make my wedding book and it was easy enough to figure out on my computer, but that was a decade ago. Morgan (our Editor in Chief) and I were talking about photo book options, and she is a big fan of Shutterfly because she claims that making Shutterfly books is quite inexpensive. From our conversation that day, the most exciting tips I learned about Shutterfly is:
Pros of Shutterfly:
- For $10 bucks, you can have someone design a super cute book for you. Yep- the whole thing! Just upload your pics!
- Shutterfly always offers generous discounts, free hardcover, free extra pages, and even free 8×8 book promotions. So, Morgan never pays full price on her photobooks (what?) AND if you look through Shutterfly’s discount codes or keep the code that comes in the mail- Shutterfly lets you stack the coupons! So there are many times Morgan created a book, stacked coupons, and bam!- cheap, cheap book!
- Shutterfly also offers a basic “Chatbooks” knock-off for free! Every month, just pay to ship. 6×6 softcover, 20 pages.
- Customization- if you liked the traditional version of scrapbooking- Shutterfly is for you! You can choose out of their simple layouts, and then- you can customize photo layout to have even more photos added to a page! Or you can add different texts. Shutterfly also offers papers, ribbons, lines, stickers, fonts all sorts of scrapbook-y things to customize each page.
- **Pro trip on customization** After you’ve created a layout you are in love with- you can save the layout and even import that page into another project/book. So you are reusing the same layout but for a different book.
- One of the biggest veteran tips Morgan shared is this: Shutterfly always has free 8×8 book promotions, however, the sale typically only lasts a couple of days. To avoid the rush of quickly finishing a book in time to get a free book… do yourself a favor and work on a book, finish it, then leave it in your account and wait for the free book code. Use the free book code and if you can stack a free shipping code on to and voila- you could pay under $20 for a beautiful book. It comes- just wait patiently. 🙂
- **Example of combining offers** One year Morgan created a baby book for their new baby AND a “Disneyland book”. Well at the end of the year, Morgan found a “free extra pages” coupon from Shutterfly and decided to combine the two separate books and place them inside the yearbook (by importing all 40 pages from the two books). In the end, the family yearbook was well over 100 pages and at least 800 pictures and guess what she paid? $30! Total score!
- Also a major bonus point to Shutterfly’s customer service- they are amazing! If the book shows up damaged from the mail, a page ripped, text printed off the page, anything that was done wrong on their end- give Shutterfly a call. More than once Shutterfly was happy to replace the book- for free.
Cons of Shutterfly:
- Shutterfly’s app is not user-friendly. Once you start a project on the mobile app- you have to finish it on the app you can’t work on it later on your laptop. So, be selective when/what you choose to create on their app.
- Shutterfly offers free photo storage you can add through the mobile app and you can make smaller books- like Chatbooks- but again- with very little customization.
- TIME CONSUMING! With all things- you decide how much detail you want in your project. Morgan likes to add many elements of journaling and scrapbooking in her family yearbook- so she spends a lot of time creating.
Simply put- I’ve found the top 3 recommendations for THE best photobook companies for busy mommas:
- Want the simplest? Go with Chatbooks– you can do their auto-ship, or make an 8×8 hardcover and… it’s done! Great quality and low price.
- Looking for an easy app that allows for multiple photos and some writing? Go with Printastic.
- Want something more cutesy, but still easy-ish and not too expensive? The best bang for your buck is Shutterfly. Their options are endless and their discounts are huge!
I hope this helped you narrow down which company is truly “the best photobook company” for YOU! Our family yearbooks are seriously one of my kids’ fave “toys”! They spend hours throughout the year flipping through them when they’re upset, or giggling with their sisters over the photos! It takes a little time and effort to get a book into print, but I think the return on your investment is exponential and worth it!
Choose a company, and start enjoying your pictures today!