Photography and Art

Monday, January 4, 2010

Photo Books

I've been publishing photo books lately and have had some positive experiences that I'd like to describe. I was working on two projects: a high quality art book that features my Road North portfolio, a set of images taken in the countryside that runs from Toronto up to cottage country, and a family snapshot album with pix of our kids and grandkids taken in 2009.

These are very different projects with very different success criteria. For the Road North project, I was looking at a photo book printer that caters to professional photographers. Price was secondary to quality. If I'm fortunate and someone wants to buy a copy of the book, it needed to be convenient to order copies from the printer and have them shipped to my customer.

The family album was going to be printed six times and quality was secondary to price. I also needed something local here in Canada because Christmas was coming and I didn't need to be fighting with the border.

After much searching around, I settled on SharedInk for my Road North album.. They offer a couple of premium photographer programs that are available for a one-time (not annual) fee. The $99 basic option gives you access to book formats that are not available on the free service and give you the ability to upload and store 250MB of data. The premium option costs $199 and offers 1 GB of storage and some other goodies as well. You can see the two options here.

SharedInk offers Photoshop templates that are very easy to use. You create one Photoshop file per page and adhere to a page naming convention. When you upload your pages, SharedInk sorts them following the naming convention and presents you with a soft preview of your book. There are several binding options and some nice size offerings including 8"x8", 12"x12", 12"x16" and 8.5"x11". I picked the linen 12" square book and it cost me $70 for the first 20 pages and $2.50 per page for the next 4 pages. You can also get the same sizes in leather binding or clear binding.

I found the documentation to be outstanding and I really liked the control that I had over the final product by using Photoshop and templates to create the pages.

And, the proof was in the pudding. My book was absolutely stunning in quality. I compared the images in the book to images that I'd printed out on my Epson 4880 and the color looked quite accurate - no shifts in white balance. The gamut was also very nearly as good. The paper was thick and consistent with what you'd expect out of an expensive coffee table book.

Why does SharedInk charge for their photographer program? Here's what they say in their FAQ's:

"With the Photographer Program, we've found that the books created by photographers are much more demanding than our retail customers. Full-bleed printing, heavily saturated pages, and complex color models have all made the photographer books much more time-consuming and challenging to produce. For example, heavily saturated pages require more ink coverage and require us to clean the press more frequently.

"As part of the Photographer Program, we have implemented additional quality checks in our manufacturing process to ensure that the finished products meet the much higher standards of professional photographers. For example, as a direct consequence of servicing photographers, our process now includes a thorough quality check, under a lamp, by a second set of eyes after the sheets are printed. This means that each printed page is inspected twice, by two different people. "

I'd have to agree that the additional quality checks certainly work. There is also a 100% satisfaction guarantee that is very reassuring.

SharedInk is highly recommended and I'm going to join the $99 basic program.

For the family album, I shopped around and decided on Photobook Canada. I liked the pricing (in Canadian dollars too!) and liked it that I could save shipping if I picked my books up. They are located in Richmond Hill, so anyone in Toronto can save the shipping costs too.

Photobook has a downloadable application that makes it really simple to create a book. You drag and drop your photos into templates and can choose from a bunch of album styles. Of course, you lose control over the sizing of your pix, but this isn't aimed at the pro shooter.

I chose an 8"x8" soft cover book for my family album and the cost came to $40 CDN for 40 pages. There are lots of other sizes and cover options to choose from.

The album was not in the same class as the one produced by SharedInk. The stock was thinner and the color controls were not as good. There was a subtle reddish cast to some of the pages, but not to others. Good enough for a family album, but not good enough for professional use. The price was right, especially for people who reside in Toronto and can pick the books up.

Photobook Canada does have a pro option where you can publish a kit with swatches of cover cloth. This is aimed at the wedding photographer. There is also a pro version of the album layout software that seems to give more control over the image, but I didn't try it out.

Different horses for different courses, but both very good at what they do.

Technical Notes:

Both SharedInk and Photobook use the same press, the HP/Indigo 5000. The press uses a four color ink process.


  1. Thanks for the review. A couple of updates for SharedInk in 2011...

    SharedInk no longer has a signup fee for the photographer program.

    Almost all printing is done on an HP Indigo 7000. The quality is better and it allows 210 lines per inch printing, a 20% improvement over the industry standard 175 lines per inch.