Making Photo Books for Grandchildren

Variety of Sites, Methods Make Creating Unique Gifts Easy

Three generations of women looking at photo book
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Grandchildren love photo books. Their parents do, too. And so it follows that a grandparent who makes family photo books is going to be one of the most popular grandparents ever!

There is a bit of a learning curve when you start making photo books. These simple tips will help you avoid some beginner mistakes. 

The Basics

There are dozens of websites where you can create a photo book. Creating your book online is free.

In most cases, you can view it and even send it to others for free. You don't incur charges until you have a book printed.

Most companies have two ways to create a book. One is a fast, automated layout. You can make changes once the book is created, but if you want a lot of control over the way the book looks, you'll want to go for the second method. In this method, you'll do much more of the work, but you'll have more control. You can place your pictures in standard templates, which is still fairly fast, or you can customize your layouts to a high degree. Another key difference is whether the user must download software or whether the book will be created online. Obviously, working online means that you don't have to download these sometimes bulky files to your computer. But downloadable software means that you can work offline and don't have to worry about slow connection speeds or interruptions in service.

Which option is best for you depends upon your individual circumstances.

Photo Book Prices

The prices for printing a book vary a little from site to site. Discount stores and pharmacies are usually the cheapest, but may not offer the best quality. By taking advantage of specials and coupons on other sites, you can often get the price down to a competitive level.

Without a special price, a small 5"X6"softcover book will cost $7-13. A large 12"X12" hardcover book will cost $40-60. Shipping can add considerably to the price of your book, unless you have a coupon or code for free shipping.

Choosing a Photo Book Company

The photo book industry is highly competitive. As a result, a number of companies have ceased operations in the last years. That's one argument for choosing one of the larger, better-established companies. You won't learn their system and become familiar with their product just to have the company disappear.

The industry leader is Shutterfly. Because they are so large, they have solved some of the problems that smaller companies are still struggling with. Shutterfly ranks high in quality and ease of use. Read a detailed review of Shutterfly.

Like Shutterfly, which started as a digital photo printing service, most photo processing companies also offer photo books. These companies include the following:

  • Mixbook offers extensive photo editing in its software, eliminating the need for you to use an outside photo editing program. Also, it allows more than one person to participate in a photo book project, making collaborative books easier. 
  • AdoramaPix is noted for high-quality materials and lay-flat books.
  • Picaboo is one of Shutterfly's closest competitors, but some find that its products don't measure up to Shutterfly in quality. 
  • Ritzpix offers lots of photo editing options.
  • Mpix offers some fun options, such as accordion-fold mini books. 
  • Snapfish is easier to use than most photo book creators, but your options are somewhat limited.

Companies in a second group specialize in photo books and similar products. Generally speaking, these may offer higher quality paper, covers and binding than the photo processing companies. They may also be less user-friendly and thus more suited to experienced book-makers.

  • Blurb mostly caters to the self-publishing market, but its Bookify software is designed for personal photo book creators. 
  • MyPublisher has been acquired by Shutterfly, but has retained its design package, which many users were fond of.
  • MyCanvas offers many ways to customize your book.
  • Smilebooks is known for high-quality paper and bindings.
  • Lulu is another self-publishing platform that also offers personal photo books.
  • Presto Photo offers a wide array of pre-designed photo books. 

Photo books are also offered by many pharmacies and discount stores, including WalMart, Walgreen's, Costco and CVS.

Finally, Mac users can create photo books using the Photos function on their computers.

Select a company that seems to fit your level of expertise and start making a photo book. You'll be able to tell fairly soon if the process used by the company is a good match for you. And remember that you don't have to pay anything until you order.

Getting Starting

You should have your photos downloaded to your computer before you start work on your book. Don't worry about cropping them. You will be doing that as you work on your book. Some sites also include photo editing programs. If you have a photo editing program that you are comfortable with, tweak your photos with it before starting your book.

Making Photo Books Takes Time

It is possible to choose an automatic layout, send your book to a pharmacy or discount store for printing, and have your photo book in an hour or two. If, however, your intent is to create a very special, one-of-a-kind keepsake, you'll want to allow at least two weeks for the total process. Creating a custom book is sure to take half a day or more, and a meticulous designer could spend several days on the process. Printing your book will take 2-7 days. Standard shipping can take up to a week, although faster shipping is available for more money. If you are creating a book for a special occasion, you should start a month or so ahead of time.

Getting Help

Most companies that create photo books have a nice array of help options. These may include the following:

  • Tutorials to watch before you start
  • FAQs and help pages that you can access as you work on your book
  • Live chat — offered by some but not all sites
  • Email or phone contacts
  • Communities associated with the site whose members will answer questions

Obviously, you won't get instant answers with all of these options. That's another reason I recommend allowing plenty of time, so that if you get stuck, there will be no need for panic.

About Picture Resolution

It's best to use your original downloads rather than pulling pictures from Facebook and other sites, which may have compressed the shots. Most sites will warn you if your picture resolution is poor. Heed that warning. It may still be possible to use the picture by juggling the layout so that the picture will be sized smaller, but you can avoid the problem altogether by using a photo that hasn't been copied and compressed. Some sites offer guidance about minimum resolutions, but those numbers depend upon the size of the book and the size of the photo in the spread, so there are no hard-and-fast numbers.

Avoid These Errors

Some programs have autosave functions in case of power outages or computer freezes. Some don't. It's best to hit that save button, and hit it often.

If you are creating a large book, it may not display in actual size on your monitor. Be careful about facial close-ups, which can be overwhelming when a book is actually printed.

Don't Be Afraid of Text

Yes, it's a photo book, but some text will make it more meaningful and will make it more interesting in the future. Yes, adding text is time-consuming. You'll have to check the spelling of people and places. But if you don't add text, you're virtually ensuring that someone someday will look at your book and have questions for which there are no answers.

Double Check Everything

Even companies that guarantee their work won't guarantee it against errors that you make. So be sure that your pictures are placed the way you want them and proofread any text multiple times. Better yet, have someone else proofread it.

You're an Artist!

No one tells you how proud that you'll be after you've created a photo book. You'll feel like the world's greatest artist, author, photographer and designer, all in one! Seriously, you'll feel happy knowing that you've created a gift that will give someone else joy. And if that someone is a grandkid? There's no better feeling.