Photo-books revisited: Adoramapix vs Picaboo, MyPublisher, Blurb

April 16th, 2010

It has been almost a year and a half since I performed my review of three photo-book services (MyPublisher, Picaboo and Blurb). Since then, I did not have much time to engage in projects that would either involve any of the aforementioned services or bring me in contact with something new. And then, several weeks ago, a representative from Adoramapix reached out to me with an offer that I could not pass up: A free book in exchange for the review of their service and product.

I played around with the Adoramapix photo-book builder, created a neat highlights album of our European travels, and in the process got myself a new favorite for future photo-book-making.

Important note: While I was very intrigued with test-driving a service that I’ve never used before, I did not extend myself to the point of reviewing current versions of the other services. I only took a cursory look at their websites to check for some key current information. Almost all comparisons are based on the versions of MyPublisher, Picaboo and Blurb that I reviewed in this article. If they since released new features that would temper my conclusions presented herein, I appreciate anyone pointing them out. Update 07/04/2010: I now played around with Picaboo X product and posted a new comparison review.

Details of this new review will more or less follow my earlier-adopted review format.

Page layouts

Adoramapix has 34 pre-configured themes, which allow you to pre-build your book with backgrounds and photo placeholders. Or you can select a “blank-page” starting point. But even if you select one of the themes, you are not locked into anything. On any given page, you can rearrange items. You can reduce the number of pictures. You can add pictures. You can put as many pictures on a single page as you want. You can resize pictures. You can rotate pictures. You can arrange pictures in neat rows or have them artistically “strewn around” overlapping each other.

Because objects reside on the book pages in individual layers, you can bring them forward or push them back for your most preferable structure.

In other words, the concept of layout does not truly exist in Adoramapix as it exists in other applications. You can execute as much control over the actual layout of each page as you desire. In fact, you do have a “Layout” set on the components frame, but it simply contains placeholders for various sizes of photos. Which you never really need, because the photo can be dragged and dropped onto the page directly.

Furthermore, Adoramapix works in two-page spreads and binds the books in a way that allows you to place a single panoramic shot to span two pages. All you need is to make sure that the resolution is large enough to support printing of such photo. If you habitually work in 10-12-megapixel range, you will never run into a size problem, to say nothing of the RAW format.

Adoramapix treats the front and back cover as just another spread, to be manipulated in the same way as any other pages in your book. While other contenders all allow photos to be placed on the covers, I don’t believe any of them treats the cover as a space to play with.

Verdict: No contest. Adoramapix in a land-slide.

Backgrounds

Selecting a theme will start you off with a professional-looking – and often fun – background. Then, you have 562 other backgrounds to choose from and apply to any of the pages in your book.

In addition, you can select among 2105 stickers to put anywhere on your pages. They provide plenty of opportunities to add ornamentation and flair to your photo-book. Because each object can be resized to cover the entire page, they could substitute for backgrounds as well, although I see little point in that.

Somewhat unintuitively, I could not find the stickers already present in my selected pre-configured theme within the sticker library, which means two things: a) you actually have more than 2105 stickers to work with when you start out with one of the themes, because the stickers already present in the book can be easily copied over from one page to another, but b) you seemingly cannot access theme-specific stickers across different themes. Maybe, I just did not play with it enough.

There are also 21 types of frames that you can add to your pictures. Or, you can easily create borders around them, if you prefer.

Verdict: Adoramapix handily beats all three of the competitors.

Image import

Here, it is important to note that Adoramapix is a Flash-based online application and not a piece of software that you install on your PC. I am going to leave aside any discussion on what’s more advantageous – being able to work offline and not depend on the stability of your internet connection, or being able to work on your project from any computer connected to the internet. But online nature of Adoramapix book-building process leads to a neat feature: You can import your existing Flikr or Picasa albums into your project. You can also create galleries within Adoramapix space and use those. Or you can import pictures from a directory on your PC, if that’s your preference.

With other applications installed locally on your computer, image import consisted of opening a directory or a few from your PC’s hard-drive. That’s undoubtedly faster than the image upload when you have no existing online galleries to work off. Your mileage will vary in determining what you find more convenient.

Verdict: Not scored. I can work either way.

Image library

The “tray” starts out as vertical with two pictures across, but can be horizontally expanded to take up as much of the overall working space as you feel comfortable. With a large widescreen monitor, you may be able to see up to 15 images in each row, which definitely helps with the initial ordering. Unfortunately, the ordering itself is a bit tedious with large image sets; the software provides only sorting by name and by date, the latter being pretty useless on account of representing the date of the upload rather than the date the picture was taken. Manual ordering by drag-and-drop resulted in strange artifacts of names and images getting mixed up.

Verdict: This consideration may be important only to a “being organized” freak such as myself. Image ordering capability is similar in all four applications that I am familiar with, and none is tremendously efficient or without kinks. Ability to resize the tray puts Adoramapix somewhere on par with MyPublisher, slightly behind Blurb, but the margins are minimal.

Page order

Because Adoramapix works on a two-page spread basis, you cannot rearrange individual pages. But every spread can be moved to any position within your book with the help of the film-strip on the bottom.

Verdict: I gave a dedicated “page-ordering” page a slight advantage over film-strip in my first review, but I can’t see now why I thought that was more efficient. Adoramapix on par with Blurb or Picaboo.

Photo re-use

Use the same image as much as you want. I had this largely inconsequential parameter mentioned in the older review solely because of the limitation that MyPublisher put on it then.

Captions

60 fonts in Adoramapix, no limitations on font sizes (from 5 to 130 pixels), length of text is only limited by the size of the text box that you decide on. You cannot mix and match font attributes within the same text box, which is the only small shortcoming.

Verdict: Blurb remain ahead by a neck, by Adoramapix does no worse than Picaboo.

Unicode

When I switched my keyboard to the translit Russian layout, Adoramapix plainly refused to register any keystrokes. It also did not allow me to paste in extended-base characters that I tried to copy from the Windows’ Character Map tool.

Verdict: Other software have advantage over Adoramapix on this count. I stated before that I had decided to stick to English in my photo-book narration, but Adoramapix would not even allow me to spell French place names with proper diacritics. That’s a bit of an annoyance.

Spell check

None exists in Adoramapix. I had to use much-less-than-optimal approach of copying the text elsewhere for a spell check and then pasting the corrected text back.

Verdict: This is probably the most annoying lack of feature that I can think of in Adoramapix. On the other hand, I was faced with the same problem with Picaboo 16 months ago, and it did not stop me from using them…

Ordering

In Adoramapix, ordering is a multi-step process. First, you will not be allowed to proceed to ordering until the software performs a number of checks on your book and deems it completed without errors (for instance, if you attempt to stretch a small-resolution photo into a larger-than-possible pixel size, the software will put a big exclamation point on top of it, and you will not be able to “complete” the book until you resolve the problem down to size; other warnings that I managed to trigger while playing around included one about empty frames and pages present in the book). If there are no red flags, you will add the book to the shopping cart (photo-books is just one of the products available at Adoramapix, which in turn is just a part of the bigger photography-centric Adorama online store; the shopping cart is shared across all “departments”). When you proceed to checkout, the rest is a one-pager with all of the relevant information and dynamically updated totals.

Verdict: While there are possibly a couple too many clicks in this process, I find the flow very intelligent and useful. From a certain stand-point, Adoramapix’s ordering process is better than any of the others.

Back up

You need to hit “Save” often, as with any other digital creative project. Since you work online, your project is already stored on Adoramapix servers, and there are no upload considerations.

Verdict: Not scored, for same reasons as in the “Image Import” section.

Electronic sharing

Could not be easier, IMHO. You decide whether you want the book to be shared “publicly” or “privately”, and use the appropriate URL (a straight-forward for “public”, one containing a security key for “private”) to distribute to people as you wish (presumably, if you choose “public”, people can simply navigate to your book through some sort of a portal, but I did not manage to figure out how it would work).

Here is my “private” book location: European Highlights 2006-09. Feel free to check it out. I am pretty happy with what I’ve done. You can even buy it for yourself :) (I see a strange artifact of a wide white seam separating the pages on every spread when the book is accessed through the shared link. This is not present in either the editing mode or in the finished product, but I pinged Adoramapix with a possible bug…)

Verdict: Adoramapix ahead of other competitors.

Thickness

Here, buried under all of the plaudits that I’ve been heaping on Adoramapix, lies the biggest creativity limit of this service: The thickness of your photo-book can only be one of two choices – 26 pages (13 spreads) or 50 pages (25 spreads). The online FAQ suggests that other sizes may be added in the future, but at present, you can’t start with some number of pages and add them as needed.

Verdict: Can be a problem if the flow of your project demands a certain number of pages, but I am sure a creative person would be able to overcome that. In any case, Adoramapix brings the rear on this count.

Extra features

I will re-emphasize here something already mentioned above. The books are bound using “Leporello binding”, which means that they lie flat when opened. That allows for a single panoramic shot to span two pages. What I find even more useful, it opens up the middle part of a two-page spread as a valid real-estate space to put your pictures. I used that quite heavily in my tryout book.

Also, the paper used in the books in not the quasi-photo-quality paper that starts to fade within a few months (my Picaboo book ordered in late December of 2008 already looks less sharp than when it arrived), but a professional quality photo-paper (Fuji Crystal Archive), which should be considerably more resistant to fading. That claim can only be verified after some time, of course.

Cost

This is the only comparison that I decided to perform “in real time”, having looked up the current prices for all products.

26-page 8×10 photo-book at Adoramapix costs $39.95 (and remember, it already comes hard-bound). MyPublisher’s Classic Book (8.75×11.25) with hardcover photo-finish starts at $34.75 for 20 pages with $0.99 for each additional page – total of $40.69. Picaboo’s Classic Custom Hardcover (8.5×11) allows for a picture on each of the cover surfaces and starts at $39.99 for 20 pages plus $1.99 for each additional page – total of $51.93. Blurb’s Standard Landscape (8×10) with photo hardcover costs $31.95 for 20-40 pages.

For a 50-page book, same types of products would cost $69.95 at Adoramapix, $64.45 at MyPublisher, $99.69 at Picaboo, and $37.95 at Blurb (its pricing for 41-60 pages).

Verdict: Blurb is obviously still the cheapest for smaller-thickness books and leaves others in the dust when it comes to large number of pages. Adoramapix is competitive with its 26-page size, and is only a bit behind MyPublisher for a 50-page book. Picaboo can’t compete on price.

(Note: I now reside in the US again, so old considerations of international shipping are no longer of a concern. Adoramapix ships throughout the US via USPS Priority Mail – $4.99. If you live or work in New York City, you can even pick the book up personally from their Midtown store – of course, you’ll pay NYC sales tax in that case.)

Timing

I was very much impressed with the speed at which I received my Picaboo book less than a week after ordering it back then. Adoramapix, on the other hand, advises that it may take a week to simply produce the book, plus the shipping time. I received the book 8 days after ordering it, which is not bad on balance.

However, this is not a 24×365 business. They were completely closed for the Passover holiday. If I decided to put my order in on the 29th of March, I would probably still receive it only on the 15th of April. I am sure they will be closed for other holidays similarly. I don’t think it is much of an inconvenience (and their website carried clear notifications that no orders would be processed during Passover), but your mileage will vary on this count.

On the other hand, when I submitted a question to the support team, it was answered very promptly, so I have no concerns about their responsiveness when they are open.

Final product

Simply gorgeous! Great quality all around!

I’ve never held a finished Blurb book, but there is absolutely no comparison to either my only Picaboo try or the MyPublisher books that I’ve seen before.

Overall Verdict

I’m an instant fan of Adoramapix.

Picaboo won the last round – despite being by far the most expensive – on the strength of its book composition tools. Adoramapix provides so much more in terms of unlocking creativity that Picaboo is no longer in the conversation. MyPublisher had the farthest to go in 2008 in terms of overall tools package, and while I don’t doubt that they corrected some of my old pet peeves, I can’t imagine that they are truly close in terms of available artistry. And Blurb continues to lead on price, while seemingly being stuck with its limitations on book design.

Just as the last time, I’ll be going with what I believe gives me the most resources to be creative.

Photography

  1. April 16th, 2010 at 22:40 | #1

    Thanks for this review, Ilya. I am planning to do a photo book of TPT’s art work for various grandmothers for Mother’s Day. I’ve used Shutterfly, Ofoto, and one other (that I can’t remember) for various photo books, and their books are okay. I had never heard of Adoramapix, but I thinnk I will try them out this time.

  2. April 17th, 2010 at 11:32 | #2

    You are welcome, ND.

    I should have noted – I did in the first review, but did not repeat it here – that the photo-sharing sites that have photo-books creation as an additional service (the likes of Shutterfly, Ofoto/Kodak, Snapfish, etc) never did strike my fancy. Their offerings – which I admittedly took only a cursory look at – appeared uninspiring. Good for quick-n-easy projects, but awfully simplistic when it comes to my desire to build elaborate masterpieces 😉 Therefore, my first review specifically focused on dedicated photo-book services, which provided advanced tools for book-building.

    Adoramapix is not photo-book-centric, but it goes to such lengths in providing creative environment and the product quality, that I am happy to deviate from my earlier-adopted stance.

  3. April 26th, 2010 at 14:22 | #3

    One of the things I’ve noticed is that browser based Adoramapix is extremely heavy on resources. My browser has started freezing on the 3rd page already.

  4. April 26th, 2010 at 14:30 | #4

    Strange. I have had no problems with the browser at all, Kostyan. Tried both IE7 and Firefox 3.6, as a matter of fact. Could be your PC, although I’d never suspect any PC of yours to be short on resources…

  5. Olga
    May 1st, 2012 at 17:13 | #5

    I liked myPublisher (or so I thought). Mypublisher offers decent number of choices in terms of layouts, puc re-sizing, picture editing etc.
    I have started having problems once I added about 30 pictures to the book. My pictures are very large (5-11 Mb each). At that point I started noticing problems with speed and picture refreshing.
    It seems that I hit the limit in terms of picture capacity the program can hold. Its a shame, I am planning to add more pictures to this book – about 120 pictures in total, and I really do not want to work with all of them again to reduce sizes.
    Should I switch to Adoramapix? Does anyone know about this kind of size limitations for Adoramapix?

  6. May 1st, 2012 at 17:32 | #6

    I do not remember running into such problems, but then I operate with smaller pictures. Unfortunately, it’s been quite a while since I last used any of the photobook software, so I cannot come up with a definitive answer. If any of my readers have an idea, feel free to speak up.

  7. Sherri
    January 6th, 2013 at 21:30 | #7

    I have used Shutterfly, MyPublisher and Blurb for the past several years …

    * Shutterfly was fairly “in the box” with creative options and to my complete dismay, photos were darkened.

    *Blurb has been wonderful, and even though page set-up is not uber rich (creatively), the final photo outcome is. The 3 books I created on this site arrived looking professionally made.

    *MyPublisher was an exercise in aggravation. I made a few books with them recently (first time), and it was painful… From the beginning, when downloading their latest software (several times??), I was unable to begin a new project. I can’t even remember how I navigated the site and finally began! Today, I can see these books but can’t begin a new one. What has drawn me in, I must admit, are their alluring sales; including the latest, 68% off. Should be 90% off for the acid reflux you develop. (BTW, when I contacted the site for help, I didn’t get a response for several days.)

    I’ve no experience with Adoramapix, but will try it. Thank you, Ilya for the review of these sites!

  8. January 7th, 2013 at 14:27 | #8

    Thank you, Sherri! I am happy to learn that these reviews remain helpful to others.

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