I’d like to think that my best photos approach professional quality. (Wouldn’t we all?) But displaying my 4-by-6-inch prints in a typical photo album won’t earn them any respect when they sit next to a coffee-table book full of stunning photographs. They deserve the special touch of a hardbound book.
There are services that will create a book from your photos for between $30 and $40 (see “Have Someone Else Do It,” below), but a novel alternative is to print the book yourself using a special kit, such as Epson’s StoryTeller, and an inkjet printer. I tried Epson’s product, with mixed results.
Create Your Book: The Fun Part
Epson’s StoryTeller photo book creator kit comes with design software, a hardcover binding, a clear plastic cover, and glossy paper. The $30 kit I tried made a book with 20 glossy pages measuring 8 by 10 inches, though it comes with two extra pages and an extra cover sheet in case you or your printer make a mistake. The company also offers a 10-page book with 8-by-10-inch pages for $25, and a 10-page book with 5-by-7-inch paper for $20.
The fun is in designing the book, because that’s the most creative stage. The software, called StoryTeller Publisher, is easy to use. First, you drag and drop photos into the “photo bin” along the bottom of the interface. From there you select photos for your book. You can choose to have the software place the photos for you, but if you want to document a trip in chronological order, you’ll want to select the location of the photos yourself.
StoryTeller Publisher offers six layout styles with ten page types each. Most of the simple designs are adequate for documenting trips or family trees. The graphic embellishments on the Rock & Roll layouts, however, look amateurish and resemble my high-school yearbook much more than they do my Led Zeppelin album covers. On a more practical level, the variety of page types should grant you ample flexibility; for example, two page designs in “The Way We Were” have a photo in the center (presumably for the patriarch or matriarch of your choice) surrounded by smaller photos (presumably for offspring).
The software includes convenient tools for fixing red-eye, sharpening, and adjusting brightness, contrast, and color. To change the orientation or size of a photo, or to enter a caption, you double-click on the item to open a pop-up window where you apply your changes. You can’t change the size of the text captions, though you can choose a color.
Unfortunately, the photo bin gets a bit unwieldy to use if you’ve placed many photos in it; a button on either side makes the window scroll through your photos, but there isn’t a scroll bar with a draggable icon to speed things up. Also, the software slowed down after I’d imported dozens of photos; and as you might expect when working with a lot of image files, saving the book you’ve designed can be slow.
Put It Together: The Grunt Work
I have no complaints about my printouts. The book cover and pages I printed on Epson’s new Stylus Photo RX700 multifunction printer looked great. The photos on the cover were colorful and sharp, and the accompanying title looked professionally laid out, as did the text on the inside cover flaps.
But putting it all together left me thinking that I’d rather just ship the project off to be printed. Attaching the printed pages to a series of adhesive strips in the book binding was less than ideal. And unfortunately, these pages are printed on one side, not two like a store-bought book.
To protect the book cover you print, there is a clear plastic sleeve that folds over it. This sleeve didn’t fold over the edges of my book neatly, and I didn’t like having to tape the sleeve to my printout to get it to stay on. The finished cover reminds me of a library book, which I don’t like. Also, although I followed Epson’s directions to flatten the creases in the cover sheet before printing on it, one of them picked up ink while going through the printer; this left an unsightly black line running up the book cover’s front edge.
Here’s another gotcha: If you don’t own an Epson printer, you may run into difficulties. For example, the StoryTeller manual warns that Hewlett-Packard printers can’t print the full-length covers for the 5-by-7-inch book; you have to print the front and back covers on separate pieces of paper. So much for having extra sheets in case you make a mistake. The manual also says that Canon printers can’t print full-length covers for the 8-by-10-inch book.
Have Someone Else Do It
If you’d like to bypass the whole printing and assembly process, you could order one of Shutterfly’s photo books. The service will print a 20-page book in a suede or satin cover for $30. You design your book using the Shutterfly Web interface–though this isn’t as easy to use as the StoryTeller software, nor does it offer as many layout options. One bonus, however, is that you can add pages to a Shutterfly book for $1 each. You can’t add pages to Epson’s books; the page count is fixed at 10 or 20.
Who Said the Money Wasn’t in Supplies? As if to prove correct the old saw that the printer business is based on the razor model (in which the vendor gives you a free shaver in order to make money on replacement blades), now there is FreePrinters.com. The company will give you a printer “for free” in exchange for a supplies contract. New models include the Xerox Phaser 8500 and the Okidata C5200N.
Don’t Like Free? How About $1? If your business could use a color laser printer, and you’re willing to commit to purchasing four sets of toner in the next 12 months, TallyGenicom will sell you its T8016 printer for $1. The retail price of the 16-pages-per-minute printer, which has an Ethernet connection and a duplexer, is $1499.
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