When Shutterfly decided to revamp and update their photo book process, and needed someone to try it out, I raised my hand high. I’ve made dozens of Shutterfly books through the years and had some ideas about what parts of the process worked and what parts needed help. I was pleased to have my fellow Geekmom writer, Jenny Williams, try out the process too, but more as a newbie. This way we could see how this new product played out to first timers and old pros.
One day last month Jenny and I sat in on an online roundtable meeting and got a preview of the new options from a Shutterfly representative. We’d been given access to the product a few days before and I was eager to see what was new and improved. My overall feeling? They’ve fixed what needed fixing and made something I already loved even better. Lest you begin to think, as most of my friends do, that I secretly work for Shutterfly, I have to say up front, I don’t. I’m just a person who’s very loyal to companies and people who make my life easier.
Their new product is called “Custom Path” and it made its big debut last week. I’ll break it down into a few highlights, to explain why this just might turn you into a crazy picture book person too.
One of the biggest changes I welcomed was the accessibility of pictures. In the past I had the option of uploading my pictures to their site from my own computer, or sending in a CD of my pictures, for them to upload (which I did when I got back from long trips, and had hundreds of photos to upload). Now you can pull pictures from many places. You can still grab photos from your computer, but also from share sites, including Facebook. When I return home from the holidays, and my sister posts great shots of the holiday meal on her Facebook page, I can use those in my book. When I was making a photo book for my niece’s graduation last year, and wanted to fill it with photos of her friends, people she’d posted on her account, I could’ve done it, quickly and easily. If I wanted to make a special photo card or gift for a friend’s new baby, I can scoot over to Facebook and pick one of their own precious pictures.
I generally love to hand pick the pictures for each page of my books, but many people will love the Custom Path options. The site can automatically ‘fill’ your book with the pictures you’ve picked, placing them strategically in logical groupings. Pictures with a lot of faces are put on feature pages, and enlarged. When a series of pictures was taken in succession, the site arranges them on collage pages, recognizing that they might need to be grouped together. At any point you can go back and rearrange or delete pictures, but it’s a nice time saver to have the computer so accurately plug them in to logical starting places.
I’ve always liked the styles of photo books that Shutterfly offered, but they’ve really ramped up their options with this new product. The categories they’ve included make sense, and actually inspire me to plan different kinds of books in the future. There’s a recipe book layout, for making a family heirloom recipe book, or maybe a gift recipe book for a teacher gift, with each child contributing a picture and favorite food. There’s a portfolio option, for a chance to show off a collection of fantastic shots of any theme. Memoriam books, yearbooks, sports themed books and travel books (along with many others) fill out a nice list of options. I especially love their style called ‘Kids Pop’, that’s full of bright graphics and colorful embellishment options, and (finally!) a teen option called ‘Rock on’, filled with guitar pick pattern bands and teen themed styles.
One of the other changes I enjoyed was the option of changing styles, after you’ve already plugged in a bunch of pictures. In the old system, once you committed to a style and began creating, there was no way to change your mind. In the new lay outs, if I decide to change the style from ‘Mother’s Day’ to ‘Yearbook’, or decide I want it to be a large 12×12 book instead of a smaller 8×8 book, I can change the whole project, with the click of a button, without losing any of my work. In the process of creating the book I’m not pigeon-holed into the designs for that pattern. If I want to use a background style in my travel book, that’s listed under the sports style option, that’s my choice. I can pick backgrounds from wherever I like, mixing and matching to my heart’s content (a bonus perk: as you change sizes and options, the price of your new choice is featured at the top, so there’s never any question about how much your changes have adjusted the price of your final product).
Along the same lines, another huge change is the addition of embellishments and idea pages. On the side bar, where you can choose styles, lay outs and patterns, you’ll find a new category that includes stickers (yay!). Not only are there many, many adorable and appropriate stickers to move to your book, and place wherever you like on the page, there are graphics (letters, numbers, pattern bands) that can be added, resized, moved and customized to your exact needs. And if it all seems a bit too overwhelming, the next tab down is labeled ‘Idea Pages’, where sample pages are laid out in the style you’ve chosen. These clever yet simple mock ups were very helpful to me, as I made a sample book. They showed me many options and combinations that I’d never have thought of on my own.
The main draw of this new system, to me, is the further reach into a customizable book. I love plugging my pictures in easily, but I don’t want it to feel like a book with plugged in pictures. I want every opportunity to make it my own. Many of the new layout options give me this freedom (like my favorite, where you can use your photo as a page background, fading it as much or as little as you want, to provide the backdrop mood you prefer). I’m no longer confined to working with stock templates and text boxes. When I click on the button that says, “Customize Page”, I can put words wherever I want. Whatever size I want. Whatever color I want. I can swap, tilt, resize and play with every single picture, word and embellishment. The possibilities are endless.
Now let’s talk cost. Books start at 12.99 (for a 5×7, 20 page book) and go up to 54.99 (for a big 12×12 coffee table book). Not only is that a reasonable price, considering the amount of time and money I used to spend on scrapbook supplies and accessories, but Shutterfly often runs sales on their photo books. I sometimes make projects then hold them in my projects queue until I get an email announcing a sale. With a few clicks, my book is on its way.
I’ve always been more than pleased with the quality of my books. You can flip through samples at many Target locations (in the photo finishing department). I’ve seen photo books from other companies and many of them are falling apart at the spine, or the picture quality is lacking. I’ve never received a book from Shutterfly that I didn’t love right out of the box, or that didn’t totally thrill its recipient. There are books on my personal bookshelf that are five years old, and still holding up after a handful of years of abuse. That might not sound like a long trial period, but we show them off a lot, and with four kids cruising through them on a regular basis, we give them a run for their money. I think they’re worth every penny.
Now that I’ve rambled on about my impressions, here’s what my fellow Geekmom writer, Jenny Williams, thought of it. In the interest of full disclosure, we both received a free 8×8 photo book, to sample the product.
I had used Shutterfly several times to make homeschooling yearbooks for my kids, and for other purposes. The Custom Path is a big improvement over the canned options they gave you before. You can now use their pre-sets, but then change them around as you like. Often what I want to do isn’t in one of the templates, so with Custom Path you have the best of both worlds. You can take advantage of the templates, but then make them your own. Since every component is customizable, it may end up taking you longer to create your finished album than it used to, but you will be much happier with it when you do.
So if you’re in the market for a new way to share your photos, or just have a specific photo project you’d like to pull off, it’d be worth your time to click over to the Shutterfly site and see their new Custom Path options. There’s a handy video on the Shutterfly website (scroll down to the video at the bottom of the page) that will spell it all out in a shorter, more visual way than I did here. It’s an exciting new way to treasure and share the pictures you love.