If you’ve followed me here or on social, you know I’m kind of an evangelist for making photo books. In fact, today at my sold-out seminar in Washington DC, it’s one of the topics I discuss during the day — why making photo books are important, and the effect they can have on you and your career as a photographer. So, when I got the chance to try out the latest Photo Books from MPIX, I jumped at it.
I’ve been creating my photo books in Lightroom up to this point, and before that I was using Apple’s Aperture and iPhoto, which both did a great job of creating books — but my photos weren’t in those apps (especially now that both have been discontinued). My images are in Lightroom, and since Lightroom introduced their Books module, I’ve been doing them all there, but it definitely has its limitations (and a very tight structure. It’s a little bit customizable, but not to any major extent), so I’m always “on the hunt” for something that will give me more control over my layout, and that’s why this interested me.
No software — you create it all online
You make photo books at MPIX.com just by using a standard Web browser (no other software required) using their built-in online photo book layout feature. Here’s a quick look at how that looks and works.
You start by uploading the photos to MPIX (I sent high-res JPEGs, saved at a quality setting of 8, which is my standard setting); then you enter their book layout software where you choose which type of paper (I actually went with the fancy-dancy semi-glossy paper), and I chose an Ebony cover with a Dust Jacket wrap, and I chose a wide Panoramic 11×8″ book layout.
Above: Once you’ve made those choices, now you can choose if you want to work on two-page spreads (that’s what I chose), or individual pages, or just start from scratch with our own designs page by page (but you can use their built-in templates as a shortcut at any time).
Above: It pretty much works like this — you click on a gray photo square; a little panel pops out from the left where all your photos are, and you just choose which one you want and it appears on your page, as shown above. Do, it’s not “drag and drop” it’s “click and its there.” Once it’s “there” you can reposition it by dragging. Pretty standard stuff.
Above: Putting together a book is pretty much just that, except for the fact that you can change the layout for any page (as I did here) by choosing a different layout from the their collection of layouts (they have layouts with photos or text).
In short order, it looks like this (but with your photos, of course).
Where this rocks!
What I liked best about the layout software was that everything was easily adjustable (kind of reminded me of Apple’s Aperture book module, which is really quite good — too bad it’s gone). You just click on a gray photo placeholder (or a photo itself); then click the Move/Crop icon and you can make that photo any size, any shape, and put it anywhere you want it including crossing page spreads. You really feel like there’s no limits and that’s very freeing (and man what I would give for Lightroom to have this level of freedom when it comes to layout). More on this later, but this alone just rocks!
But how does the printed book look?
Beautiful! The printing is really gorgeous. I use MPIX for lots of large prints during the year so I was expecting it to be really good, but I guess I’ve been printing books from other sources for a while now, and seeing their print quality in books was really a treat. Here’s some of the spreads:
So, what doesn’t “rock” about it?
The book is beautiful, the printing is beautiful, it was easy to put together, but of course there are a few things I’d love to see tweaked:
(1) The thickness of the paper
It’s not what you think — the paper is not too thin. I think it may be too thick.
Now, some folks thought it was awesome, and made an instant mention of how thick the pages were (a positive), but when you hand someone a photo book you want them talking about the images, not how thick the paper is (a negative).
ABOVE: Brad said it best when he first saw the book — it feels like the thickness of two 8x10s back-to-back and perfectly aligned into one single sheet. It’s thick! Take a look at the image above which gives you some idea of the thickness. So, I’m not sure whether the thickness is a good thing, or a bad thing, but either way I thought you’d want to know — they are thick!
(2) The front dust jacket wrap doesn’t cover the entire cover
It’s more like a “panorama” cover wrap — it’s an 8-1/2″ tall book, but I think the dust jacket wrap is probably only 5-1/2″” tall (take a look at the cover above and you’ll see what I mean). I personally would prefer it covered the entire cover of the book, but again, some people thought it was really cool looking. It is pretty cool looking, but I would still like the option of a full wrap.
Outside of that, it’s back to “It rocks!”
The software is easy to use, but if you’ve never used it before, it’ll take you a minute to get acclimated to how it works, but once you’ve got it, it not only a breeze — it’s fun. The quality of the printing is really great — the colors are really vibrant and the overall impact of the book is really nice, and I’m not sure there’s a company on earth whose customer service stands behind their stuff like MPIX does, so I have a high level of comfort on that end. In fact, I’ll be sending my next photo book there from my trip to Australia / New Zealand.
The timing is right!
If you’ve always wanted to create a photo book, but never have, I hope this inspired you to just go make one. Make a photo book once — one time, and you’ll fall desperately in love with the process because you get to play photo editor. You get to choose which images “make the cut”; which page it appears on; how big it will be; how many images will be on which page — it’s a really fun, really creative process, but unlike a full time photo editor, you’ll be working with your own images, instead of somebody else, and that right there takes it all to another level. After you make one of their book, let me know what you think.
If you’re going to do this, why not get a 40% discount in the process? Use the code scottkelby40 to get a 40% discount on Premium Panoramic Photo Books now through October 20! (This code is good for one time use and isn’t valid with any other promotions).
I’m up here in DC with my seminar today – looking forward to meeting a bunch of you here — make sure you come up and say howdy.
P.S. I’ll be at Photo Plus Expo in NYC next week — teaching a Master Class on lighting and retouching, and then I’ll be speaking Thursday in Canon’s booth on the main stage teaching travel photography. Hope I’ll see you there! :)
The trouble with MPIX is they only deal with customers from the US and Canada. If they are so good why don’t they deal with the rest of the world?
The one thing you left out is price. That’s what keeps me from making a lot of photo books.
Scot, I do hope that you will read this …. it has nothing to do with your blog and if you look at all of my other comments I praise you and your organization all the time. I do not know where else to send this.
I am very disappointed with this years Photo Walk. When I log into the site there are no headings. Myself and several others could NOT log in on the 9th, I did not find out how to contact anyone until Monday late afternoon as I could not get through to Kelby headquarters in Florida. When I did get the information I emailed only to find out they could do nothing so I would up having 8 people NOT have there image counted. More or less I was told it was just tough apples …… The picking had not closed and I do believe others should have been able to get their image in to count!
This was my 3rd year hosting a walk and I do not know what will happen next year as we have many sad people.
We are a small community but we should count as much as a big one in my book.
Sorry but really disappointed..
I have been a Kelby member for many years now and love the training as well as all that is done except this.
Scott, do you have any financial interest in MPix?
Great post Scott, thanks! So far, I have only used Mpix for aluminum prints. They are so beautiful now I want everything printed on aluminum! But I will give their books a try as well.
Thanks for the article. I make lots of books from my adventures in travel. I have been using lightroom and blurb for some time. Before the lightroom book module, I used Blurb’s web based design module which I believe is still available. They implemented all the cool and easy to use editing features you mention. I really liked it. Since Lightroom added the book module I was stuck because it was so restricted in layout options. There is a way to make your own custom layouts, but you have to dig into the lightroom config files and most people won’t have the patience to do that. I spent a couple of days figuring out how to do that and now do everything in Lightroom. There are a few reasons why Blurb is a better choice for me.
1> I can make a book greater than 100 pages. Some of my month long cruises wound up being over 100 pages and MPIX would have forced me to cramp things down which I think would not have been desirable.
2> Once I have made my books in lightroom, they are stored with all my other collections and photos. At any time I want to go back and recall that design or reprint or whatever, its there in one place. With Mpix, my books would be at their site and who knows how long they would keep the files available.
3> I don’t think the thick pages are a great idea and your observation about them is right. With Blurb, I have page texture and thickness that is really good.
4> The quality of Blurb’s books are fantastic.
I really think the right thing to happen here is to have Lightroom support Mpix and fix the lightroom book module to add the flexibility in layout that both blurb and mpix have.
Scott, I was glad to read your frank comments about the limitations of Lightroom’s photo book module and hope that you are telling your direct contacts in the Adobe Lightroom team the same. As it is, this is such a missed opportunity. Any halfway decent Lightroom book module should almost automatically be unbeatable: no need to export pictures first, no need to upload pictures first, ability to make quick changes, ability to make quick changes on virtual copies, ability to do all this on raw pictures… Yet as it is, the book module is frustrating and mostly causes work, either through workarounds (creating rendered pages in Photoshop for re-importing and using in the book, etc.) or by having to give up on the native advantages and having to do the book outside Lightroom after all. Considering that Lightroom users are by definition creatives and that virtually any other photobook application allows at least unconstrained resizing and repositioning, the template-as-straightjacket approach really seems very out of place in the overall product. There is a long feedback thread on this at http://feedback.photoshop.com/photoshop_family/topics/photobook_improvements.
I have used the (sometimes) awkward LR module to publish several public & private books (http://www.blurb.com/user/store/allanhm).
Two days ago, I had a book of photos my wife, Kaz took at her nephew’s wedding and so I tried (and eventually succeeded) to publish with MPix. 31 photos 4-5 full page spreads so 6 extra pages (total 26) in the 10×10 Panorama in semi-dull (sometimes called matt) as semi-gloss is severe premium.Total price $54.49 in ‘matt’ with sand cover…
1. MPIX would have been the same price as Blurb if it hadn’t been for ‘your’ discount.
2. “Add cover $8.00”- I couldn’t find an $8 cover. They all were $13.99= $14…. Gave it a shot….
3. I screwed around but eventually discarded the cover for your reasons (it isn’t a cover) and mostly my reasons. (The fact that I couldn’t figure out how to put MY text in MY font where I wanted on the cover.)
4. They are shipping my 3 books by boat or something and so I should see them in 5+ days (for $7.95) so I can’t comment on the quality.
Summary: It is really equally bad or worse than LR in several areas:
1. The choice of templates is minimal
2. The ability to mix templates eluded me. I was OK with what used but I have figured it out in LR
3. A couple of images I needed to edit…Hmmm, In LR I just go to Edit module and do what I need. To use Mpix I have to go back to LR do my edits and upload a new file. There’s convenience!
4. The price is similar to Blurb.
5. Overall the interface reminded me of Shutterfly or Snapfish and their pricing (and possibly quality) is lots less
Bottom line: I will go back to LR and hope they will offer some alternate printing houses to keep Blurb honest. It is more flexible, has more choices of template, offers in situ editing and is saved in LR. Yes it has warts.
I can’t figure out WHAT compelled you to give them such a great review.
Al, regarding the “skinny dust jacket”, I also saw the $13.99 for every possible cover, but once you add it to your cart, it rings up as $8.00. I agree about the inability to add text to the dust jacket..I wanted to add the year, but could not do it that I could figure out…
I am still waiting to see how the actual product turns out but I am unimpressed.
Did you order and receive books already?
I just submitted my book yesterday afternoon, and got an email an hour ago that the book has shipped. I forgot to mention yesterday that the customer response was lightening fast. I emailed them several times with questions and they replied immediately, so I wasn’t delayed in the process. I am confident that the book will be nice. I went with the matte paper, just to keep costs down. I will try and remember to report back when I receive the book.
I am sure the quality will be fine too…Scott certainly knows that well.
I ordered 3 books…I will however go back to LR/blurb for any future purchases. Mpix is too unwieldy for me and I already know the LR warts by now…
I just used the MPix photo book interface for the first time. I do like it, and loved the ease of uploading the photos. I could keep the whole process straight in my mind, whereas with some others I have used in the past, it could get confusing. I loved the clicking process, versus drag & drop. However, if you go into the customization mode (for additional background colors, background patterns, etc.), the interface is drag & drop. Thank you for the 40% off coupon code. I kind of thought that was off of the whole book, but it was only off of the basic book, not the additional pages, but still, it was great to save something! I plan to get 4 more books done before Christmas, and I am not dreading it so much now! Thanks, Scott, for posting about Mpix’s photo books. I have loved their quality on previous photo orders, and am sure I will be pleased with the photo book!
Not nearly as flexible as Aperture if you want to be creative.