It's been a long time waiting.
There's something about the digital camera age that's not quite right. Before Cubling was born, we bought a digital film camera to capture every milestone of her life inside and outside mummy (no internal videos mind you, just bump shots in case you were wondering). Add to this 2 digital photo cameras and my latest acquisition of a digital SLR. I haven't counted the photos and films but suffice to say we had to buy a good few external hard drives to store them, our latest addition with a terabite capacity which we're rather proud of.
I hardly ever look at the photos, and never at the videos. For Opa Cartside's 70th last year, at least I managed to produce a film on Cubling's first year. It sucked the life blood out of me, between converting formats, finding a suitable software and actually doing it. As for the photos - in regular intervals I got some printed in the attempt of creating the ultimate Baby's First Year book. Whenever I tried to fill the album, the prints weren't complete, not the right size, some blurred though they weren't on file. Cubling's second birthday was fast approaching and still no sign of a Baby's First Year photo album.
Granted, I experimented with some photo creations. Photo calendars have become regular Christmas presents and they are quite good. Photo books similarly were something to be trialled. Often though, no sites where the photos for such books needed uploaded before collating them into projects, photos got lost, projects or photos corrupted, or the upload time meant leaving the computer on various nights in a row. Only to come back to a cancelled transfer due to yet another error. It wasn't working for me.
Enter Blurb. Blurb is an online company specialising in creating books. This includes photo books but also other exciting options such as turning your blog into a book and many other products. The big difference in relation to photo books is that you download their software and create the book on your computer. Only when finished do you have to upload the project to Blurb to get it printed. The advantages are striking: you are in control, no corrupted file, no uploads of photos you end up not using, and a software (BookSmart) which is much easier to use. There are similar providers out there using software and from the research I did, Blurb is very price competitive and offers a wider range of formats. I've only tried out Blurb's own software so can't compare the capabilities and ease of use but I can review it on it's own terms.
On the plus side, BookSmart gives you a wealth of page design templates. In practice this means that you can have anything from one picture to at least 9 on one page, you can add text, arrange any number of picture in many ways, underlay / overlay pictures, create collages and much more. It pays off to take your time and experiment with the many options, to find your own style. There is lots of scope for customising templates, such as adding borders, changing colours etc. To be honest, I didn't use them because I like a plain white background with no curly wurly stuff around it. There are different templates for the cover and the back. You could easily create a decent photobook in a couple of hours but if you want to do your baby's first year book, well, it'll take you longer to get it all just perfect. I spent about 2 weeks worth of evenings on it until it was all just right. And for the special book I chose the biggest format, the best paper, and quite a lot of pages, so that the finished book cost me about 40 pounds (you can easily create a book for much less than this). The result was really impressive - no faults in the production, all photos as expected. The software warns you if a photo doesn't have a sufficient resolution for the size of space you choose. But even the one image that came up with a warning still looks just right. So the software really ensures you don't mess it up. It also indicates which photos are already used in the book, so you can be sure not to have duplications or to forget an unforgettable shot. The preview book function is a great way of checking that all is as you wish, and it's very easy to go back and make changes. In fact, the preview function was very frequently used because it worked rather well. BookSmart also always saves your changes so you are fully protected from any potential computer crash. Not that I had a single crash while creating this massive book.
There is some room for improvement though. I found the navigation through the book while creating it rather cumbersome. The window showing the page template is too big. Often, not all image place holders for the current page were displayed on my screen and there was no scroll bar which made it almost impossible to place photos into location. I also didn't figure out how to browse through pages quickly. Some photo place holder areas are not the same size as photos and while the software makes it easy to move photos into their best position, again it gets difficult if this area is outside of the window. I had to switch between different view options constantly to remedy this problem which was rather annoying. Similarly, it took me some time to understand what constitutes a cover and why it was different from a normal page.
While many advanced features were easily accessible and self explanatory, the central features were a bit tricky to figure out. The software works by loading the images you want to use and placing them into place holders. There is an option to view only the photos in this area of your photos which have not yet been used in the photo book. However, if you do this, you cannot go back to viewing all the photos you had selected for use before. Instead you need to reload them. This is rather annoying if you decide to make changes in the book which involve deleting photos.
It would also have been useful to be able to move pictures between pages. The software only allows you to work on one page, and to add pictures or delete them, not to move them between pages.
Blurb definitely has my thumbs up for value for money, quality of production and stability of software. The BookSmart software would benefit from some basic improvements (size reduction of page view window or addition of scroll bar) and additional features (copying between pages, browsing between pages more easily) and a more comprehensive tutorial (which gives some examples of the basic features), though it's fabulous on the count of customisation and features.
If you would like to try out Blurb yourself, I have one voucher to give away. The value is $40 or 25 pounds, which is more than enough for creating a decent book. Just leave a comment with contact details and the winner will be drawn with the help of a capable 2 year old.