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December 6th, 2006
From The Wall Street Journal print and online edition

Creating Your Own Photo Book Becomes Easier
 by Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret

Upgrades Help in Turning
Digital Images Into Paper;
We Test Three Offerings

One of the most satisfying ways to share digital photos is to do so using an increasingly popular and delightfully analog item: the photo book. These books contain a collection of your digital photos, professionally printed on heavy paper and handsomely bound with hard or soft covers. They are fairly priced and can be made and ordered with little effort or skill.

MyPublisher Inc. (www.mypublisher.com), the company that started this business over five years ago, continues as a main player in the field. It now offers its books in various sizes and prices, and recently released a new version of its book-assembling software program, BookMaker 2.0.

Apple Computer, iPhoto Price: $29.99 for 8.5"x11".
But other companies know well the emotional draw of these books -- and so sell their own photo books that play to their strengths. Apple Computer Inc. uses iPhoto, the stellar photo-organizing program that comes on its computers, as a starting point for making books, incorporating handy editing within the company's famously simple user interface.

Eastman Kodak Co.'s Kodak EasyShare Gallery (www.kodakgallery.com), one of the most popular Web sites for sharing digital photos, encourages users to make a book using photos that may already be uploaded for sharing. Its book-assembling software is a Web-based interactive program.

Each company offers a hardcover photo book that measures roughly the same size and costs $30 for 20 printed pages. The only way to know how each book will look is to assemble and order one from each company. So this week, we did the job for you, taking time to make and order books from MyPublisher, Apple and Kodak EasyShare Gallery.

All three contenders use book-making software that allows you to choose various themes and layouts. With each, you can either start from scratch, manually placing every photo, or you can start with an auto-fill feature that initially places your photos throughout the book, but allows you to rearrange, resize or delete them, or add others.

MyPublisher Inc. Price: $29.80 for 8.75"x11.25"; $59.80 for 11.5"x15".
In our test, MyPublisher, which runs on Mac and Windows operating systems, reigned supreme, though Apple wasn't far behind. MyPublisher offers three book sizes, three cover materials, two ways to display a cover photo, an intuitive assembling software program and elegant layouts. Though Apple's iPhoto books were a pleasure to make and produced some of the most artistically appealing books with 19 optional themes, iPhoto runs only on Macs, leaving out most computer users. And it doesn't offer as much overall variety as MyPublisher.

Kodak's books cost the same or more than those from MyPublisher and Apple, yet stood out as the most difficult to assemble and the least attractive. And because Kodak EasyShare Gallery's book-making software lives online, it's slower.

We used the same set of photos from Katie's summer vacation to make each book in standard size -- about 8.5" by 11" for MyPub and Apple and 9" by 10" for Kodak -- and started with each company's auto-fill feature.

We also created the newest extra-large books offered by Kodak and MyPublisher; respectively, they measure 12" by 14" and 11.5" by 15" and cost about $70 and $60 for 20 pages. Apple doesn't offer larger books.

MyPublisher's BookMaker 2.0 follows five steps: Get Photos, Organize, Make Book, Preview and Purchase. These numbered sections appear at the bottom of your screen with your current step highlighted; moving ahead or back is done by selecting another section. To get your photos into MyPublisher, you can drag and drop them into BookMaker 2.0 from anywhere on your computer.

We spent most of our time in MyPublisher's third step: Make Book. Here, we edited images, moved them around to tweak the auto-fill feature and changed page layouts. A bar at the top of the screen offers a place for dragging and dropping unused photos or those you'd rather use later. After assembling a page filled with sailboat images, we saved one unused sailboat shot for later in the book and this area served as a reminder that it was there.

Kodak EasyShare Gallery Price: $29.99 for 9"x10.25"; $69.99 for 12"x14".
Page layouts describe your options for arranging photos on each page. For example, one three-photo layout arranges a large image above two smaller shots. MyPublisher's small flaw is that it doesn't automatically coordinate page layouts with the number of photos you choose to show per page; you must select the number of photos per page and then choose the page layout in a separate step.

Depending on the type of book you choose, you can opt to add captions or not; we opted for layouts that emphasized photos rather than photos and captions, but added a few captions when possible. We typed out titles on the cover of each book, and added a few sentences of description on the title page. IPhoto offered automatic spell checking; the others didn't.

In iPhoto, we looked through 19 book themes before settling on Watercolor -- a design with calming pastel colors in the background of each page and colored stripes on the cover. IPhoto provided the best editing options, including red-eye remover, retouching and eight different photo-altering effects. Its full-screen option shows extremely large images of photos for detailed editing. As we assembled the book, we easily switched to editing mode by double-clicking on a photo.

IPhoto, like MyPublisher, has a section for holding unused photos at the top of its screen. This section could also display the entire book's pages and layouts -- helping us avoid repeating the same layouts page after page.

Kodak EasyShare Gallery struck out in too many areas. Its Web-based software took a few seconds to save our book every time we turned to another page. We couldn't see our book's pages or the photos themselves in a detailed view.

The most frustrating feature of Kodak EasyShare Gallery is its lame selection of page layouts. Even the semi-interesting layouts arrange all photos (except full-page images) up too high on the page. And the auto-fill feature in Kodak's largest book had such limited layout choices that we would have given up, had we not been testing for this column.

The finished products for each book matched our experiences with their software: the standard and extra-large books from MyPublisher were attractive and well made. We especially like MyPublisher's cover choices: either a matted image viewed through an opening in the hard cover, or a label with one of our photos. The iPhoto books looked stylishly unique and used the most attractive fonts on the cover and title page. But they didn't offer the covers with an inset photo, which we found more attractive.

The standard and extra-large books that we made using Kodak EasyShare Gallery both arrived with cheap-looking bindings. The covers on these books both used inset photos, but with windows that were too small to see the book's title, which makes no sense. And the layouts for photos were nowhere near as appealing as those made with the other companies.

If you want the best combination of variety and a software program that works on all computers, you'll be pleased with MyPublisher. IPhoto's books are just as attractive and even more stylish, but aren't available for Windows users or those hoping to make a large book. This holiday season, consider choosing one of these two book-making programs to hold your family memories.



2006, Baxter Group LLC