Apple vs. Shutterfly

Making photo book memories

By Harold Glicken


Among  the priceless heirlooms that my parents passed on to me were albums overflowing with baby photos, and pictures of school plays, graduations and other milestones in our lives. But photos tend to fade, they stick to album pages and won’t detach without tearing them, and it can be difficult to determine when the photos were taken.

To help preserve important photos, I’ve been carefully detaching them from albums and scanning select photos with my workhorse Epson GT-S50. Many of the photos are in black and white, some of the color shots are faded, and all of them are priceless, which is why I’m digitizing them and copying them onto DVDs. Of course, photos taken in the last dozen years are digital already. The chore there is to hunt through each session for keepers. I save them by date, and give them descriptive names, such as “Max’s 3rd birthday party.”

But I’m of an age that I still like dusting off the albums on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I have a lot of company, it seems, as at least two photo-album services demonstrate. Shutterfly and Apple have services in which photos are uploaded, then placed, with captions, on virtual pages on a Mac or PC. Depending on your creativity and the quality of your digital photos, the printed results can surpass anything in a traditional photo album. You can even have the services design books for you.

I’ve used both services. Apple’s hardcover book costs about $30 for 20 pages – 99 cents for each additional page. Shutterfly charges $39 for a 20-page standard-size book -- $1.49 for extra pages --  but often that’s discounted. On the day that I wrote this column Shutterfly was discounting everything on its website ( by 50 percent, including books, greeting cards, mugs, stationary and even throw pillows with photos on them.

Following are each book’s pluses and minuses:

Shutterfly’s interface is friendly and intuitive. Photos are uploaded to their server, and then placed on pages. There are dozens of templates, page layouts and text styles. Once photos are added , they can be dragged and dropped on a page. Several layouts had a yearbook look, with space for up to 25 photos and text blocks on a page.  Templates range from family themes – vacation, reunion, baby No. 1 and many more. It was dismaying to note that instead of paying $6,000 for the photo shoot and an album of my kid’s wedding, I could have hired a photographer by the hour and composed a stunning book from his images at a fraction of the price.

With Shutterfly, one template and theme would have made a perfect menu, another a recipe book. Others include templates for travel, sports and one I decided to get for my granddaughter – learning the ABCs, complete with photos of her pre-school parties, along with her parents and siblings. There are so many themes, templates and page layouts the choices can be overwhelming. But if you know what you want, you’ll be able to compose a stunning book with Shutterfly. I composed a Daddy and Me 20-page book about my son and grandson in about two hours, and spent another hour writing captions. The resulting hardcover book, which I received in less than a week, looked good enough, but could have looked better if I hadn’t relied on cell phone photos. The quality of the book is very much dependent on the quality of the photos.

The Apple book ( starts with a different approach. Photos and other graphics have to be imported into the Mac’s “Photos” program before they can be placed on a page. That done, there are choices of soft cover, hardcover, square, classic and oversize coffee table books. There are only a few dozen themes, and each photo has a choice of 12 effects, including one that changes color photos to monochrome. As I progressed through dragging and dropping photos on the template I chose, I realized that I didn’t much like that template theme. Changing it was easy enough, and I experimented until I liked what I saw. Each page has choices of how many photos I wanted to place on them, and I could crop photos and nudge them in different direction in the frames.

While I could change fonts for headlines and captions in the Apple program, the boxes for them are inflexible. If I got wordy, I’d have to downsize the type size, which made the text block look out of place. I finally decided to use shorter captions and headlines so that they looked consistent, font-wise, from page to page.

Both the Apple and Shutterfly books looked nice. I did like the dramatic double-page spreads both books have, but somehow the Apple book, with its classy dust covers, seemed more elegant than the Shutterfly book.

Which service should you use for your coffee table album? Both will do the job. Shutterfly has more templates, but the Apple book’s templates do a good job of covering most occasions, too. On those rainy Sunday afternoons, either book will bring back memories, and the photos that aren’t pasted onto the pages won’t fall out. Unlike memories, they won’t fade, either.