Shutterfly’s New “Custom Path” Photo Book — Turning Those Old Prints and JPGs Into Real Keepsakes


When Shutterfly asked GeekDad to review its All New Custom Path photo book service, I figured I was the perfect guinea pig. I have never been good about having nice prints made of my photos and putting them neatly and creatively into albums. All my pre-digital shots are languishing in dusty old albums, slowly falling to pieces. And everything taken after 2003 is sitting trapped on my hard drive, never to see the light of day. With my parents getting older and my first kid ready to head off to college, it seemed like a good time to move all my photos online and gather the best into dead-tree form that the rest of the family could enjoy.

Although I had never used an online photo storage service before, I am pretty experienced with Photoshop and laying pages out for publication. So for me, the All New Custom Path was ideal. This is, I am told, the first application that lets users design and rearrange pages to their heart’s content. Previously, you had to let Shutterfly’s software use its mysterious but effective algorithms to determine how best to group and arrange images. Users still have a choice of using Autofill — which groups and lays out photos for you in the order in which you’ve uploaded them — and Storyboard, which lets you group photos to some extent before they are laid in. Even with Custom Path, where you can choose a layout and drag each photo into the photo opening you pick, there’s still a lot of behind-the-scenes adjustment going on to make the photo fit into the size and shape of the hole it’s filling. If you decide to switch to a different layout mid-stream, it will automatically move the photos around into new holes. You can then go in using the “Customize Page” option and adjust size, shape, and orientation. I was impressed by the software’s “instincts;” most of the time, when I went in to tweak Shutterfly’s cropping of a photo, I decided that the software had indeed chosen the most effective view.

On the off-chance that I’m not the only one who’s brand-new to using an online photo service and making a photo book, here’s the process:

Sign up for a free membership and Shutterfly allows you to create online albums, without restrictions. So you can store an unlimited number of pictures , even high-resolution images, indefinitely, without buying anything. Uploading multiple images at once is easy and quick, too. You can sort your photos into folders and do some basic editing (cropping, red-eye removal, special effects like black-and-white) in the online albums too.

To make a book, you select the size, shape, and type of cover (hard or soft, leather, padded, etc.) you want. The price of your book includes a minimum of 20 pages. The cost of additional pages is added to the book price you see at the top of the editing screen (see below).

Shutterfly Screen GrabShutterfly Screen Grab

This is what Shutterfly's All New Custom Path photo book editing screen looks like.

Then you choose a style, which comes with a palate of background page colors and designs, layouts, and embellishments like stickers, word art, decorated stripes, and frames. I used Portfolio, which had kind of an old photo album look, but it was easy to pull elements from any of the other styles to add to your project. You can also use a photo as the background, adjusting how faded or bright it should be. According to Lara Hoyem, head of Shutterfly’s photo book design team, many more choices will be available come summer.

Since I was making a book chronicling my kids from babyhood through teens, and featuring lots of our trips and outdoor adventures, I added some elements from Baby style, some from Travel, some animals and plants, and so on. There are also idea pages you can use as-is or modify as desired. I used these mostly for inspiration, choosing to create my own “New England” page and Halloween pages for a more personalized touch. (Here’s a sampling of the pages I made.)

Next, you add the photos, copying them to the bar on the bottom of the screen from either your Shutterfly album, your hard drive, or even from Facebook. Picasa photos may be accessible soon, meaning you can also pull photos from your Blogger websites. Filling the layout just involves dragging the image or design element you choose onto the spot on the page where you want it to go. Like photos, text boxes can be added, overlapped, and moved around as well.

As I kept adding stuff and my pages became more elaborate, it sometimes became obvious that Custom Path is only recently out of Beta. Several of my pages were so loaded up with goodies that it took forever to load. Shutterfly’s Hoyem said the company’s working with Adobe on improving the performance of Custom Path, since right now they’re “pushing the limits of Flash.” And one shortcoming I hope they resolve is to allow you to zoom in on the page. Many of my scanned-in photos turned out to have red-eye or dust spots and scratches which weren’t evident when I looked at the layout on my computer screen, but were somewhat noticeable in the printed 12 X 12-inch book. However, I appreciated the warnings that would pop up if you tried to blow up a photo more than its resolution would allow, or move it too near the edge of the page. (That failsafe won’t work well with scanned-in prints, obviously.)

Altogether, though, I was really pleased with the Shutterfly experience. Putting together my first photo book was so addictive that after I completed the review copy Shutterfly provided me for free, I went back and made several different versions to give to other members of my family. Photo books are on sale now through June 14 for up to 30 percent off, a good deal; prices start at around $12 for a 5X7 book. And through June 9, shipping for orders over $30 is free. There are lots of Father’s Day and graduation photo gift specials as well.

So I have to say thanks to Shutterfly for helping me rescue my family photos from limbo!

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