Picaboo, a small startup company in Menlo Park, Calif., makes a photo book publishing system that requires the download and installation of a free desktop client. Currently, the software is available for Windows only.
Once installed, the spartan interface implies that design options will be limited, but that’s not the case.
After clicking to create a photo book, you get a list of 19 different available themes, including: baby, baby boy, baby girl, birthday, bold and beautiful, catalog collage, contemporary, cookbook, happy holidays, kids, new years, photo album, photo journal, storybook, travel, wedding and yearbook. As if those weren’t enough, Picaboo stores a few more themes online.
Each theme choice provides a templated set of backgrounds and layouts that should make book creation easier. Themes are a matter of personal choice and experimentation but Picaboo has an expansive set to dig through. Once you actually get into building the book you can even use your own pictures as background images, so you’ll never run out of options.
To make it even easier to actually build your book, Picaboo provides a useful image auto-populate feature. This feature takes your pictures and automatically flows them into the selected theme. Your pictures may not be in the order that you want them to appear in the book, but there is also a Storyflow feature that lets you organize the pictures. It’s a simple idea, but it’s one that’s critically important if you want to take advantage of auto-populate.
If you’re happy with how the auto-populate and Storyflow features have built your book, then at this point you’re finished with the content creation part of book building. Yup, that’s it.
If you want a greater degree of control over layout and the book itself, you’ll need to dig in and build your book page by page. It takes effort to select page layouts for each individual page and then to drag and drop images into the layout. There are many different layouts available to choose from in Picaboo and the only way to figure out what looks best is to click and try out different ideas.
While it’s probably a good idea to start a photo book with your pictures already optimized, that’s not always possible. Picaboo includes some basic photo tools for red-eye, brightness and contrast.
Also, Picaboo’s zoom and rotation tools are useful since your pictures aren’t always going to be set at the orientation that you’ll want them to appear in a book.
One problem we found with the Picaboo photo editing tools is the lack of an “undo” feature. While it is possible to simply delete the image in the layout and drag and drop the image again (which is what we did to undo), it is not an efficient way to design a book.
Another missing feature is the inability to pick the size of your book at the beginning of the process. You just jump right into the book-making process without size consideration. This could be a good thing, since when you start you don’t always know the size you desire, but you might want to choose different layouts (for example fewer complicated layouts in a tiny book) depending on the size.
You might think the cover you choose for your book would be determined by the size of the book itself, but at Picaboo, the cover choices are limited. You can choose a cutout window where the image peeks through, accompanied by a solid color cover. Or, you can choose a custom cover where an image covers the entire front cover. When you get to the checkout page, you learn that “custom” costs more than a simple cutout.
For this review, we elected to choose the smallest reasonable format as a standard baseline across the tested services to see how they compare.
On Picaboo, the smallest reasonable size is 8x6 with a page count of 20 pages. There is a choice of a soft-cover textured binding at that size, which brings the cost of the book to $9.99. If you want a fine linen cover for the same size book, it’ll double your price to $19.99.
The time it takes from when you order till when the photo book ships is an important metric. Each service we tested had different delivery options based on geography, so the actual shipping is difficult to compare. But we can compare the time for production, which we’ll measure as the time it took from receipt of the order-confirmation message until the time we got the order ship message.
For Picaboo, in our test case of an 8x6 20 page soft-cover textured book, it took approximately 52 hours (inside of three business days).
The printed Picaboo book that we received appeared as it did on screen. There were no extra pages, and images were crisp, with proper brightness and sharpness on a matte finish. The color, however, was slightly muted. The paper quality was as good as anything you’d see for a book that came from a physical bookstore.
The paper cover itself looked and felt pretty good too, even though it was only a thin card stock cover. It was certainly flimsier than soft covers from the other photo book vendors in this review.
Overall, for $9.99 and 20 pages, Picaboo offered a solid overall experience with few drawbacks and an admirable speed of service.