Photo-Book Test: Printing-1

Last year I performed a photo-book group test, comparing the results from three different suppliers, Apple, MyPublisher and PhotoBox. The good news for consumers is that there are always new entrants to the market. This time a company called Printing-1 ((They seem to go by half a dozen different names — including myphotobook — and the URL on their website seems to switch between them!)) contacted me and asked for my opinion on their wares. That’s to say, while last years books were paid for out of my own pocket this one was not.

This test follows a similar pattern to last time. This post documents the software and the ordering process; the next will talk about the quality of the finished product. The initial order was placed on the evening of 17th April.

Printing-1 Splash ScreenI started with a visit to their website. Here I found that you have to download an application to build your book. The link to the Windows application leads directly to the installer. Unfortunately the Macintosh one does not work. After some digging around I found that clicking the “Start Creating” link takes you to a download link that does work.

Inside the disk image is an installer. I hate Macintosh installers as they’re just so unnecessary. If an application like Microsoft Office doesn’t need one I have by doubts that one is strictly required for a photo book editor. Nevertheless I continued.

Once complete there’s a myphotobook item in my Applications folder. Inside is a mess of files, one of which is myphotobook.osx which I take to be the executable. It is.

It starts with a splash screen. The picture shows a a smiling woman holding an IXUS at arms-length. Aspirational messages flicker on-screen. At least, I assume they’re aspirational as they’re all in German and languages are not exactly my strong-suit. I click “Create Photobook,” a window opens and takes over the screen.

Along the left are your files, with a directory chooser at the top an a list of thumbnails at the bottom. To the top of the screen are thumbnails of each page in the book, and at the bottom are two tabs, one that allows you to change the type of book and other than changes the layout of the current page. The rest of the screen is taken up with a two page spread from your book. I’ve not seen the real thing but I’m prepared to accept that the screen rendering is accurate, right down to the bar code and logo on the back page.

The default photobook is square and bright red. I’m not convinced about the colour, but when I try to change it the application beach balls for over a minute.

Printing-1 Editing ScreenEventually control returns and I change to a more muted colour scheme. I also decide to try the spiral bound option, something not available with the other suppliers last year ((I note that PhotoBox are planning on launching a similar service shortly.)). There appears to be iPhoto integration, which is a nice idea, but it doesn’t really work. Clicking the icon shows a list of folders, but drilling down on a folder caused the application to crash.

I navigate through the filesystem, finding the pictures I want manually, but when I select one the application crashes again. I tried repeatedly but, unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get very far without losing either everything I’d done up to that point or my patience.

Luckily I have a Windows machine available and decided to see whether the application is more stable there.

The installation goes much more smoothly. I end up with a single item in the Start menu and on my desktop (please, one or the other — not both!), which starts first time. It’s not the most responsive of programs but this time I am able to complete the process.

The user interface is more like that of PhotoBox than iPhoto. While iPhoto dynamically picks the most suitable page format once you have indicated how many images you want to see, Printing-1 expects you to tell it. The layouts are less varied but very presentable, and, unlike PhotoBox, it is possible to have pages consisting only of text. You can’t, however, mix portrait and landscape pictures on a single page which meant that I had to reorder some pictures and crop others. Not entirely satisfactory.

The application is fairly fully featured but not as user-friendly as it could be. Many options are hidden in context-sensitive (right-click) menus and it often requires you to click two or three times before it decides to respond. In a similar hidden-functionality vein, the book size options allow you to choose between 24 and 36 pages leading you to conclude — incorrectly — that these are the only sizes. You can add more but the last page gets a large, red X through it. I assume, correctly it turns out, that this will be the back page and that it is not possible to print pictures here. Nevertheless, I am able to drag a picture here. It’s not until I upload the book that I get an explanation.

More worryingly, despite all the photographs being high resolution — mostly six megapixel with a few eight megapixel images for good measure — some appear very pixelated. Sometimes they grow sharper, as would an interlaced image file, other times they do not. I am hoping that this is just as display glitch.

Finally happy with the book I click the order button. The first thing I have to do is register. This generally goes smoothly, except for the fact that it is expecting addresses in German format. Once complete it to starts to upload the book to their servers. It’s a big file and takes a while, but that’s clearly a limitation of my cable internet connection.

Once complete I head over to their website to actually complete the order. The process is straight-forward. The only glitch is that I have to massage my address (I want it delivered to my work address rather than home) into a German format again.

Overall ordering the photobook has been a frustrating experience, even more so when you realise that most of the problems encountered suggest a lack of attention to detail rather than anything fundamentally wrong.

I eagerly await the finished product — hopefully it will be worth it in the end.

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