Chatbooks review

There is a lot of lament in some circles about the age of digital photography relegating nearly all photos to hard drives and only screen viewing rather than actual prints. While the argument can be made that more photos are shared now than ever before, there is something to be said about the print as a physical object that no amount of screen viewing can replicate. Working with prints is also a great way to evaluate and edit your work.

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There are times though that individual prints can be a bit of a burden when your objective is to share them and not to cover your walls. We no longer need to assemble all our prints and insert them into photo albums with stripes of adhesive and then cover them with cellophane sheets. Printing on demand has changed all of that. There are many, many services for printing your photos in book form. Most are relatively inexpensive so I’d suggest trying a few to find what you like. Today I’ll review a service called Chatbooks which puts your photos into 6i x 6i book form.

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I decided to try them to create a compilation of the photos in my Familiar Strangers show. Chatbooks is first designed as a way to get your Facebook or Instagram photos into book form. Their entire app interface goal is to make this as easy as possible directly from your phone. You can also access them through a web interface which gives you somewhat more control over the images, text and layout.

Learning from a friend who had tried this service already, I went directly to their web interface to begin the book creation. Uploading images was straightforward. I wanted to have a text page opposite each photo and achieving that layout was a bit tedious. It was also not obvious how to turn off the on by default page numbering, photo date and caption options. Once I figured that out, I rearranged to the order I wanted and added the text on the opposite page (Location/Date).

Chatbooks does not offer an option to adjust font or size. If you add a text page, it will center the words (horizontally and vertically) on the page.  If you use captions, it will vary the font size to fit your words into up to three rows below your photo. This make sense in theory but if you have varied amount of words, you can end up with facing pages that have three lines of text in different font sizes. I was going for a fairly minimalist layout so I turned off the date and page numbering options and did not add any captions.

It took me a bit more than 45 minutes to upload the photos and finish the layout that I wanted. From there I previewed the final form and once satisfied, finished the order and uploaded the design to Chatbooks for printing. I chose the cheapest/slowest shipping method and 7-10 days later, my book arrived in the mail. I did get an email confirmation after uploading, a thank you email from the founder and his family, and an email again when it shipped. The tracking number provided upon shipment did not work for me.

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The finished book was a total of $14 ($12 + $2 shipping) and for that price, I am quite satisfied. The cover has a very nice, almost velvet feel. The printing is good for the money and the book looks just as I had hoped when designing it. The black and white images I used had just a slight color tint to them which is common in print on demand services. If you are using color photos you should not have this problem at all and the color examples I have seen look quite nice.

Pro’s: Inexpensive (starting at $8 + shipping), good print quality, encourages getting digital images into physical form, great for gifts

Con’s: Layout design is not intuitive, limited layout options, black and white images have slight color tint

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