Best Lay Flat Photo Books: A Guide

Guide to companies offering lay flat photo booksPhoto Books With Lay Flat Pages

Lay flat photo books are becoming mainstream as more and more photo book services come out with this style. It used to be that they were primarily for the wedding album market because they were so monstrously expensive. I love it that now there are affordable lay flat books for all of us. They’re a spectacular way to showcase special photos and I especially love them for travel, baby and wedding books, as well as portfolios.

There are several different styles of lay flat books, but first I wanted to give you the basic definition. In general, it means that when you open your book the pages lay completely flat, they don’t flip back up, the pages don’t wrinkle or crease, and most important of all, nothing gets lost in the gutter down the middle. One of the main advantages of lay flat photo books is that you can spread a photo so it flows across two pages in a panorama. It also means a step up in paper. It’s usually thicker and heavier than standard photo book paper, but the firmness and weight vary quite a bit from company to company. Sometimes these books are entirely separate products, other times they can be an option you can add on during the order process.

It can get a bit confusing because there are several book styles that “lay flat.”  One isn’t necessarily better than the other, because there are so many variables between paper and printing as well as binding among online photo book services. It comes down to what is best for your specific book and your pocketbook. Having said that, there are three main categories

  • Seamless Lay Flat Binding (gutter-free) – These have facing pages (two-page spreads) that are printed on one continuous sheet, there is no gutter or break in the center. There will be a slight crease in the center because, after all, you need to be able to close the book. The paper weight and thickness varies between photo services.
  • Hinged Lay Flat Binding – This is a flush mount with a hinge in the binding that enables the pages to lay flat, but there will be a tiny gap in the center, usually about 1/16” and it really doesn’t interfere with the spread, other than you may not want to put text right smack in the middle. The paper will be sturdy enough to lay flat and can vary depending on the company.
  • Flush Mount Album – This is the traditional style used for high end wedding albums. The images are printed on very high quality photographic paper then mounted on super thick mat board and there is a very small gutter, or space down the center, about 1/16”. These albums are usually hand bound with leather covers and are so thick there are maybe only 10- 20 pages, not 100. These tend to be extremely expensive ($300 and way up). You can often get upgrades such as silver or gold stamping and gilded edges.

Below is my survey of popular photo book services that offer lay flat books. While most companies offer multiple sizes, I am using 11×8 (or closest size) for my examples. In this post I am not going to cover the super high end flush mounted wedding albums, I will save that for another post.

Mixbook

Product: Premium Lay Flat Classic Landscape 11″x8.5″
Price:  $89.99 for first 20 pages + $1/page for additional pages
Max pages: 99
Sizes: 8.5″x8.5″, 12″x12″, 11″x8.5″ Landscape

Mixbook has photo books with pages that lay completely flat with no gutter.

Mixbook offers premium lay flat photo books with seamless pages, printed on premium semi gloss paper backed by thick, 12pt card stock

If you’re looking for a custom photo book with hard, super thick, sturdy pages, Mixbook is for you. While it’s a considerable step up in price (a standard 20-page 11×8.5 book is $34.99 vs $89.99 for lay flat) it is well worth it for a special occasion book. These are true lay flat pages, where the two-page spreads are on printed on one large, continuous sheet so there is absolutely no break in the image. You can put photos, text or embellishments in the center without losing anything when printed. This is a pretty unique feature offered by just a few companies. Each spread is printed on premium, acid-free and archival paper (65# cover Mohawk Navajo Brilliant white, semi-gloss finish) and mounted on 12pt board.

This makes the pages very thick: a 20-page book will be  5/8 inch thick and  a 50-pager will be a whopping  1 1/8 inches. It’s heavy, too!  A 50-page 11×8.5  lay flat book will weigh several pounds (thank goodness shipping is flat rate and not based on weight!). The image-wrap hardcover is printed on SoftTouch Matte which has a matte, almost velvety finish. Due to the page style, there are no end papers. These books come in a nice presentation box. While not cheap, Mixbook’s lay flat books are economical alternatives to high end flush mount wedding album style books, which are printed on photo paper and can run hundreds of dollars.

I love Mixbook for many reasons besides their books with hard pages, most especially for the total customization you get with their web-based photo book creator. There are frequent photo book sales that can help with the cost.  I’ve reviewed all of Mixbook’s features here.

MyPublisher, Inc.

My Publisher
icon

Product: Classic Hardcover 11.25 x 8.75  landscape with lay flat upgrade
Price: $60.99 for first 20 pages ($29.99 + $6.00 Photo Finish cover + $25 upgrade per book for lay-flat pages – upgrade ranges from $15-45 depending on book size), $0.99 extra pages
Max pages: 100
Sizes: 7.75 x 5.75, 11.25 x 8.75, 15×11

MyPublisher offers an upgrade to lay flat pages

MyPublisher’s lay-flat pages are an optional upgrade from the standard book. The pages have hinged binding and stay flat when opened.

My Publisher’s icon lay flat books differ from Mixbook’s in that they have hinged pages; the two-page spread when you open it up is not printed on one continuous sheet. So while there is not the traditional gutter where part of the image gets hidden, there is a tiny break, about 1/16”,  down the center. Thus when you spread one image across two pages or put text down the center there will be a very slight gap. It is still a beautiful, impressive book and you can still span a panorama across two pages and it will look terrific.

The paper here is also quite different than Mixbook’s. It’s one sheet thick, it is not paper bonded to card stock. It’s very nice paper, though. There are two paper options, the Deluxe paper, which is 170# weight super thick and heavy archival and acid-free paper. It is a $3.99 upgrade per book. I recommend this paper for your lay flat book because it adds a nice weightiness without being cumbersome. The standard paper, called “Superior,” is 120#. It doesn’t feel thin, but it is not super duper thick; it’s firm enough to not crinkle. A 50 or 60-page lay-flat book will be a little thicker and heavier than a standard photo book, but not massively. With both papers you have a choice of satin or matte finish. I prefer the satin because it has a semi-gloss finish while the matte has a slight texture that makes the colors a little more muted.

Super gloss printing ($10 upgrade)  is another great option for this type of book– the pages feel thicker and they are spill-resistant. It makes images pop off the page – they really look vibrant and beautiful. This is a great finish. I have yet to try it myself but I saw a photographer’s sample book using this paper and it was stunning. You also have a choice of covers, since the lay flat is an upgrade. The basic is a linen cover but you can get a hardcover, dust jacket cover or leather cover. All come with vellum end sheets in a choice of colors.

Another nice touch is you can order a gift box to accompany your book; there is a variety of colors/patterns to choose from. My Publisher icon has free downloadable software for creating your book, then you order it right from with the software. I have a detailed review that you can read here.

Shutterfly.com

Shutterflyicon

Product: Classic Hardcover 8×11 with lay flat upgrade
Price: $69.99 for first 20 pages ($39.99 + $30 upgrade per book for lay-flat pages – upgrade is $25-50 depending on book size), $1.00 each extra page
Max pages: 100
Sizes: 8×8, 8×11, 10×10, 12×12, and 11×14

Premium Line with hand-stitched leather cover from $124.99

Shutterfly has a loay flat photo book upgrade and a premium book

Shutterfly gives you the option of choosing lay flat binding via their Custom Path and also offers a premium product.

Shutterfly icon has two separate lay flat options. The first is an upgrade to their standard book available through their Custom Path photo book creator, and the second is their Premium line with a genuine leather cover.

During the photo book making process you can add lay flat pages as an optional extra for a flat rate of $25-50, depending on book size.  The paper is described on their site as “double thick, premium professional-grade paper with a satin finish” and is seamless across the pages. The pages are thick and firm but they do have some give. Customers say they appear to be higher print quality than the standard books; you don’t see the dots and the images reproduce nicely with vivid color.  There is no gutter in the center so you can span an image across two pages without losing any portion of the image. Shutterfly recently improved their photo book making software to make it easier to span images. The cover is the standard glossy hardcover with image wrap.

Shutterfly's gutterless premium binding

Shutterfly offers gutterless binding on their Premium leather-bound photo books

Shutterfly also has a line of premium photo booksicon that come with lay flat binding, as well as a hand stitched genuine leather cover, starting at $124.99 for the first 20 pages. These impressive books are assembled by hand and are perfect for weddings, portfolios, and special occasions.

You can read more about Shutterfly’s photo booksicon and Custom Path book creator in my detailed review.

Picaboo

Picaboo

Product: Classic Hardcover 9×11 with Lay Flat pages
Price: $69.99 for first 20 pages,  $1.00 each extra page
Max pages: 90
Sizes: 8×8, 8×11, 11×9, 12×12, 14×11
Free shipping on all products
Prestige Line available with lay flat pages

Picaboo offers books with hinged lay flat binding

Picaboo has hinged lay flat photo books plus a line of high-end Prestige books

Picaboo has a Classic line and a high end Prestige line and both offer lay flat photo books. The paper includes an integrated, flexible hinge that allows your book to lay flat. There will be a very narrow gutter. You can add the lay flat option to your Classic book after you choose a book size. Picaboo uses heavy-weight, glossy paper described as 100-lb, archival-quality, acid-free text stock.

The Prestige line is meant for really special books, such as wedding albums or portfolios. The Madison style is an intermediate product printed on heavyweight museum quality page with lay flat pages, starting at $199.99 for an 11 x 9 20-page book; $2.00 each additional page.  Picaboo also offers high end, flush mount lay flat albums that are bound on the edge of each page so there is no gutter. They are “hand mounted on thick gilded masonite board printed on Kodak Endura paper” and start at $399.99 for an 11 x 9 book and $10.00 each additional page.

Picaboo is now offering free standard shipping on all its products, which translates into a nice savings. They also offer frequent sales on their photo books. You can read my full review of Picaboo here.

Snapfish

Product: Standard Custom Hardcover 8×11 with Lay Flat upgrade
Price: $69.99 for first 20 pages,  $1.00 each extra page
Max pages: 90
Sizes: 8×11, 11×14

Product: Premier Lay Flat 8×11
Price: $69.99 for first 20 pages,  $1.00 each extra page
Max pages: 100
Sizes: 8×8, 8×11, 12×12, 11×14

Snapfish offers optional lay flat pages as an upgrade plus a premium line with continuous pages and no gutter.

Snapfish offers an upgrade to hinged, lay flat binding and a new Premier product with seamless pages printed on continuous sheets.

Snapfishis a newer entry into the lay flat photo book arena. They offer two different lay flat products and they are quite different. The Standard Custom books are offered with optional  lay flat binding. They are hinged papers so you will see a slight break down the center, but they are still great for a two-page spread. The paper is 100 lb. Snapfish has upgraded its book-making software to make it easy to span an image across two pages.

The new Premier lay flat book has extra thick, premium paper and a matte photo paper cover. They’re  printed on continuous sheets, so the spread is seamless without a gutter in the center. The pages are printed on premium heavyweight paper with a lustre silk finish. This offers super saturated color, so images will be really vivid. The matte photo cover doesn’t have a bar code on the back, which is great if you are making a wedding book. You can read more about all of Snapfish’s photo books in my detailed review.

Adoramapix

Adoramapix

Product: 8×10 hardcover photo book
Price: $56.95 for 26 pages
Max pages: 76
Sizes: 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7.5, 6×9, 8×6, 8×8, 8×10, 8×12, 10×12.5, 10×10, 12×15, 12×6, 12×9, 12×12

Adoramapix's photo books come with lay flat pages as standard

All of Adoramapix’s photo books come with lay flat pages as a standard feature.

Adoramapix is a higher end photo book maker. All their books are printed on real photographic silver-halide paper with a lustre finish, which offers brilliant saturated color and natural skin tons. There is also an option for fingerprint-resistant HD Glossy Album Paper. All their books come with gutter-free lay flat pages using a Leporello binding system, which is an accordion-like binding. Each spread is a single continuous sheet of archival photo paper, it does not use two separate pages with a hinge. Adorama’s online book creator software makes it very easy to make an image span two pages. The pages are nice and stiff with a bit of heft to them, and your book will be nearly twice as thick as a standard book. The logo is printed on the inside of the back cover, leaving the outside of the back free for your photo.

Adoramapix books come in fixed page amounts – 14, 26, 38, 50 and 76. One downside is that you kind of have a big jump between increments choose-your own number of pages and you can only make books with a maximum of 76 pages.  However, these are very high quality books using real photo paper (most standard companies don’t use real photographic paper) so your images will more closely match the originals;  colors will be vivid and pages have that beautiful photographic gloss.  These books are ideal for wedding books and panorama scenic shots. Leather cover books are also available, in addition to optional cover stamping in gold or silver foil. Read my experience with Adoramapix here.

How to Get the Best Deal on Photo Book Printing

Lay flat photo books are definitely more expensive, but can be well worth the extra cost. The good thing is all of these online photo services have frequent sales, so you should be able to save some money, at least 15%.  To help you save money and get the best photo book price possible, I track and post all the sales and promos I can find, including coupon codes, on my photo deals page. Be sure to bookmark it so you can check the latest offers when you’re making your next book.

 

This entry was posted in Photo Books and tagged adoramapix, binding, flush mount, gutter, gutterless, hard pages, hinged binding, lay flat, mixbook, mypublisher, Picaboo, seamless pages, shutterfly, snapfish. Bookmark the permalink.