Friday, March 13, 2009

My experience printing a Photo Book from Shutterfly


I was lucky enough to get an offer from Shutterfly for a “free” 8x8 20 page photo book. I took them up on this offer, and after shipping it ended up being $8.71 for regular shipping to Seattle (seems high for about a 8 oz package).

Building the Book

Making the book using the software at Shutterfly was okay for beginners, but I found myself wishing for more (but not enough to to through the hassle of doing it myself). Overall it worked fine with only one issue – the text was nearly impossible to read on my 1920x1200 resolution monitor. This made proofing text overly challenging. I just had to hope I didn’t make any mistakes because I couldn’t read it very well (even using Windows Vista’s Magnifier tool). You can see the results here and the problem I’m talking about if you have a higher res monitor.

Color Issue

Even though I went through my photo book images and turned off VividPics, I still got a bit of an orange cast from my images I upload to Shutterfly. Here was Shutterfly’s response to my inquiry:

Dear Shutterfly Customer,

Thank you for contacting Shutterfly.

Did you edit the image as an AdobeRGB? Since it looks to me when I check the file data that it's not a sRGB which is the optimal profile for the images. If you use a AdobeRGB or other vender specific image format we have to convert the image to the sRGB color space and that can cause the colors to shift slightly.

Our imaging scientist here at Shutterfly wrote down some thoughts on how to use Shutterfly as part of users color managed workflow.

First some background information.

We run a fully-automated Silver Halide and Digital Offset printing facility with multiple machines of either kind. We constantly monitor our machines and keep them within 2-3 DeltaE_94 of each other. We have many production processes in place to ensure this level of accuracy. You are right, based on paper and native printing technologies, there will be some differences in color. But let me assure you that the differences are minimal; the color reproduction differences between the glossy and matte papers is less than 2.0 DeltaE_94.

I would encourage you run your own test - but remember, turn off VividPics - to measure color accuracy. Save your original image as an sRGB image and order different size products from us. Ideally you should print color patches and measure the Lab values using a spectrophotometer. For an independent test of color accuracy, please also see last June/July issue of MacWorld where they performed similar tests on online photofinishers and ranked Shutterfly as the best.

There are three things that happen to images printed through Shutterfly:

  1. We interpret the RGB pixels as sRGB
  2. We do automatic color enhancement and adjustment (we call this VividPics processing)
  3. Finally, we print the images on color managed sRGB printers

For people interested in getting accurate colors on prints from Shutterfly, you will need to do the following:

  1. Either calibrate your monitor to be sRGB or use monitor profiles for soft proofing your images.
  2. Save the images as sRGB
  3. After uploading to Shutterfly, turn off step #2 above, i.e. turn off VividPics.

Here are the steps for doing this to a group of images in a single album:
a. Select all pictures in your album

b. Go to the "View & Enhance" tab (top left after "Add Pictures")

c. Select any one of your pictures

d. Select the "Effects" tab on the right hand side

e. You should come to a screen which has a check box w/ "Don't apply automatic correction to picture" on the left bottom. check that box.

f. then click on "Apply this effect to other pictures" right above it.
This will turn off VividPics on all your pictures in that album and you will therefore get accurate sRGB colors on the final prints.

All our printers are calibrated to be sRGB printers - the profile therefore for these printers is just the industry standard sRGB profiles. For more information on sRGB, feel free to check out these web pages:

The link should take you straight to the ICC profile download page. If it doesn't work remove the "/srgbprofiles.html" part and then go to the dropdown “resources” and choose “profiles” there you should see an option for sRGB.

*If you turn off VividPics*, all our printers will produce sRGB colors accurately.

If you are not getting exact colors. We can hypothesize on two reasons that come to mind:

  1. Different profile building software have different biases in them. At the end of the day, each software has a model of the final output device and builds a coarse grain look-up-table to map colors. The accuracy and bias of each software is a function of the inherent printer/output device model.
  2. The same profiling software produces slightly different colors for different output technologies (for example: RGB vs. CMYK)
    You can verify both of these by printing, say, a MacBeth chart and measuring Lab values. A MacBeth chart has standard Lab values and a comparison will show that every profiling software has some directional bias.

In addition, getting "perfect"/"spot on" colors is a very difficult task in an open color exchange environment. Communicating color accurately (i.e. having everyone speak the same color "language") and perfectly interpreting the intent of the original customer is more of black art than a science. Given these limitations we have tried to architect our infrastructure so that we can provide reasonably accurate color reproduction in a fully automated workflow, without having to do job specific setup. The costs of the latter will be prohibitive and we may not be able to provide this service in a cost effective manner.

Having said all this, we are constantly looking to improve and do have some ideas that are in the process of implementation. I cannot talk about them right now as time lines etc. are not set and we have to work within constraints of not increasing our costs, maintaining automation etc.
As for questions about using different input spaces, I don't think it will make a difference with skin tones; changing color spaces will primarily make a difference with highly saturated colors as the other spaces (e-sRGB, Adobe RGB) differ in gamut size. Skin tones lie within the gamut of all these color spaces.

One final thought: If your needs for extremely accurate color reproduction are not being met w/ the automated pipeline we are providing, it is possible for you to build profiles and manage everything locally. That way you have complete control. In order to do this, just print your targets through us (after turning VividPics off) and build profiles with your own profiling software. That way, the biases of your own profiling software will be accurately compensated for in your prints. Keep in mind that we maintain our printers within ~2.0-2.5 deltaE so that day after day you will get very consistent reproduction.

Hope this reasonably addresses any color questions that you may have about Shutterfly.

Shutterfly Customer Service

Well, I was using sRGB, on a color profiled monitor, and the results were still a bit of an orange cast. I never heard back from Shutterfly after this, nor was I offered any sort of re-print or further assistance.

Book Quality

The quality of the pages and binding was excellent, and I was pleased that it arrived without any damage (the box seemed sufficient) and was wrapped in plastic to avoid rashes from the box itself. The quality of the paper and book over was very good (actually much better than I expected).


Overall I felt like this is something that will be very good for the average user, especially busy soccer mom’s who are too busy to scrapbook, but still want something nice. I recommend this product for people who fall into this category, but not for photographers selling their work to third parties. The quality is good, but not that good. I wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of their free book deal again, but I would try another site like if I was paying full price.

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This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity


Joe said...

Thanks for sharing your experience!! I created a photo album by using Shutterfly services... I love it!!

grace said...

Perfect photo binding with high quality printing, Nice photo's