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Smart Buying

Photo Books in a Flash

For Mother's Day, collect your digital photos in a new-fashioned album.

Remember how your mother used to love the handmade projects you'd bring home from school? This year, forget the glue stick and glitter. Give her a photo book. But which site should you use? I test-drove three of the major photo-sharing Web sites -- KodakGallery, Shutterfly and Snapfish -- for the answer.

The first step is to upload your pictures. Scanning in old photos took an hour or two, but once I had the files, all three sites uploaded 75 photos in about ten minutes. Next, choose a book. At each site, I went with a cloth-covered book with 20 pages, which cost $25 to $30. You can add pages for $1 to $2 each. Shipping runs $7 to $9 for turnaround in about a week.

After selecting a background theme for my pages, I had the option to autofill my book or select layouts and drag-and-drop photos into them, page by page. I wanted to customize the book, so I took a pass on autofill. You can add text to some layouts or go with photo-only spreads. All three sites offer a choice of fonts in a variety of sizes and allow you to edit the photos once they're placed.

KodakGallery was my least favorite site, even though its book arrived the fastest and had the nicest binding. The site has a good number of background and font choices, but once I made my picks, I couldn't change them on individual pages. There weren't nearly as many layout choices as on the other sites. The photo-editing tools worked well, but the options were limited. Photo and design selections are done via a toolbar that disappears when not in use -- which was fine until it vanished in mid selection, making me nuts.

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Snapfish has the best selection of covers and slightly cheaper prices. But its layouts miss the mark mainly because, unlike KodakGallery and Shutterfly, there's no option for a five-photo page. You can switch backgrounds from page to page, but you can choose only from among designs within your theme. One standout feature that neither of the others has, at least in do-it-yourself mode: an undo button.

Shutterfly takes the cake for versatility and ease of use. It has nearly three times as many layout and font choices as Snapfish, and you can change every design element (font, font color, background and so on) on every page. It's also the only site that lets you drop photos into a storyboard to distribute them throughout the book and then customize your layouts.

I've been uploading photos to Snapfish for ten years, but I'll be creating my projects on Shutterfly from now on -- and giving Mom more books of memories.