Bound for Greatness
New online services can turn your snapshots into a book worthy of your coffee table
By Wilson Rothman

(MONEY Magazine) – When it comes to taking a photo of the kids by the Christmas tree and printing a single copy at home, digital photography is pretty easy. It's when you try to share photos that the hassles come up. Asking the family to huddle around the PC to look at photos from Grandma's house isn't all that convenient; neither is getting Grandma to go online and look at your slide show.

Fortunately, there's a way to get the best of both worlds. Most photo-sharing websites go beyond the slide show and let you transfer your digital images onto the pages of a hardbound book.

When my wife and I got married this past summer, we decided to self-publish our photo album. Our photographer would have charged us $500 to $1,000 a book, and delivery would have taken weeks; online services cost $30 to $50 a book and take only about one week.

Armed with a few dozen of our wedding photos, I started assembling books using different services. Many are on the same websites that people use to catalogue and share their pictures, such as Snapfish and Kodak's EasyShare.

The services ranged from point-and-click easy to downright frustrating. Some let me put photos anywhere on the page, while others locked me into a rigid and unsightly template. I preferred the middle ground: enough layout variety to stave off monotony but not so much that I actually had to be creative all by myself. The books arrived a few days later, but it should be noted that, as in all online-ordering scenarios, "three to five business days" means different things to different companies. So be patient.

Fortunately, you can repeat much of my test without spending a dime. None of the services charge a membership fee, and all let you design a book before requiring that you punch in a credit-card number. In fact, although there are a couple of losers in the pack, it's a good idea to visit more than one of the higher-rated picks before your artistic vision comes together.

[1] NOTE: All prices include shipping.