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July 6, 2010

Creating Family Photo & Document Books

My latest project is to create Family Photo & Document Books for my children. With that in mind, I've been trying out various programs to help me organize and display my photos and documents.

So far I've not had much luck and am not really happy with anything I've used.

I detest WORD for anything other than word processing (writing stories). Trying to insert dozens of scanned images, whether they are photographs or documents, is tedious and fraught with problems. Images jump. They overlap, they won't stay where I put them.

I do have a program I really like called PICTURE IT! But it's very old. It's limited in its capabilities and there are no upgrades. In fact it's been discontinued for many years. And it tends to crash. I can only create 25 pages at a time and I can only print one page at a time. If I create the max (50) and choose PRINT ALL, it's guaranteed to crash. It's also very tedious to insert photos. But I like how I can easily crop and shuffle photos or documents around and how fast it is to add text. If I could find something similar I'd be thrilled!

Next thing I tried was a PDF converter/creator called Professional PDF Converter 6. I paid $129.00 plus 13% tax for it. What a waste of money! The two things I must have is the ability to create headers and footers and add page numbers. Converter 6 is supposed to do this. The help file shows two nice little icons for just that. But my program does not have those 2 icons! A search of the website revealed that this is a flaw in every Converter 6 program and that it was reported and acknowledged in 2009. They still have not fixed it and there is no way to insert headers, footers or page numbers. I might as well have had a bonfire with my money.

Reluctantly I turned to Picasa 3. Don't get me wrong, I like Picasa (although I prefer the ealier versions). But for what I want, it's pretty useless. I was forced to choose the pics I wanted for a page, then create a collage, then add text. It looked good printed, but I have hundreds of photos and documents to add and I can only create one collage page at a time. I can't add pages and keep inserting scanned images. I've spent the morning creating nice collages but it's taking forever and I can't get consistent font sizes since it's all eye-balling it and adjusting the little text box to the size you want.

Even though I've chosen a specific font size, adjusting the text box makes the font bigger or smaller, depending on your adjustment. So it's not what I need either.

Any ideas for me? My wants are:

Consistent font sizes.
Page numbering
Ease of adding images and text (captions)

Am I asking too much?


M. Diane Rogers said...

Have you looked at using something like Scribus - it's an open source, desktop publishing programme (free). It might be more than you want, and I've just started using it so can't offer advice. But, there seems to be a good community of users on-line:

Jean-Yves said...

Did you try FotoTagger (

Anonymous said...

I'm curious to see other's comments on this as I have the same frustration. I have tried Serif's PagePlus some years ago and found it not too bad for producing a leaflet form family newsletter (with pics & graphics as well as type). Desktop Publishing Software ( is definitely better than trying to use a wordprocessor. I've heard good things about OpenOffice, but never tried it myself.
Then there are programs like MS OneNote (or Evernote, WordPerfect Lightning) which are built for multi-media notetaking. Not sure what sort of polished product they would produce though.
Good luck!
PS PagePlus is rather expensive as I recall, but is often included in the free disk you get with Your Family History magazine (UK mag).

Carol said...

Not sure this will help. I also detest Word, heavens I thought I was the only one in the world that hated Word.

So, I use Word Perfect. I would do a page or two at a time, up to about 4 pages. My experience is that the smaller the photo file, the better, to a point. Not small enough that I get pixels. Format away, letters/words can have font and size of font you want. You can number pages if that is important to you, etc. When you do the second set of pages, you can set the start for page numbering, so you can number starting at, say, page 5. Each subsequent set of pages, you simply set the page numbering.

Next, after 2 to 4 pages, so the files do not get TOOOOOO large, I print to Adobe PDF. This freezes the page, no images flying all around.

Next, and this is not cheap, I use Adobe Acrobat Pro. What this does is allow you to take the first 4 pages and start a master file, now add the next 4 pages, save, add 4 more pages, save. In the end, you have entire book in a PDF format.

This keeps down the size of the ultimate finished project and gives you some creative license.

I just did a book on it, 262 pages, 6 MB, but, please note, that about 20 pages were not complicated ones, just a bit of text. There are quite a few pages that have black and white photos. The majority of the pages are tables, printed landscape.

Page after page with photos would most likely result in much larger files.

We do black and white, because, frankly, we cannot afford color printing, about $1.00 per page.

Unless you have a laser printer, this is not something you want to attempt at home. Dot matrix type printers will bleed ink if the pages get wet.

I have seen a book done by MAC, and it is expensive, all in color, absolutely gorgeous if you have the $$. They have their own web sites, upload, order, they print.

Some of the bloggers have had really good luck with Blurb. I am not familiar enough with it to intelligently discuss, I have fussed with it some to back up my blog, but, if you do not pay them to print it, all downloads come with every page watermarked (understandable, of course).

Before I started freezing pages via PDF I had a devil of a time with books. I would spend HOURS formating, getting just right, and when I would take to the printer, the formatting dumped, because their printers were different than mine, and read even text fonts differently and printed larger, smaller, whatever, shot the dickens out of my hours and hours of formating. I have never had that issue again with PDF.

And again, remember PDF also reduces the file size, a very good thing with the kind of project you are suggesting.

One last thing, whew, wordy here, if you want the photos to be angled, pretty like, you need to do that before you import to Word Perfect, at least that is my experience. Tip em at the angle you want with your photo editor and save. Then import to the word processor. My version of Word Perfect does not "tip" photos or graphics, at least I have never done it there.

If you want to contact me via email (see my blog page for addy) I can send you a sample of a color page I did for a rough draft book I did a few years ago.

Melissa Brown said...

My relative created a really nice book using the Master Genealogist software. I don't have the program so I can't give you any advice unfortunately.

I'm a digital scrapbooker and love Photoshop, but I don't think that's your solution if you are primarily working with text.

What about Microsoft Publisher? I've able to create some great brochures and newsletters. If your having trouble sizing photos and photos'll have to play around with the settings, you should be able to anchor the photo(s), add layers, and add corresponding text

good luck!

Becky Jamison said...

Microsoft Publisher is the way to go! I do many newsletters, invitations, books, booklets, flyers, postcards, church bulletins etc and it works for all of them. You can put text where you wnat and pictures where you want and they STAY PUT! Trust me! I've used it for years and it will do exactly what you're looking for.

Jen said...

MS Publisher or PageMaker. Both are excellent and yes, the items will stay where you put them, unlike Word.

AndreaD said...

I have heard good things about Blurb. If you want to get serious about book design, I would suggest Adobe InDesign. Word and Publisher are not for books, they are more for newsletters and posters.

Cute PDF writer is a free PDF creator that works really well.

Andrea Lister said...

I have heard good things about Blurb. They have their own software and they offer Adobe InDesign templates you can download, PDF and then upload.

There are some samples of family tree books in their bookstore:

Word is not a design tool. Publisher is probably fine for newsletters and such but not a book.

I would suggest InDesign. CutePDF writer is a good free PDF creator.

John Wilson said...

MS Publisher is definitely what you would like. It is easy to put pictures in with captions and text that will flow around the pictures. I also find myself saving things as PDF files from within the program for distribution. I use it a lot both at home and at work.

Michelle Goodrum said...

I have done several books similar to what you are talking about using

You download their software to your computer and use their templates, etc. I've included gobs of narrative in some of my books.

It is pricey. However, they have a 40% off every fall which usually ends sometime in October (I think - not sure). This makes the price MUCH more reasonable.

Hope this helps.

Carolyn Obertein said...

I gave up on all the programs out there. I never got what I wanted. In my job for a major chemical company I used powerpoint and decided I would give it a try. It is so easy. I can download many photos at once using the photo album feature. I then add my own captions and stories. I add page numbers headers and a footer with my name and information on how to contact me. I have even set up the photo book as a slide presentation at reunions for everyone to view. Old familyphotos are always a big hit!