Scrapbooks vs Photo Albums

If you have ever dipped your toe in the world of arts & crafts, you are familiar with scrapbooking. For those that avoid crafts, this is taking a blank journal or handmade book and filling it with pictures, mementos (ticket stubs, school programs, etc.), stickers, and other embellishments. A popular theme for scrapbooks are life events, like holidays, birthdays, vacations, graduations, weddings, etc. It’s a great way to save those memories for reflecting and reminiscing later!

Not so crafty but still have lots of pictures you want to display? Photo albums – hardbound, softbound, and digital – organize your pictures and make it easier to share them with others. They also are a great option for remembering life events and, while you can’t attach mementos, a lot of photo editing software will allow you to add graphic design details similar to stickers.

What Can You Do with Books of Pictures?

When it comes to giving gifts, both scrapbooks and photo albums are original and memorable. They require more time, thought, and effort to make, but the smile on the recipient’s face is well worth it. The biggest challenge is getting the pictures. You may have easy access to pictures if they are a close friend or family member, which makes this an ideal gift. Not so close that you have a lot of pictures to use? You’ll have to solicit pictures from other friends and family members… or try another gift if that’s not an option.

They both can add a special design touch to your party AND do double duty as an ice breaker among party guests that don’t know each other. If you have the space to display large collages, GREAT! If you don’t, having a scrapbook or photo album out on a table for guests to look through can be a helpful space-saver. I personally like the idea of combining these with a guest book / yearbook / autograph book where guests can leave special messages for the guest(s) of honor. This works especially well for birthdays, graduations, and weddings.

Scrapbook? Photo Album? Something Else?

Both scrapbooks and photo albums have their own advantages and disadvantages. Scrapbooks are very creative and allow for multiple design elements; unfortunately, they are also heavy on time and effort and can cost a lot of money once you start adding up all of the design elements. It’s easy to get swept away with a pack of stickers for this page and another pack for that page! Photo albums cost a lot less and are quicker to assemble, but they don’t have much room for creativity on the pages (you can always add digital touch-ups to the pictures themselves).

If you’re looking for something in between that has the creativity without the high cost, time, and effort, a photo book is an excellent option (with caveats explained later). Most photo sites will let you upload your pictures into your own online albums and then create photo gifts from them, photo books being among them. A few good ones I’ve used are SnapfishShutterflyBlurb, and others. So what are some of the advantages to making a photo book?

Ease of Updating

The easiest part of using photo sites to make photo books is how you select your photos for the book, move them around in the book, and change the size of the pictures. Some sites will even let you select an entire album and automatically make a photo book out of the pictures. You can’t beat that! If you prefer a little more control on the photo placement, you can still edit the photo book and preview the final results before purchasing. The ability to zoom in and crop pictures can also turn humdrum pictures into more professional images.


Most photo sites offer a variety of book and page templates at no extra charge. This is particularly helpful if you don’t consider yourself creative but want a photo book with different layouts that are more interesting to the eye. Some sites have thematic templates, where everything from the picture layout and style to the type of font are coordinated around a theme. These range from event themes – weddings, summer vacations, baby showers, etc. – to stylized themes – brights, watercolors, geometric designs, traditional, modern, etc.

Design Elements

In addition to multiple page layouts and themes, most photo sites have embellishments similar to the stickers and captions you see in scrapbooks. You can frame a picture in a pretty border, add a funny mustache to a picture of a friend, or put a picture in perspective with a perfectly worded text box. All of these elements help you round out the story you are telling with your pictures.

That’s All Great BUT…

Like any project, planning your photo book is an important step, so know your time and budget before you start and then stick to it. After all, if they take too much time or cost too much, then you haven’t made things easier on yourself, have you? Here are a few tips to help keep things under control.

Plan Your Pictures

You probably already have an idea of which pictures you want to use, so gather all of those together and make sure they are uploaded to the site of your choice. Putting them all in an album with your project title will be an even bigger help when you get started. Before you do anything else, check that your pictures are a good quality (if the quality is low, they may appear blurry in the book), right side up, and cropped if needed. Some sites will let you make these edits after they’re already in the photo book, but it’s easier to do the edits before you get to that point.

Plan Your Pages

Have a really special picture that you want to highlight? Make it the only picture on the page or display it as the largest shot with a couple other smaller pictures. Got a series of action shots? Put them all on the same page in a row to give the feeling of movement. If you want to use special borders, know that you will need space around the picture for that, too. Also, change up the number of pictures and design on each page to keep things more visually appealing.

Keep Track of Your Costs

It is easy to get carried away adding pages and pages of pictures! However, you should know what your site’s charging policy is before you put a whole lot of effort into making your book. Some sites will give you a flat rate for the first 20 pages and then you pay for each additional page on top of that. Other sites simply charge for every page. Also, the type of book – softbound, spiral-bound, or hardbound – and the size of the book will play into the cost. And at the end of it all, don’t forget tax and shipping costs!

Creative Theme Ideas

A theme helps turn your photo book into a personalized story book. If it follows a sequence of events, it makes for an even better story. Don’t have a sequence of events? How about creating your own story? You can use text boxes on each page to include an explanation of what’s happening, some dialogue, or even a fun little poem. Still stuck? Try some of these:

  • Adventures on the way to ____ (great for a bucket list before moving or starting a new school or job)
  • Dr. Seuss style story (fun for both kids and adults)
  • Mad Libs or fill-in-the-blank stories
  • Taking a favorite toy / framed picture / pet / etc. on an adventure
  • An alphabet / counting / opposites book (good teaching aid for little ones, especially if they recognize the objects used in the pictures)

Happy eventing!