MixBook for B&W Photo Books – a Tale of two Failures
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
I thoroughly expected to be announcing this conclusion to the Easter Island project this week. Instead I'm using the time and space to relate my very unsatisfactory experience with the printer MixBook. A year ago the world of photo-books had one clear winner, at least in the area of good fine-art B&W photography books. MyPublisher in New York not only offered the choices one would want in a photo book, they never failed to amaze me with their results. And the fact that they were only slightly more expensive than many of the outfits competing for one's business, and less expensive than others, helped.
But MyPublisher was bought out by Shutterfly, who to begin with, does not offer the size and format choices that anyone doing a serious photo book would want and need. So I went looking, doing at first something that I have found through experience to be most nonproductive, reading reviews. But what was I to do, other than MyPublisher, I knew nothing about any of these printers.
I settled in on MixBook, who seemed to be winning a lot of the review comparisons. Using their on-line software was a little of a nightmare, but I managed, ordering only one book – thank goodness. And I should have taken a hint, from the lack of ability to order a plain linen cover for the hard-bound version (you're stuck with a tacky photo-cover) and no dust-jacket, that they were not looking to serve serious artists.
I received the book in about a week – and immediately called to complain about the piece of crap I was holding in my hands – something I have never had to do before, with about a dozen image books ordered. After explaining that about a third of the images were about two stops washed out, I got some rigamarole about their using "auto-enhance" on their images (that right there would scare the hell out of any serious photographer) and that they were willing to reprint the book with that turned off.
Like a dummy I agreed, opting out of simply getting my hundred dollars back. Bad choice. Another week went by and I received the second book – I should have known. This time only half the images were perfect, while most of the rest were about two stops dark – with a strong magenta cast. What the……?
It was frustrating to have to point out over the phone the inconsistency in the results in the face of their attempts to blame me and my display's balance. These are images that I can bring up on my screen side by side, as many as I want, and they are all perfectly exposed – sort of puts the damper on the problem being on this end since they seem to be able to print a good half of them perfectly.
TRY ONE – THUMBNAIL PAGE
I thought I's start with a comparison of thumbnail pages from the two attempts. In the first book, below, all three thumbnail pages were well within acceptable bounds:
This is enough, if viewed before the rest of the book, to give one almost complete confidence in success.
TRY ONE – IMAGES
In the first attempt, a full 29 of the 53 images were, to varying degrees, washed ou, some ridiculously so. The remaining 24 either matched their thumbnails or were lighter but within acceptable bounds. This immediately seemed odd to me because the way their software worked I had to access, on line, the exact same image files for both the thumbnail and corresponding larger image. How could the printing differ to that degree? Here are two examples – one that printed the same as the thumbnail and one that printed washed out.
Maori Boatman on the left printed just like the thumbnail above – Manavai and Rano Raraku on the right (along with 28 others) washed out and unacceptable , unlike its thumbnail.
TRY TWO – THUMBNAIL PAGE
The first thing I looked out when I got their second attempt was the first thumbnail page in the back. Oops. Wow were they dark, making me wonder if all they did was print the book darker, much darker:
Here the thumbnails are uniformly dark – although some images will always tolerate that better than others.
TRY TWO – IMAGES
This time 44 of the images were, though running dark, within acceptable bounds, proving that the images were printing considerably lighter than the thumbnails (for the most part). Still, 8 of the images mirrored their thumbnail counterparts and were way, way too dark. In fact they were so dark as to sport a distinct magenta cast or cyan cast (wow, one would at least expect consistency in this flaw)
In summarizing the results I have to record an isolated anomaly that tends the prove a complete inconsistency in their inking – one image that printed perfectly, matching its thumbnail in the first try, printed so much lighter in the second try that is was a tad lighter than the image in the first try – amongst all other images being darker than in the first printing.
Maori Boatman on the left, again, printed just like its thumbnail above – making the image completely unacceptable (along with 7 others).
Manavai and Rano Raraku on the right (along with a full 43 others) printed lighter than their thumbnails and were, to varying degrees acceptable (this one slightly dark but within bounds).
Any Photo Book printer that has this little control over their ink, and/or any printer that has this shoddy level of quality control, should NOT even attempt fine-art B&W printing. Carefully created files serve no purpose with them:
1– What excuse is there for these differences when they used the same files to create the thumbnails as the larger images?
2– How does turning off "auto-enhance translate to simply darkening by a couple of stops (exclusive of otherwise lack of control over the printer).
3– How can they explain away such irregularities in the differences between the books – especially the one image lighter in the second try?
4– How did these books get out the door?
By the way, after the first try I was given a choice between getting my money back of letting them try again – I chose the wrong door. Looks like my $100 is gone – I'm certainly not going to be able to use either one of these things – unless I can find ever need to cut out some of the better pages for some sort of display use.
I have now sent the book file off to Bay Photo Books. Can I hold my breath for ten days?
OH – I forgot, at least the iPad configured, interactive PDF versions of both Volume I and Volume II are HERE !!