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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Books and calendars in Photos for Mac: What are the best options?

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Coffee table books from Mimeo (2016) and Motif (2017).

[The newest version of my ebook about Photos for Mac and iOS, Take Control of Photos, has just been released. A lot of the research I did for this story came out of working on that book. If you use the Photos app a lot, consider buying the book.]

For many years, Apple let you use iPhoto and then Photos to create designs with your photos, upload those designs to Apple’s servers, and then take delivery of custom-printed objects in a few days’ time. My family creates annual calendars and frequently creates books, too. These physical products are great ways to keep our photos in view throughout the year, even when we aren’t staring at a device.

Unfortunately, Apple has gotten out of the business of producing books and calendars. Instead, it’s allowed third-party services to create special apps and make them available for download in the Mac App Store. These free apps allow you to create projects based on your Photos library and order them from right within Photos. (Sure, you could just build books by uploading photos to a website. But in my opinion, building on your Mac from your existing library of images and using a native app is a superior experience.)

Apple started in leaning into extensions last year, but with its official announcement that it’s getting out of this category, a few other companies have finally jumped in. The result is that there are two apps—available for free from the Mac App Store—that are worth checking out if you’re interested in printing photo books or calendars from within Photos for Mac. They are Mimeo Photos and Motif. (Unsurprisingly, the companies behind both apps seem to have been past suppliers for Apple’s book-printing services… so this is their way of staying in the game.)

Building the books

Given what they’re designed to do, it’s not surprising that these apps are more similar than they are different. Both let you build books from different design templates. You add photos to a project by dragging them from the main Photos view to the project’s icon in the sidebar. You can view all the photos in your project or just see the ones you haven’t used yet—a very useful feature, since you want to avoid duplicates and make sure all the good photos get in. Both extensions let you select the number of photos on a page and choose from a bunch of different layouts. And doing Apple’s original implementation one better, both will let you perform free-form adjustments of the sizes of photos on any page, if you think you can do a better job than the pre-formatted templates can.

Both apps offer predesigned templates, so you don’t have to create your books from scratch. Mimeo definitely wins when it comes to volume: Mimeo’s template picker offers more than 50 options (including versions of Apple’s old templates), while Motif is limited to 14.

Motif places photos at the bottom of the screen and layout options as icons beneath each page.
Mimeo puts layout thumbnails at the bottom of the screen and hides other items in slide-out drawers accessible from the toolbar on the right side of the screen.

The apps also have their differences. If you’re someone who wants the ultimate in customizability, Mimeo shines. You can add or remove photo boxes, resize them at will, drag them anywhere on the page, and even send them to the front or back, so if you want to have a complex design with overlapping images, you can do it. (Mimeo will also let you run photos across the center spread of the book.) Mimeo’s interface puts thumbnails of all your pages at the bottom of the screen, with a toolbar at the right that slides out drawers of your photos and lets you select layout preferences.

Mimeo’s basically a free-form layout tool for photo books.

There are no drawers in Motif, which places your project’s photos in a strip across the bottom and lets you toggle between a single-spread view and a set of project thumbnails via a pair of toolbar buttons. This is a better interface decision, since I’m the kind of person who builds books page by page and wants access to all of my project photos at all times. You get access to layout options by clicking a small icon beneath a page. Motif provides templates for between one and nine photos on a page. (Mimeo has templates for one to four photos, and then a “5+” category with a few different layout options for many more photos.)

Motif lets you change the dimensions of any photo box.

If I had to sum up the differences between the apps, I’d say that Motif feels more modern and is easier to use, since it puts project photos (rather than page thumbnails) on the main interface and isn’t reliant on a bunch of slide-out drawers to access photos and layout controls. While Motif offers more layout flexibility than Apple’s old tools did, if you want to have ultimate control, Mimeo will give it to you.

You can try them both and see for yourself, if you like. But at this point I’d recommend that most people start with Motif, because of the streamlined interface. (Most people don’t need their book-building tool to be a miniature QuarkXPress.)

Getting the books

Now we come to the other part of the equation: Actually printing the books! I built annual retrospective books for 2016 and 2017 with Motif and Mimeo, respectively, and then ordered them so I could see how good the final product was.

Both companies had exactly the same prices for the product I bought, a hardcover 11 x 8.5-inch book: $30 for the first 20 base pages, and $1 for each additional page. (These prices seem at least competitive with web-based services; when I checked Shutterfly, it was selling this same format for $28 for the first 20 pages, and $1.11 for each additional page.)

The quality of both books was quite similar. I slightly preferred the spine on the Motif book, which felt a little more flexible, so it was easier to open to a spread and not have to press down hard to get the pages to lay flat. I was also disappointed with the paper cover of the Mimeo book, which I ordered with a black background. All around the edges, presumably where the paper had been trimmed, and at all folds of the paper cover, there’s a visible white cracking pattern. Ugly.

Both companies provided a paper dust jacket for my hardcover books, which I was able to design within Photos. Mimeo let me add a photo to the inside of the dust jacket, which was a fun touch that Motif didn’t bother with. (If you take the dust jacket off, you’ll find the same images on the actual hardcovers of both books.)

What about calendars?

My family still makes a custom calendar every year based on photos we took during each month of the previous year. (So my January 2019 calendar image is from January 2018, and so on.) The good news is that this tradition will be able to live on beyond the death of Apple’s own built-in calendar tools. Both Mimeo Photos and Motif also offer calendar-creation features that use layout tools adapted from the same ones they use for building books.

Mimeo lets you put custom text and images on individual days (but not in the previous or following month, which is disappointing).

Mimeo Photos has the edge over Motif on the calendar front. It’s got more available template themes and offers the capability to customize individual dates portion on the calendar, with text or photos, which is fun. (Unfortunately, it won’t let you drop photos on the overflow dates from the previous or following months, which was always something I did with Apple’s old calendar.)

I haven’t ordered calendars from either company, so I can’t speak to the output quality, but my guess is that it will be similar, just as it is with books. And both companies are selling 12-month calendars for the same price, $20.

So while I prefer Motif for book building, I prefer Mimeo for calendars. But I think you can’t go wrong with either option. If you use Photos and are despairing over the moment you’ll need to build a book or calendar without Apple’s tools, don’t worry: Both of these apps will do a good job.

[Take Control of Photos features a whole lot more about how to use the Photos app on macOS and iOS.]

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