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Review: Unibind PhotoBook Creator

By Bob Coates, PPA Certified, M.Photog.Cr.

I was a little skeptical when I first heard about Unibind's PhotoBook Creator, in part, because of a press-release claim that it only takes three seconds to create the book. (Unibind information no longer makes this claim.) I tested one myself and spoke with other photographers about how they use it. It takes more like a minute and a half for the Unibind heater process to finish and then another minute until it cools. Nevertheless, you can still create a nice finished product in a short period of time.

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Photo © Bob Coates

PhotoBook Creator is easy to use. Place your photos or documents into the PhotoBook hardcover album or clear plastic binder and place it in the binding system with spine down. A red indicator light comes on. Once the light turns green, let it cool and your book is bound. The heat-set glue used to bind the pages is strong and holds the pages in the cover very successfully. I started yanking on the pages even before it had much time to cool and the pages held. If you do wish to remove a page it can be done by reheating the binder and sliding the page out immediately before it has any time to cool.

Here’s the real question. How can you use this machine to make money? Kash Johnson of Classical Photography in Carrollton, Ga., says, “We use it for our proofing books … Yes, we still create proofs, but for our volume, it works best for us and gets us out of here at 6 p.m. every night. We order our books from Unibind with our logo imprinted. The books we use are steel bound, in a leatherette style. We bind four-up proof pages and our pricing booklet together. It makes a nice presentation going out the door.”

When Kash purchased the system, he asked if the books are re-useable. The salesperson said, “No, they can only be used once. You can reheat them and add a page or remove a page, but you can't pull all of the pages out and add another page. Kash found a way to work around that. He searched the Internet and found a company in Canada that sells glue pages by the sheet that are compatible with the Unibind system. Now they reuse the covers until they show wear, saving an enormous amount of money.

“We like the system. It's been a nice fit for us,” says Kash. The source for Adhesive Sheets is MC2Binding. The most accurate way to cut the glue sheets is with a rotary trimmer. You can get 64 1/4-inch strips out of an 11x16-inch sheet that sells for $19.95. Figure about 35 cents each to reuse the book covers.

Cliff Carroll, of Carroll Studios of Photography in Milwaukee, uses PhotoBook Creator to make Image Magazines, Art Books and their trademarked ShowCase Model books. Carroll’s Image Magazines show all the images from a senior sitting on photographic paper with six images on a sheet, bound in a clear plastic cover. To create an Art Book he binds 12 or more black-and-white inkjet prints with translucent vellum sheets between pages. Carroll’s ShowCase Model Books are hard cover books with multiple images on photographic paper mounted back to back with a sheet of 65# cover paper between. The cover paper sticks out about 1/2 inch on the spine side to serve as a hinge and binding edge.

PhotoBook albums, which hold up to 220 pages, are available in a variety of colors and finishes, including linen, faux suede and true leather albums. You choose the size of the spine to allow for the number of pages you need. Albums are available with four window options (to view the first photo underneath) or without windows, and can be customized with foil stamping or ordered custom printed from a web press.

Priced at $99.99, PhotoBook Creator includes the binding machine, two hardcover PhotoBooks, and Arcsoft Collage Creator software to layout pages (Windows only). Most of us will probably use Adobe Photoshop for our designs. Additional covers are available through Unibind.com, with spine sizes of 1/16 to 1 1/2 inches for presentation of your photo albums, contact sheets, portfolios, art books or whatever purpose you devise. Cover sizes from 4x6 to 12x12 inches are available with prices under $2 for frosted or clear acetate to $19.95 for the leather SteelBook cover. You can estimate the cost to create a PhotoBook by adding in the cost of your prints. If you want to produce a lot of volume with this system, other Unibind machines are available with multiple slots for binding more than one book at a time.

You can purchase the Unibind PhotoBook Creator from Lexjet.