Scrapbook Max! review

Friday, April 25, 2008

As a user of Photoshop CS3 and Elements 6 I usually create my digital layouts using these programs. However, I appreciate that not everyone has the time or patience required to master these programs (which are generally about as unintuitive as you can get). I know a few of my friends have commented on this and are looking for something simpler, hence today I'm going to review Scrapbook Max!

This software is often advertised on the back of Simple Scrapbooks magazine (May/June 2008) for example, and is pitched as being fun, easy digital scrapbooking software using a point, click, scrap process.

Installation on my Vista laptop was a breeze. You are presented with 4 options, install program, install content, video tutorial, user guide. Simply selecting install program then offered to install content once it was complete, a complete no-brainer for the un-technical. At this point I also chose to watch the short video tutorial. I also opened the 125 page user guide (in PDF format) but didn't read it.

What's Cool:

#1. Quick, Easy to Use
They've really developed an incredibly easy to use interface. They've got it down to just adding photos, captions, text, digital embellishments (including paper), and paper scraps as far as building a page goes. You can also add/remove pages from your scrapbook project and save/print/export etc. I was able to create a page from scratch in just a few minutes with background paper, photos and digital elements and easily export it to a .jpg file to print. I did not need to refer to a manual, online help or any other tutorial to get this far (other than the tutorial I watch at installation). I have to give Scrapbook Max! full marks for an easy to use program (this is definitely easier than other similar programs I've seen such as Heritage Makers or Photoshop Elements).

#2. Flexible Page Sizes and High Quality Exports
The default page size in SM is an 8x8 page at 200dpi, but using the page settings you can change this to whatever size and dpi you want using the Page, Page Settings, Size command, either custom or a preset size (let’s say the industry standard of 3600x3600 for a 300dpi 12inch square page). Exporting to jpg at the highest setting will then give you a 3600x3600 file that you can send out for printing at your local developer. The only snag is that this doesn't become the default for the program, just for the scrapbook that you are in.

#3. Decent Amount of Content Included
Scrapbook Max! comes with 30 scrapbook templates, each with 5 single page layouts. All content on the page can be moved/deleted/edited. You also have access to the same content when you start a page from scratch. The background papers were hiding in the Page, Page Settings, Background function (approximately 57 decent scrapbooking ones – I am choosing to ignore the 100 patterns which are way to funky to be used, and have only counted the chalk alphabet papers once even though there is 26 of them), the rest of the content is in the Add Embellishment Gallery. All in all, you get quite a lot of content included in the package for $40. Having said all that, I will admit that most of the included content is not my style. Each persons taste in scrapbooking papers and elements varies and mine is the distressed/boho look. I know many scrapbookers that would like the included content. I don't see this as a big deal because of #4 below.

#4. Compatible With Your Existing Content and Easily Expandable
Scrapbook Max! allows you to use digital scrapbook elements and papers that you may already have (.jpg or .png) or you can purchase additional kits from their store. In addition, you can use any fonts you have on your computer when you create text objects.

#5. Fully Drag and Drop Compatible
While the menu does have buttons to add different types of content, you can actually speed up the process quite a bit by simply opening a Windows Explorer window and browsing to your content. When you see a paper, element or photo you like, simply drag it right onto your layout. Scrapbook Max! asks you what type of file it is (photo, embellishment, background etc) and then adds it right into your layout. Scrapbooking doesn't get easier than this!

What Could Be Better:
Disclaimer: You have to remember that in my real job (before babies) I was a Project Manager responsible for software development and web site creation projects, and that part of that job was to convert user requirements into specifications for how the software should work and often I performed a testing function. I am known to be quite picky when it comes to how I think things should work, but I do think that I am very good at standing in the shoes of a typical user unlike most software developers (ouch!). Ok, now for my disappointments in no particular order.

#1. Paper scraps is pointless? I'm not sure what to make of this feature. Initially, it looks like you can select a background paper from the selections, and many of the papers are similar to today’s textured cardstock (Bazzill) and come in great colors. When you select your paper the preview window shows it covering the whole page, but when you insert the paper scrap it is only 6x6 and not 12x12. When you stretch it cover the entire page, the texture does not look at all realistic and sometimes the small image tiles across the page and looks very odd on screen. I have not printed a full page layout yet to see if this weirdness transfers to the print. If the point of this feature isn't to create a full page of background paper, then I haven't figured what the point is.

(On further correspondence with Indigo Rose, the publisher of Scrapbook Max!, I am informated that paper scraps are just for creating mats or shaped pieces of paper using the shapes function.)

#2. No two page layouts or side by side view. While you can have multiple pages in a scrapbook project, even using the same template, there is no way to put two pages together to create a 2 page layout. You can’t put them on the screen at the same time and align elements/images across the 2 pages, or even check for balance between the two. It should be noted that you can still do a 2 page layout in SM but you will need to resize your page to 24x12 and have to go the one extra step of cropping the layout into two 12x12 pages after you export it into another application. I will also add, that a competitive program that I have dabbled with, also does not create a 2 page layout and does not even have the workaround of a 24x12 page offered by Scrapbook Max!

#3. No page previews in scrapbook gallery area. When you initially create your page you can browse through the scrapbook templates but you can only see the first page of each template in the preview. There appears to be no way to expand the template to see the pages inside. Basically this means you can see the "theme" of the template but you can't see the individual pages. This means that you could easily miss a template page that you like or start using a template when you don't like the remaining pages. I will note that you can see all the pages on their web site if you are online or if you use the Add Page command inside of an opened scrapbook.

#4. Crop is out of context. Rather than having a selection tool and then selecting crop (which is pretty much industry standard), you enter the effects mode and select crop. However, when presented with the select tool that allows you to select the part you wish to crop, you are unable to see the rest of the pages elements so you are cropping out of context. For example, if you are cropping a paper mat behind a photo, you can't see the photo so can't tell if you are cropping the correct size. Of course you can still resize your mat (rather than cropping it), but you just have to check that any pattern doesn't get distored or shrink to small when you do this.

#5. No real time previews in Effects. You can apply various creative effects to each element on the page. However when selecting Effects there are no real time previews. There is a preview window but you must make your adjustment using a slider then click Apply each time to see the result. I tried recoloring an element using the Adjust Color function. While I could select the Hue (and please note the Hue does not have a rainbow bar above it to show you where the hues are on the slider) I had to select Apply at each point along the slider bar. Basically you are left completely blind trying to recolor an object, compare this to Photoshop Elements where you can see both a rainbow bar and a live preview as you adjust the slider.

(Since discussing this with Indigo Rose, this feature has been added to a suggestion list for enhancements to the program).

#6. No .abr brush support. This is hardly a suprise, I haven't run across brushes in any competitive product (yet) but it would be a great feature if you could use .abr brushes. However, most purchased brushes usually come with a .png version which you can use in Scrapbook Max! Alternatively if you or a friend have access to Photoshop or Photoshop elements you can stamp a brush and then save it to a .png file for use in Scrapbook Max!

All in all, Scrapbook Max! is a great program for those not wishing to invest the time in learning Photoshop Elements or full Photoshop. You can create pretty good layouts, quickly and easily. You have endless amounts of content because the system is not proprietary in nature. You can print, export to jpg, send by email, burn to cd, create pdfs, create web pages with your completed pages.

Rating: Highly recommended.

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