If you’ve ever purchased Apple-branded print products through the Photos app on the Mac, you may have been disappointed to find that the feature disappeared in the macOS Mojave update.

But there’s some good news you may have missed. Back in July of last year, it was announced that RR Donnelley – the same company used to produce Apple-branded print products – was launching its own Photos plugin, under the Motif branding.

That plugin is now available, and I took it for a test-drive with photos I took on a holiday in Cuba …

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RR Donnelley has some impressive creds. It’s the largest commercial printer in the world, and the company Apple trusted for its own branded print products from 2005. In that time, RRD printed more than 75 million photo products for Apple. It also offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee, refunding or reprinting if you’re not completely happy with the result.

Although you now need to install a third-party plugin, the experience you get is almost identical to the old one. You can still create all your print products directly through Apple’s own Photos app on the Mac, and it still uses the smarts built into that app for the image analysis used to help create the finished result.

Here’s what the company has to say about it:

This new approach expands on the services previously offered by Apple. Motif, an application from the company that provided Apple’s branded printing service within Photos, is leading this change. It is the only native extension for Photos in macOS Mojave for photo books, calendars and cards. It allows users to curate and order the same high quality and customised products that Apple has traditionally offered, with access to all the features of Apple’s Photos software.

To see how well it works, and to assess the quality of the products, I created a 13×10-inch hardcover photobook.

Background

I should say that I’ve created a lot of photobooks in my time. For some years, I had a sideline wedding photography business, and I used professional print services for the albums.

The quality of the software provided by wedding album vendors varies, but it was always a labor-intensive process. A typical album would take more than a day to create.

So I was somewhat skeptical about the idea that a photobook plugin could automatically create a pleasing layout in minutes. But we’ll see …

How to use it

First, you need to install the Motif app – this is a free download from the Mac App Store.

Once you have, click the Get Started button top-right. That will launch the plugin and open the Photos app. After that, you can safely close Motif.

Choose or create a Photos album, then right-click it. Select Create then Book, Calendar or Card. In this case, I want a photobook, so I’ve selected Book. Finally, select Motif.

You’ll then be asked to choose your format. I wanted a 13×10-inch book which, because I live in the UK, was shown as metric sizes.

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Photos then checks that all the photos have sufficient resolution, and also looks for duplicates. Be careful over this: I had four separate photos of us sat in the driver’s seat of the same car, all taken from the same angle, and it decided these were duplicates. If this happens, you can manually click to move the photo count back up to the maximum.

You’re then asked to choose the theme (ie. look) of the book. You can click on each, and it will show you three sample spreads, using your own photos. Shown below is Portfolio – Black, but I opted instead for white.

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If you want the maximum number of photos in the fewest pages, choose Image Conscious:

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Once you’ve done this, and assuming you have autoflow on (the default), then this is when the magic happens! Literally within a minute or so, you have a book. You can page through it to preview.

The results

Motif uses a mix of Photos smarts and its own algorithms to determine the flow and layout, and I was frankly blown away by how good it was.

Here are the first few spreads to give you a taste:

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Was every page exactly the way I would have designed it myself? Obviously not. But if I’d asked someone to do it for me, would I have been happy with the results? Yes, absolutely.

You can edit the book if desired. The process for doing this isn’t entirely obvious, but it is really easy once you realise how it works.

For example, to remove a photo from a layout, click on it then click the trashcan. That removes it from the page. From the drop down menu bottom-right, select Unplaced Photos and you’ll be able to see the ones not yet used (or used and then removed, in this case).

Drag the replacement photo onto the page, and at this point it will be the wrong size or shape. But don’t worry about that: just click the layout icon (next to the Aa one) and choose the layout you want. It will then automatically size and position the photo to suit.

But to give you an idea how good it is, I didn’t choose to change a single spread. The only thing I did change was the cover image. So literally within minutes, I had a complete book design.

Once you’re happy with everything, click the Checkout button top-right to see the cost and make your purchase. For me, the book took around a week to arrive.

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Quality

The book itself is excellent quality – better than other consumer books I’ve seen, and in terms of paper quality and reproduction, as good as many pro ones too. The main thing that marks it out as a consumer product is the lack of lay-flat pages – but that’s a feature which generally costs serious money.

Book page

It’s obviously very difficult to show the quality of a printed item through photos, but you get solid hardback covers with a decent thickness dust sheet.

Dust sheet

The binding is solid, and I have no doubt that the book will last forever.

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Pricing, conclusions and discount

US pricing ranges from $0.99 for a 6×4 card to $49.99 for a 13×10-inch hardcover book with 20 pages.

There’s a per-page cost for additional pages, so the final total varies, but as an example, my 50-page book came out at £65 in the UK, equivalent to $82. That’s in line with other consumer photobook costs.

To me, it’s a winning package. You genuinely can create a photobook in just minutes, and the result is a really decent-quality product.

9to5Mac readers get a 30% discount on all Motif products: just use one of the following coupon codes at the checkout. US: 9to5MacUS30. UK: 9to5Mac30.

There are other options out there for photobooks, and check out Michael Steeber’s final photobook with the Apple branding.


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