Websites and people in “the biz” like to throw around terms like “layflat album” without really exploring what that means. What are “layflat” pages? Should you pay extra for them? When?
“Book-style” or “Magazine-style” pages are just that – they are bound like books and have a “gutter”. If you leave them open on a table, you will see the pages curve up and then down into the spine in the middle. The inside edges of your pages are “swallowed” in the gutter, so you need to keep that in mind when editing. Each page is an individual entity. This style is common in lower-level DIY photobook companies, like Shutterfly or Snapfish.
“Layflat” pages do not have such a gutter (or it is extremely narrow). With the printing company I currently use, each two-page spread is actually printed on a single piece of photographic paper. In a 12×12″ album, that’s a 24×12″ photograph! This allows for much more creative flexibility when doing layouts. You can have extremely striking photos spread across the middle, giving them as much room as they need. There is still a slight crease in the gutter, so you’ll want to avoid placing people’s faces across the exact middle. This style is sometimes offered as an upgrade by the lower-level companies, and is standard for others.
Layflat pages are usually thicker than usual as well, which lends a premium feel. They are thus less prone to bending and creasing. In fact, my one-year-old has been using and abusing her layflat alphabet book for five months, and it still looks brand new! Flush-mount albums, a higher-end variant, have pages mounted on stiff backing so they do not bend at all.
Different companies use different materials and binding techniques, so you may want to experiment before committing to a large album. You can also consult PhotoBookGirl’s website to see examples from various vendors.
Like so many other things, the binding you choose is a personal choice. I am a relatively recent convert to layflat. Having had the freedom to design across the entire spread, I now find it fairly limiting to constantly split my designs in half, and make sure nothing important is near the middle. However, there is a financial trade-off. Layflat albums are almost invariably more expensive, from a little to a lot.
If cost is a driving factor, you may need to save layflat albums for the “big events” – weddings, baby books, etc. But if you have the room in your budget at all, I would choose them whenever possible. They make a huge difference!
Here are some more examples of layouts that would have been impossible without layflat: