REVIEW : Fundy Designer - Professional Albums and Wall Art

I believe that a photograph that is not printed is incomplete.  An image that is not printed is sentenced to death on a hard drive somewhere, or buried in an endless stream of snapshots on a tiny phone screen.  Given the alternatives, death is bad.  In many cases, a single print, however wonderful, does not tell a complete story.  This is where a proper album comes into play, and to solve that problem, we have Fundy Designer.

Introduction

I am well aware of book making tools, and even the ability to send straight from Lightroom to Blurb.  These are good, but for custom layouts and themes, there is a fair bit of manual work to be done.  For some, this construction is part of the experience and is well loved.  For others, particularly professionals who need to make every minute count so they can invest time in growing their business, album construction requiring a lot of manual effort is time lost forever.

The whole idea behind Fundy Designer is that it accelerates and simplifies the creation of albums and books.  You do not need to be a layout artist, you simply need the ability to choose from a wide selection of templates and layouts and pick that which suits your subject.  What deserves an album?  Whatever you want, but here are some ready examples; a wedding, an engagement, an anniversary, a family meet up, a graduation, a vacation, a new birth.  The list goes on and on.

Some people say that younger folks don't care about prints and albums, that they live for the second and if its not on the Internet, it's a waste.  Perhaps, but my real world experience is different.  Put an album into someone's hands and they will actually look at the images, not just flip the pages, like some endless gallery on a tablet.  They spend time on the images, exploring and discovering.  Much the same as any other person would.

In fact, given how mobile we are today, and how small the world has become, the need for print and albums is actually greater than ever.  Enough proselytizing, let's look at why Fundy Designer may be perfect for you as a creative.

Fundy Designer is the brainchild of Andrew Funderburg.  It is software that runs on Windows and Mac OS.  Licensing is simple.  You download a trial from fundydesigner.com and install it.  There are numerous online tutorials to make it very easy to get started and the more you dig, the more power that you discover.  When you are ready to buy, you purchase a license at the level that fits your needs, Suite Lite, Suite Pro or Studio Suite Pro.  My review and evaluation is based on a licensed version of Fundy Designer Suite Pro.

The software is extremely well designed to help you to focus on the build and not on the technical.  You can start your design in one of four modules.  They are Album, Gallery, Collage, and Image Brander.  To make photos available for your project, you drag and drop them to the images bar from your computer.  This could not be much simpler.  

Album Setup

Let's go through the process to make an album.  First you decide how you want the album made, through Fundy Direct, managed entirely by Fundy for you, via preparation of files for partner labs, or through a completely custom design.  

 In this example, I will use Fundy Direct

In this example, I will use Fundy Direct

Once you choose a method, you can choose the partner or in this case a company that Fundy will deal with

 In this example, I will be creating a book with Miller's Professional Imaging

In this example, I will be creating a book with Miller's Professional Imaging

Next we select the type of album or book that we want to produce.  Direct partners have provided a listing.  In other modes, this step is more about your design.

 In my example, I am making a book, so chose the Signature Book option.  Note that a partner may have many more options than appear in Fundy Direct.  If you want a different option, you would choose Design & Export on the first screen

In my example, I am making a book, so chose the Signature Book option.  Note that a partner may have many more options than appear in Fundy Direct.  If you want a different option, you would choose Design & Export on the first screen

In the next step, you choose the album or book size.  There are tons of variants of course and these are dependent upon what the printing lab offers up.

 Here I am choosing the 12x8 format to prevent cropping in on full 3:2 ratio images.  These are page sizes, not layouts and there are many more layouts than there are page sizes.

Here I am choosing the 12x8 format to prevent cropping in on full 3:2 ratio images.  These are page sizes, not layouts and there are many more layouts than there are page sizes.

 Since I am using Fundy Direct, I pick a cover style.  The panel on the left shows the available options, but you do not select the option here.  That can be a bit confusing.  In this example, there is only one cover type to pick.

Since I am using Fundy Direct, I pick a cover style.  The panel on the left shows the available options, but you do not select the option here.  That can be a bit confusing.  In this example, there is only one cover type to pick.

 This is the final step before you start making your album or book.  Fortunately, you can go back and make changes later on, although this ability is not particularly intuitive.

This is the final step before you start making your album or book.  Fortunately, you can go back and make changes later on, although this ability is not particularly intuitive.

The first time you make these choices, it's not quick, because there are many options, and not sufficient context sensitive help to move you along.  For this reason, I strongly recommend watching the online tutorials at the Fundy site before you do each step.  Once you have done this a few times, the album basic creation goes very quickly.

At this point, you fill the image well with all the potential images that you will use to make your album or book.  This is really a drag and drop exercise.  For first time users, I suggest having all your potential images collected and completely edited in a  single folder to make dragging them to the image well a simple process.

Fundy Designer can interact with Lightroom to send images to it for editing and it also includes built-in a version of Athentech's excellent Perfectly Clear editor.  I recommend that you do all your edits in advance of creating an album as the workflow, while not complex does have a specific path and you can lose yourself hopping in and out of the program to do edits.

 Screenshot of my book layout

Screenshot of my book layout

Making a Book

In my example, I am making a book called A Day At The Rodeo.  Along the bottom of the screen shot you can see the image well and in each image appears a number in the upper left corner that tells you how many times that image has been used in the design.  Fundy Designer also provides you the ability to rank and filter the images in the image well.  I did not need to do this, since I had completed the editing and filtering prior to loading the images.

Placing an image is as simple as drag and drop.  Fundy Designer will by default place the image into a layout, but many layouts are available for consideration.  I chose no borders for mine, you have multiple options to choose from.

 Just one screen of the myriad layouts programmed into Fundy Designer

Just one screen of the myriad layouts programmed into Fundy Designer

Fundy Designer uses a cell model for layouts, so the default is to drop the image into the cell, but you can manipulate the image position in the cell by clicking and dragging.  You can also move an image from one cell to another by dragging and dropping.  

I made the mistake of trying to make my layout a bit too procedural which created some frustration.  When I reverted to just dragging and dropping stuff, it worked much faster and was more fun.

You can always choose the Auto Designer as a way to get started quickly.  It did not work for me very well because I wanted to structure my book based on themes within the greater context and it was faster to just drag and drop the images in the order that I wanted them.

Once my book was complete, I clicked on the Cart icon to submit my order.  At this point, providing that you are using Fundy Direct, your images get uploaded to the Fundy servers and the files get prepped for the Fundy Direct lab that you have chosen.  This is not a time to skimp on image size or quality, these should be high quality, full size JPEGs.  I would caution the user to be sure of the layout of the album or book because this upload is not a particularly speed process, particularly if you have lots of pages.

Most albums come from the manufacturer with a fixed number of pages, and in most cases, if the album can be expanded, extra pages can be added at a minor cost.  Unfortunately, you don't know the limitations until you upload without having studied the offerings of the album provider before submitting.  I completely understand that it would be impossible for Fundy Designer to stay up to date on every printer and all their options.

Once the upload is done, you confirm the order and are directed to Fundy's cart system.  You will now go through a sequence of steps to complete your order.  Note that these are different for each Fundy Direct partner.  If you are working with a Fundy partner directly, you will use the partner's upload and select system.  There are far too many for a comprehensive review.

 Select the cover material and colour

Select the cover material and colour

 Select the deboss font

Select the deboss font

 Create the imprint titles

Create the imprint titles

 Select the paper surface

Select the paper surface

I got through the entire process, but when it came to the shipping and billing I discovered to my disappointment, that Fundy Direct is for US residents only.  I contacted Fundy and they confirmed this.  I encourage the update of the software to warn customers of this limitation on the very first page.

So then I started looking for Fundy ready partners.  The original link on the website was broken, but a quick email got me the proper link and there are lots to choose from.  You had better know the names of your local labs, otherwise you will be surfing the internet for a very long time.  I strongly recommend that Fundy sort their partner labs by country.  The page that I was directed to did not do that and it was enormously tiresome to find a lab in Canada.

As I had already created my book for Miller's, I looked into design and export for Miller's.  I have used the lab before and know that they ship to Canada, albeit at a postage premium.  My book did not look quite the same, and much of the "making" automation was gone.  I then looked to a local Canadian lab and discovered that their software was quite "challenging", and that the options in Fundy Designer for that lab were limited to the lab's most expensive album model.  

To my chagrin, I found that it would take me just as long to export and fix my very nice Fundy Designer book as to use the lab's own online submission form to get the album look and price point that I wanted.  At that point, I bailed on the project.

Conclusions

Fundy Designer is extremely comprehensive with a great many options.  The Fundy Direct model is easily the fastest and easiest mode that I have seen and with a bit of practice, the tool is incredibly easy to use.  Fundy Designer is perfect for the studio or photographer who does a lot of albums because it is very quick, and you can standardize your offerings very quickly.  There is also the opportunity to allow clients to order online via Fundy through your own services at prices that you set.  This on it's own could save a studio hundreds and potentially thousands of dollars in human time.  

Fundy also delivers regular use tips via email, all built with optimization, efficiency and client joy in mind.  I have not seen another offering so comprehensive, easy to use and less spammy.

 Fundy Pricing as at April 2017

Fundy Pricing as at April 2017

Compared to alternative album builders, Fundy Designer is very cost effective, with three versions so you can decide how many seats, and which features are most important to you.

The downside to me is that Fundy Direct is US only.  If you live in the US, that's not an issue, but if you are outside, some of the speed and simplicity vanishes and you must then learn the process to upload to your preferred lab.  If there are no templates for your lab in Fundy Designer, you can create basic pages, save them as PDFs, and upload through your lab system.  Whether you are saving time at this point is going to be specific to your own organization.

I think that Fundy can improve their product by clearer messaging about the workflows up front, and, by implementing a context sensitive help system that does not require an internet connection.  I liked the software a great deal, and were I still in the position where I was doing three to four albums a month, this would be a huge advantage to me.  I think that is a fair assessment.  The product's value to you increases as your album output increases.  If you are only doing a couple of albums a year, you need to do the math for your own return on value equation.  If you are doing lots, the math gets very easy.

Please note that what you are getting here is not like an album that you are going to get out of a Walmart or drug store service.  You will have far more choices in layout control, positioning, covers etc.  By working with professional grade labs, you will also get better printing, better papers and a more robust product and by so delivering, enhance your reputation.

Give the software a try at Fundy Designer where a free trial awaits, and be sure to watch their tutorial videos.  This is a very powerful tool and you may not get the widest sense of it by just poking around.  

It's hard to give a general rating to a product with such a focused use case.  To do so, I will take the position that Fundy Designer fits a use case that I have, and in such a case, I rate it highly.