All posts in: Product Reviews
shopify versus photostore from ktools.net
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedIn

I’ve been experimenting recently with different ways of licensing my templates and illustrations, and after weeks of searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are only two products that photographers and illustrators should consider: Photostore from Ktools.net, and Shopify. Both platforms are pre-built and ready to run right out of the box, which is perfect for busy people like me who would prefer to spend their time creating content rather than tinkering with code. Both feature powerful selling tools which makes it easy to organize products in any way imaginable. But the important question is this: which one of these two is best for selling stock photos and illustrations? I’m actively using both platforms at the moment (I’ve even compared Photostore to other products in the past), and I’d like to share my thoughts on the matter.

Setup

Winner: Tie
I can sense you all rolling your eyes at me now – you’re probably reading this article in hopes of finding out which product is the clear winner, but I honestly believe that the amount of effort it takes to get both Shopify and Photostore up and running is about the same. The difference is the process.

With Shopify, you don’t need to know a single thing about how to set up a website. They host your store for you, so you don’t have to purchase hosting space, you don’t have to mess around with FTP clients, and you don’t have to don’t have to pray that your web host is configured properly to run your store. You just fill out some forms, upload your products, and you’re in business. But it’s not that easy: it took me an entire afternoon from the time I created an account to the time my store was online with a handful of products. There are a lot of steps to get a Shopify store up and running.

The Photostore setup process is a little different. You do have to sign up with a web host such as Hostgator or Bluehost (or whoever you want to use). And you have to upload the store files to your server yourself via FTP. But the online documentation is simple and easy to follow – it’s not that hard to do if you follow their directions step by step. And even if this self-setup process sounds scary, you can feel good knowing that Ktools will install Photostore for you free of charge. How easy is that?

Uploading photos / illustrations

Winner: Photostore
By default, Shopify is not set up to sell digital products. Every item you upload is referred to as a “product”, and you have to process each one (adding price, keywords, etc) manually. You’ll need to install a free app called Digital Downloads in order to sell photos and illustrations, but the setup is simple. Once it’s installed, you just attach a digital download to your product and Shopify takes care of the rest. This is fine if you only have a handful of products to sell, but this manual processing would be far too time-consuming if you have 1000’s of images to upload. This is precisely the reason why I only sell templates on my Shopify store.

On the other hand, Photostore was designed from the ground up to handle large image collections. You can batch upload through the admin area or via FTP, and the software will process the images and create all the sizes you need automatically. Just assign licenses and pricing to the batch, and let Photostore do the rest. Easy.

Batch editing

Winner: Photostore
The biggest downside to Shopify that I have seen so far is that there are very few batch editing tools that will allow global changes to similar products. That’s a big problem for me, especially since I’m always tweaking my licensing and pricing model to adapt to market needs. So what happens if I want to change the price of every image in my Shopify store? I’ll need to do it manually, one by one. Ouch.

Shopify admin section showing product listing

This is the listing of my products from within the admin section of the Shopify store – it’s a bit difficult to see what’s there just by a quick glance, and there are no options for batch editing

With Photostore, global pricing updates are simple. In the admin area, simply go to Library > Digital Profiles to change the price of each size of image being offered. Since I only have four digital profiles in my store (Royalty Free, Extended, Editorial, and Rights Transfer), the time it takes to change prices site-wide is just a matter of a few clicks.

Ktools.net photostore media gallery screenshot

This is the admin section of my PhotoStore site. Big thumbnails make browsing easy, and as you can see, there are quite a few batch editing tools in the top nav

Visual design (look and feel)

Winner: Shopify
Now here’s where Shopify really shines. I love good visual design, and it’s painfully clear that Shopify has a top-notch design team who cares. The entire user experience (front end and back end) is slick and refined, and there isn’t a pixel out of place – anywhere. This attention to detail spans across the wide variety of themes they offer, and I didn’t have to change one line of code to make my store look the way I wanted it to. It was beautiful and slick right out of the box.

Screenshot of my Shopify store

I like the look of my Shopify store quite a bit – and it required absolutely no tinkering on my part to get it looking good

Photostore, on the other hand, was built by extremely talented developers who know how to write flawless code – but don’t have the eye for design that the Shopify team has. Photostore themes just don’t have that same level of polish, thus requiring me to tinker with code to get things looking the way I want. The trouble with that is I don’t really enjoy dealing with coding issues, and I’m not talented enough to modify the themes enough to get them looking really good. I’ve had to settle for a style that’s “good enough for now” which kind of bugs me.

My ktools.net photostore homepage

I’m not quite as satisfied with my PhotoStore homepage. Things don’t fit to the grid very well, and it’s a bit too cluttered for my tastes.

Support

Winner: Tie
The technical support experiences for Shopify and Photostore are both quite good – but different. With Shopify, online support is available 24/7 via chat. Most of the time they’ve been able to help me resolve issues, but other times I feel like the people I’m chatting with don’t have enough knowledge of the system to help me do what I want to do. Being available around the clock is nice, but resolution is hit or miss.

Photostore support is a bit slower, but top notch. Responses to tickets usually take about 24 hours, but these guys know their code and they’ve always been able to resolve issues quickly without a lot of back and forth. I never stress whenever I run into an issue (which I should say is rare) because I know Jon and the team can fix anything.

Running my business

Winner: Photostore
There’s something to be said about the “ownership” of each platform. My Photostore site is mine. I own every aspect of it, and I can do whatever I want to it. I can host it wherever I want, and I can change the code to my heart’s content. Best of all, I’m not locked into Shopify’s fee structure and rules. I set my own prices, and I never have to worry about being screwed if Shopify changes the rules or goes out of business. I’ve spent a lot of time uploading and categorizing my images and templates on Shopify, and part of me cringes at the thought of spending so much time on a platform I don’t own.

On the other hand, Shopify does offer a great user experience with super-fast site speed, so I’m willing to suck it up and pay their fees for those kinds of perks. But I’m much more comfortable knowing that I own the Photostore side of my business.

The overall winner

I use both Shopify and Photostore because there are things about each that I really like. But when it comes to selling large collections of photos and illustrations, Photostore can’t be beat. It’s powerful batch upload and edit features are worth more to me than the slick user interface of Shopify, which says a lot considering how nit-picky of a visual designer I am. My urge to make everything I produce look as good as possible can be crippling at times, but I can live with some of the minor visual quirks of Photostore if it allows me to market my illustrations in a fraction of the time it takes in Shopify.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedIn

I wasn’t planning on mentioning my latest shopping cart software, but I couldn’t resist. My workflow has been greatly improved since I upgraded my store to PhotoStore 4 from ktools.net and that (most certainly) is worthy of a few props thrown their way.

Those of you who have been following me for the past few years know that I have been a loyal PhotoStore user since the beginning, despite my brief detour with Photo Video Store from cmsaccount.com a couple years ago. It didn’t take me long to realize that I made a mistake by switching, and the rock-solid shopping cart scripts written by Jeff and Jon over at ktools.net lured me back – with my tail between my legs.

Since then I’ve been chugging along with version 3 of PhotoStore, until about two months ago when I upgraded to version 4. Holy moly! Talk about a night and day difference. Not only is the front-end modern and clean, the back-end content management system is very powerful and dynamic – there are so many more features available over the previous version that make it worth every penny of the cost. But by far and large the best feature: service. Every new purchase comes with 1 year free support and free installation, and support tickets are answered very quickly. I had a few problems installing v4 when I got it (they were server issues), and Jeff solved the problem for me real quick.

If my gushing isn’t enough to convince you, let me just say this: If you’re a stock photographer or illustrator like me, do yourself a favor and break away from the major online agencies with a pre-made store script such as this. Take control of your work – sell it on your own terms and at your own prices. No, it’s not easy – but great tools like PhotoStore 4 make it a lot less painful than you think it would be.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedIn

Not to date myself too horribly, but the internet was just starting to become mainstream when I graduated from college in the spring of 1996. Back then, our design portfolios were made of paper – not pixels. Email wasn’t all that common yet. And *gasp* – we had to lay type by hand with those stupid rub-down transfer sheets that were way too expensive for any starving design student to reasonably afford. So yeah – I’ve seen computers and the internet rise from nothing and grow into powerful tools that we depend on daily in our professional lives.

When Adobe announced their Creative Cloud Service earlier this year, the stubborn old man in me immediately snubbed it as something that would never work – I mean, why in the world would anyone want to be locked into an endless subscription package to use their software? The idea of “renting” my beloved Adobe applications did not sit with me well at first.

But then I did the math. I have typically been on a three-year upgrade cycle with Adobe. I am a heavy user of Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Fireworks – so that means that the best value for me (in the past) was to purchase their Web Premium Creative Suite. Whenever I bought a Creative Suite, I held it for three years before I finally upgraded to the latest version. These Creative Suites run on the average of $1700. So…I noticed that Adobe is selling their Creative Cloud subscription service for $50/mo (it’s actually $30/mo for existing CS users – limited time only), and for someone like me who is on a three-year upgrade cycle, the total cost comes to $1800. That’s not too shabby, considering that with the Creative Cloud, you get:

  • Access to ALL the Adobe software titles (not just a handful of titles like what are offered in the Creative Suites)
  • FREE upgrades
  • Online syncing and storage (though I admit that I will probably not use this as much)

$50/mo for all that? Yeah, it was tempting enough to get me to sign up. And you know what? I like it! I’ll write a full review sometime in the coming months after I’ve had time to really get under the hood of it, but here are my some of my preliminary pros and cons of Adobe’s Creative Cloud service:

Pros:

  • You don’t have to worry about using this without an internet connection. The software only checks in with Adobe once every 30 days, and it will warn you if it has been trying to verify your software and cannot – so it’s not like your software will just suddenly stop working if there is no internet connection.
  • The software is installed on your computer just as if you installed it from a DVD. It does NOT reside in the cloud. It is fully functioning software on your computer.
  • Access to every Adobe app kicks butt
  • Free and unlimited updates – you’ll always have access to the latest versions
  • I installed my one license on my Mac and PC without issues – and I can switch easily between both.

Cons:

  • You can only install your software on two computers, and even then you can only use one at a time. For someone like me with three computers, this is a slight inconvenience. It is possible to get around this by deactivating one installation before using on the third, but it’s still inconvenient

Despite the two-computer limit per license, I’m a really happy designer at the moment and I will probably never go back to boxed DVD software again. I’ll write another follow-up review in the coming months, so stay tuned for that…

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedIn

Like many other lifelong artists, my early years were spent sketching and drawing whenever and wherever I could. I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember, and my primary focus was on cars. I was obsessed with cars from a very early age, and by the time I was 7 I knew that I wanted to be a car designer when I grew up. Sketching and drawing cars was my life, and I spent far too much time filling my school notebooks full of car renderings instead of actual schoolwork. Ah, the good ‘ol days.

Thirty years later, I’m still sketching – though not as much as I’d like. Computer graphics (and web design) was becoming the hot thing just as I was graduating from college, so I naturally fell into that and began pushing pixels instead of a pencil. But the itch to sketch and draw has never left me, and lately I’ve been evaluating some of the software options available for digital artists. There is some interesting stuff available these days, and technology has finally reached a point where freehand sketching on the computer is not the clumsy and awkward challenge that it used to be. Pressure sensitive touch screens and drawing tablets are the most important tools for digital sketching, and matching that hardware with good software will give any artist the tools that he or she needs to create stunning work.

Of all the software choices out there today, which is the best? In my opinion, there are only two real choices: Corel Painter and Autodesk SketchBook Pro. Adobe Photoshop can’t even compare to these two programs, as it doesn’t perform well enough to be able to follow fast sketchers – I draw really fast, and there are many times that Photoshop can’t keep up with me and the lines it renders are fragmented and chunky. With that said, these are my opinions of my two favorites: Painter Essentials and SketchBook Pro:

Corel Painter Essentials 4

“Essentials” is basically the “light” version of Painter. You’ll get all the basics of the full package (like a full palette of brushes, layer tools, pressure sensitivity, etc), but without complex tools such as the ability to draw vector shapes and create fully-custom brushes. As far as sketching goes, “Essentials” is all you need – the brushes are very sensitive, and it’s very easy to create lines with varied weight and thickness as you draw (just like you can with a real pencil). Every brush can be modified, allowing the artist to change the size and opacity very easily, and can be saved in a “favorites” panel for easy access. Drawing is very quick and easy, and the software is powerful enough to track your lines no matter how fast you draw – unlike Photoshop, which can’t seem to keep up with fast drawing even on the most powerful computers.

But the truth is that Painter was never intended to be just a sketching program. It was built from the ground up to be the ultimate digital tool for fine artists, and it contains a variety of prebuilt brushes and textures that are frighteningly similar to the kind of effects you could achieve on a real canvas with real paint. Painter is a very appropriate name for this program, because that’s what it does so well. From watercolors to acrylics to oil, Painter simulates any medium flawlessly.

The Pros:

  • Simple interface
  • Lightning-quick performance and brush tracking
  • Accurate brushes that simulate real media flawlessly
  • Ability to freely rotate the canvas/paper as you draw, just as you could with real media

The Cons:

  • Pressure sensitivity isn’t as good as it is in Sketchbook Pro
  • Can’t move the tool palettes around – they are stuck docked to the edges of the screen
  • No vector tools/shapes in the “Essentials” version

 

Autodesk SketchBook Pro 2010

The truth is, I was reluctant to try SketchBook Pro. I have been a very satisfied Corel Painter user for years, and I didn’t really see the need to try something different. But I read a lot of design forums, and I kept hearing more and more about SketchBook Pro so I thought it was worth a look. Long story short, I purchased the full version of the software in less than 24 hours of downloading the trial. This is a seriously good drawing program. Unlike Corel Painter, SketchBook Pro is designed for one thing only: sketching! It is not intended for fine artists, as there not any options available for creating watercolor or oil paint styles. All you get is a palette full of various pencils and pens (all of which you can fully customize) and a very simple and uncluttered interface. The best part about SketchBook Pro? Line quality and pressure sensitivity! Honestly, it’s just like drawing on paper – line weight is so easy to control with this program, and to me, there is absolutely no difference between sketching with SketchBook Pro and a real pencil on paper. It’s stunningly accurate, even more so than Corel Painter (which is saying quite a lot).

The interface is also very clever, and extremely minimal. There is a graphical control panel which can be docked to any corner of the screen, which includes shortcuts to all the main tools such as brush types, colors, layers, etc. This simplicity allows for lightning-quick tool changes, and allows fast sketchers like me to draw virtually uninterrupted – which is so very important when being “in the zone” while designing. Nothing frustrates me more from being distracted by my tools when I’m trying to get a good idea down on paper, and SketchBook Pro does an excellent job of not interfering with my workflow.

Another thing I like about this program is that it contains “guide” tools for drawing straight lines and circles + ovals. For an automotive sketcher like me, that is a huge plus. That reason alone is why I don’t use Corel Painter much anymore.

The Pros:

  • Line quality and the ability to very weight on the fly is butter smooth
  • The guide tools are very useful
  • Minimal interface
  • Ability to freely rotate the canvas as you draw

The Cons:

  • The shortcut menus take some getting used to
  • Not many brush / texture options for fine artists

Conclusion

If you are currently using Adobe Photoshop to draw and sketch, do yourself a favor and pick up one of these two software packages. There are definite benefits to having the correct tool for the job, and Photoshop was never intended to be a sketching and drawing tool. Once you try either of these packages, you’ll quickly understand why.

I prefer Autodesk SketchBook Pro over Corel Painter Essentials. For my style of drawing (cars + mechanical objects), Sketchbook pro offers greater freedom and more powerful drawing tools than Corel Painter. However, fine artists and painters will assuredly have the opposite opinion. Both are very inexpensive and well worth their price, so it may be beneficial to have both in your arsenal. I do.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedIn

Since launching norebbo.com back in the fall of 2007, I’ve experimented with several different formats for the site. I started out with a simple HTML/CSS template, and then I tested the waters with a pre-packaged photo store script several months later. I eventually got fed up with that after about a year, and decided to try a blog. Not happy with the results of that experiment, I went back to a store format and tried two different pre-packaged scripts: PhotoStore from ktools.net, and Photo Video Store from cmsaccount.com. Which one is better? Having spent a lot of time working with both, I have some opinions. But first, here are my impressions of both:

Ktools PhotoStore (v3.8)

This template has been around for a long time, and it shows. The design is very “2002”, meaning that it offers very little in the way of interactivity and a rich user experience. The template is built on a dated HTML/PHP platform, some of which is very difficult and confusing to tinker with if you don’t have a moderate understanding of PHP. However, those negatives aside, it’s a rock solid script. They development team is actively refining this product, and there are frequent updates and patches. Ktools.net also hosts an active user forum (only accessible by those with an account) where you can get help or interact directly with the developers.

Here is what I liked about PhotoStore:

  • It’s a very stable script, and I never had browser compatibility issues. It worked perfectly from the first time that I set it up, and I didn’t need help to get things working perfectly. It works as advertised right out of the box.
  • Organization of my images and galleries was easy and simple to understand (for both myself and my customers). Plus, the ability to create nicely organized sub-categories was a big plus for me.
  • Batch uploading, and batch editing. Worked like a charm, every time.
  • The back-end content management system was very well organized and contained many features. It made setting up my site for the first time very easy! I like the stats area as well.
  • Site performance was good, and I didn’t notice any sluggishness when browsing categories with a lot of images.

This is what I did not like about PhotoStore:

  • The front-end design just looks so old, and there are very few alternate templates available. If you want something that looks halfway decent, you are going to have to do it yourself.
  • The shopping cart (and other text/data pages) looked like an afterthought. Of course they worked flawlessly – but they looked very poorly designed. This was very important to me, because as someone who buys things on the internet, I am not comfortable buying from a cheesy looking site. And I sure didn’t want my customers to feel that way either.

Photo Video Store

The main advantage that cmsaccount.com’s Photo Video Store has over PhotoStore from ktools.net is the  appearance of the front end template. I’ll be honest – the biggest reason I purchased this script was because I was absolutely sick and tired of the dated look of PhotoStore v3.8, and I desperately wanted a change. It simply looks better, which I believe makes for a better user experience.

Here is what I liked about Photo Video Store:

  • The visual design was very good, and there are a lot of different free templates available to change the look of the site. And the nice thing was that some of these templates changed the look rather dramatically.
  • It’s extremely easy to sell content other than photos – the script contains good support for selling other types of files such as vector graphics or Flash media.

This is what I did not like about Photo Video Store:

  • Support documentation is very poor, and I couldn’t get it to work exactly as advertised without a lot of help. The first problem I had was that clicking on an image would take me to a dead link. This is because when uploading the script to the server for the first time, I didn’t see that there were hidden files that needed to be included. Adding these hidden files fixed the problem. Then I couldn’t get the “purchase” button to work – again, it would send my customers to a dead link. Support eventually solved this problem for me (it was an .htaccess issue). And finally, I never could get the “blog” section working, and support had no solution for me other than to contact my hosting company and ask why the server was blocking access to certain strings in the .htaccess file. I will give the support team credit though – they were very helpful and responded quickly to my questions.
  • Using the batch upload feature in the back-end content management system would strip out the IPTC data (keywords and titles) from my images. So my only choice was to upload everything one by one, or upload via FTP.
  • Batch editing of images that had already been uploaded and categorized was not possible.

So which one is better?

Definitely PhotoStore by ktools.net – but only by a slim margin. While the visual design (appearance) of the interface is very dated, the script is rock solid. Everything just works. It’s easy to upload photos, organization of the content is made to be very simple, and the template is highly configurable. The back-end content management system is also very good, allowing easy batch-editing of photos and galleries. The only thing that keeps PhotoStore from blowing away  cmsaccount.com’s Photo Video Store is that there is very little support for other content such as vector or Flash media. If you want to sell anything other than photos, you’ll have to zip them up – and sell your customers those zip files. But for me (who only needed to sell jpg’s), the script was perfect for my needs.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on LinkedIn

I’ve been really busy for the past 10 days or so trying to put the finishing touches on a series of client projects that needed to be wrapped up by March 31st. Combine that with my always busy schedule of creating and keywording new images, and well…I barely had enough time to breath. During this time, a neat little video surfaced on YouTube that set the graphic design and photography worlds on fire: Content Aware Fill from Adobe had been revealed.

I follow a lot of miscellaneous graphic and web design forums on the internet, and this was the one thing that everyone was talking about. To be honest, I didn’t really have the time to sit through a long video demo so I just blew it off and bookmarked it for later viewing. Finally, with all of my client projects complete, I had a few spare moments to have a gander.

Holy crap.

If you’ve ever struggled with stitching images together, or pulled your hair out trying to remove lens flare, you already know that this is the feature that will save us all from those kinds of technical tasks. The YouTube video made it look like magic (hence the reason for so many calling it a hoax), but I am very curious to see how it will work in the real world. There are many times that I just can’t get an image to look right in FormZ (my 3d modeling software of choice), so I’ll just render the basic image and then spice it up in Photoshop. Cloning, cutting, and pasting is something I do very often, and I’m totally geeked about the amount of time this will save me in post-processing my images.

Adobe Photoshop CS6

But is it too good? The only thing about Content Aware Fill that makes me cringe a little is the thought that it might make it easier for image thieves to remove watermarks from copyright protected photos. Of course, there are plenty of people doing that now (manually) so it isn’t like this will spark a new wave of image theft – but I think that there is a strong possibility that it will make it easier for those thieves to get away with it. But such is the life on the internet. As a content producer, I know that it is pretty much impossible to keep people from stealing images if they want them badly enough. If there is a will, there is a way.

Watermark-removal aside, I think Adobe hit a home run with this feature. If it will be included in CS5, sign me up for an upgrade.