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Making an awesome photo book or calendar? Here's how to do it hassle-free

What could be easier than uploading photos to a website and making a calendar or book? You'd be surprised. Follow these tips for picture-perfect results.

Making a custom photo book can be more frustrating than you'd guess. Josh Miller/CNET

A photo book or calendar is a great gift any time of year. It's personal. It's customizable. Best yet, it organizes digital moments that tend to get lost in the cloud, tansforming them into physical reminders of an event. Photo books literally make memories. After printing up a few of these myself, I thought I'd share some tips for minimizing the hassle of a project that can be time-consuming and tedious, while maximizing the final effect.

Have fun, and of course, share any personal tips in the comments below.

1. Select your site or service

Different websites offer you different tools and options. Some are more basic and some more flexible, with higher-end paper and cover materials. Learn all about four good ones here.

2. Do the legwork first

Make life easy on yourself and select all your digital photos before you even get started (some services let you import from sites like Facebook and Instagram). Give the files names you recognize, and group them into a single folder. It may sound obvious, but trust me, if you aren't as organized as you think before you get started, the process will be that much more grating.

If you're using captions or other text, I strongly recommend saving a digital copy in a text document. You never know how many times you may need to copy and paste.

3. Choose high-quality photos

Resist the urge to resize the original! A lot of sites require high-definition pictures in order to get you a clear shot. This is particularly true for full-page bleeds and page-spanning pics. The websites will tell you when your photo resolution is too poor to reproduce, but you'll need a 2-megapixel image minimum, which has a 1,600 x 1,200-pixel resolution. You'll generally better results with higher-resolution images.

If you really want to get rid of some background, most services let you crop; some layouts even insist that you do. Instead, try shrinking the image size on the photo canvas until the warning symbol disappears. If you picture is too small on the page, you can always copy it an paste it in new location, turning a tiny solo image into a cool-looking mosaic or other pattern. I've been known to flip a smaller picture for a calendar to create a mirrored effect. It's a decent salvage trick.

You'll save a lot of time sorting photos into a folder before starting your project. Josh Miller/CNET

Also keep in mind that photos you receive through an email or text generally won't be as good; these services usually compress images to keep the file size down. Try to skip downloading photos from Facebook and ask friends for originals instead. Dropbox and Google Photos are great places to share lossless photo files.

Bonus tip: Landscape photos are often better-suited to calendars and books, but some creative shrinking and layout placement can save the day if you've got a real favorite portrait pic.

4. Give yourself enough time

Putting together a photo book or calendar can be a time-consuming commitment. Budget at least an hour for each project, maybe even more. Bring on the patience. These sites are notorious for repetitive processes and leisurely upload times that add up.

5. Consider buying a backup

Yes, it'll double the price of your final order -- which won't be cheap anyhow -- but buying a backup for your own personal collection could really pay off. Treat these books as one-time memories that could get lost or wrecked through use, especially those baby books.

Many sites will let you save your work for reorder, but not all. As long as you're going to the effort of putting together a gift this personal, you may as well start a what-if collection just in case.

Do you have any tips of your own? Feel free to share them below.