How to Select an Album
What type of album--or whether you want an album at all--is a big decision and a very personal one. How you store your stamps depends on your budget, the way you want to enjoy your collection, and your individual taste. If you just enjoy accumulating stamps, maybe a shoebox is all you need, but if you want to keep your stamps safe from damage, and enjoy looking at them or displaying them to someone else, then an album is what you want.
There are many very attractive albums available on the commercial philatelic market, and none of them is inexpensive. Choosing a commercial album is a long-term commitment, too, because it would be a major project to take out all the stamps and remount them later if you change your mind (not to speak of the additional expense). The major album manufacturers issue supplements so that the album you start with can be kept up to date, with pages available for the new stamps as the years go by.
The best thing is to try to see many different kinds of albums before you make up your mind. You can do this either by visiting a stamp dealer who sells several different brands, or going to a stamp show and examining the choices at a supply dealer's booth, or seeing the albums other stamp collectors are using. If you are in a club, ask to see what your fellow members are using for their collections.
Pre-printed albums are not all alike. Some will have spaces for each stamp, and an actual picture of the stamp that belongs there, its catalogue number, and perhaps other information. Other pre-printed albums give very little information in the space, and no picture. Others may provide some historical background information on the stamps. Some may not have spaces, but just the country name at the top of the page.
Most albums require the collector to provide the hinge or the stamp mount, but in recent years there have been more so-called "self-mounting" or "hingeless" albums on the market. These have clear plastic mounts or strips already affixed in the spaces, so all the collector has to do is place the stamp in the appropriate place. Unsurprisingly, hingeless albums are more expensive than the plain-page albums.
Before choosing an album, it helps to study your own attitudes and goals. Many collectors like to have a detailed "map" of all the stamps that make up a complete collection of a country, and they want an album with the spaces marked and other information provided. Some collectors may find this to be too limiting--maybe they don't want to have every stamp of a country. Perhaps they have a specialty interest for which no albums are made. For many topical collectors, for example, there are no specific albums to fit their interest.
So, by choice or by necessity, some collectors make their own albums, by hand or using a computer. Good-quality paper and a nice three-ring-binder are all you need to make your own album, and you can arrange it in whatever way suits you. Many collectors find that creating an attractive album page is one more thing to enjoy about the hobby. Using the computer to create boxes and fancy headings can be a lot of fun and the results are every bit as sophisticated as a commercial album.
Some collectors don't use album pages at all, instead using self-mounting stockpages in a binder. These pages are black or white cardstock with stiff plastic strips or pockets into which stamps or covers can be inserted. They come in sizes to fit all stamp formats, and are not expensive. Until you decide on an album, these types of storage pages allow for safe storage and easy viewing of your stamps.