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« urban ku # 170 ~ more POD info | Main | urban ku # 169 ~ flaunt it »

FYI ~ making a photo book

ckbksq.jpgOn the subject of making / designing photo books, much is currently being written on various blogs. None of it seems to be coming from anyone with actual experience in the field of graphic design, so it's not surprising that there is a lot of noise and not much signal, so to speak.

It has been assumed that designing a book, specifically a photo book, is akin to rocket science when, in fact, it's relatively simple to achieve a very satisfactory and pleasing result. In a very real sense, a photo book is one of the easiest design tasks.

The operative rule is simple - keep it simple. A simple layout /design. Simple typefaces.

Unlike the cookbook that I designed (and created the photography),1044757-1342843-thumbnail.jpg
Keep it simple and 'clean'click to embiggen
which had a host of information and categories, a photo book has one simple purpose - to showcase pictures. Unless you have lots of text that accompanies your pictures, a photo book will traditionally have lots of white space - think of it as white mat board - against which the pictures will work along with simple titles and captions / descriptions.

The front of the book will have a title page, an intro page, and an artist statement. Again, use a simple typeface(s) and lots of white space - don't crowd the edges of the page.

As far as picture arrangement goes, 1044757-1342888-thumbnail.jpg
It's about the picturesclick to embiggen
unless you are telling a story that requires a specific story line sequence, just let the pictures flow in a pleasing manner. Use the same 'eye' and sensibility that you used to make your pictures to get to what 'feels' right. This will take a bit of playing around - and remember that it is playing around, not some life-or-death exercise. Make some small low res prints and order and re-order them in a pile and keep shuffling them around until it looks and feels right. Remember, there is no right or wrong here, its your book, your statement - just like they're your pictures.

On the subject of what software to use, with the current state of POD printing, you will be submitting all-in-one jpegs to the printer. Text and pictures will be in a single file, which means that pro-design software like InDesign or Quark are simply not required. The biggest advantage of pro design software is their sophisticated type capabilities and the ability to handle large projects like a book in a single file.

Neither capability is needed for a POD photo book.

In the printing world, type is vector based art as opposed to bitmap images. Since you will will be submitting jpegs, the type will be rasterized to bitmap so there is no advantage to using software that uses vector based graphics. Type/text created on a type layer in Photoshop is as good as it gets in this POD case.

But what about pro software that handles big projects like books? Again you will be uploading single page files to the POD printer and placing them in page order on their site. So again, one of the capabilities of InDesign or Quark is not applicable here.

Photoshop, with its type tool, is the way to go.

FYI, I will answer any questions you may have on the matter at hand. Please ask them on this entry, not in an email, so that everyone may have access the info.

Let's get going.

Reader Comments (8)

What do you feel is an acceptable amount of images for a POD book?

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJim Jirka

Jim - I don't think that there is any magic number.

This probably sounds like a copout but the ideal number of pictures is that number that conveys what you are trying to express/say.

I have made a book with as few as 10 pictures but most end up with 20-30. The book that I am working on for this project will probably have 40 pictures.

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergravitas et nugalis

What's your opinion on some of the POD companies like blurb, that provide their own layout software, which can do things like actually keep the fonts as fonts, not rendered 300dpi bitmaps, so they get printed at the higher native resolution of the printer.

Not worth it for photobooks ?

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGordon McGregor

Wow, your books look fantastic, which printer do you use to make them?

Thank you,


February 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersteve e miller

Gordon - I have not used blurb but all of those that I have sampled / tested that have their own layout software have 3 basic problems -

1. limited typeface selection, sizes, and placement

2. limited photo layout options

3. some don't offer Mac versions of the software or the software is quirky and slow on a Mac.

In my experience with POD printers, as long as your image files are 300 dpi, even small fine type prints very well.

Steve - I use Shutterfly (inexpensive but very good reproduction, no paper and and limited cover material selections, adequate binding) and SharedInk (expensive and excellent reproduction, many paper, end paper, and cover material selections, superb binding).

Shutterfly also offers a zillion discounts after your first order which lowers their cost even more. I use them to 'proof' book ideas.

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergravitas et nugalis

For the record I had a book done with Blurb and I have to say that the quality was really awful. Printing wise it was not acceptable to me. I get the feeling that all these companies use the same equipment but I'm not sure.

Pictures were very grainy, on files that had no visible grain. There was a color cast issue, which they resolved (they did send me another book for free, after acknowledging some profiling problems. But the 2nd one still had the grain issues. The paper cover they include with the hardcover was extremely cheap looking.

Think of a hardcover cat book at your local $1 a book store. That's the printing quality. I just hope my pictures are better!

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Paul - POD printers do use the same equipment, in most cases HP Indigo presses ... but ... it's just like photography - lots of shooters use the same equipment but results vary.

The same is true of traditional offset printers. Many are using the same presses but the results are all over the map. That's why top notch press operators are in demand and make the big bucks.

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentergravitas et nugalis

Good point. I just had some business cards done by and the quality is insanely good. I hate to say it but they are almost as good as my Epson prints.

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

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