Printed books are a great way to store and share a collection of images and preserve valuable photos for future generations. And there are plenty of companies offering online photobook services. This article helps you choose a service provider and takes you through the production process from start to finish…
When creating photobooks, photographers can choose from a wide variety of sizes and cover styles in both portrait and landscape orientations. (Source: Nulab.)
There are plenty of companies eager to help with your project and most make the process simple, even if you’ve never created a book before.
Assembling a photobook involves six stages:
1. Checking the market to find a suitable service provider.
2. Assembling the images and text you want to use.
3. Deciding on the size and orientation of the publication.
4. Laying out the pages.
5. Designing a cover page and contents and introduction pages if they will be included.
6. Printing and binding the pages together.
Some of these steps overlap so they should be looked at together. This article will take you through the process from start to finish and provide some suggestions to help you choose a service provider.
Checking the market
The first step in producing a photobook involves finding a company that can produce the kind of book you want at a price that meets your budget. Different providers have different offerings and there can be wide variations in the sizes available, paper types, and ways to print, bind and cover your book, as well as the price each company sets. Cover options can include photo covers, see-through cutout covers and various fabric finishes. You may also be able to obtain dust jackets with your own photo(s) printed on them.
This step is important because it determines the physical size of the book, including the size of the pages, how many pages to include, the type and design of the cover. Your decisions will also be influenced by the amount you’re prepared to spend.
Warning note: before deciding on a service provider and before downloading their software, read the terms and conditions. In particular ensure that by uploading your images you are not handing over any copyright to the company involved.
The best way to begin comparing services is through a Google search on “photobook services Australia”, which will pull up an extensive list of links for you to peruse. Choice subscribers can check out a review of photobook services, which was published in August 2017 and should be available in most public libraries. It provides a useful overview and some names of companies to investigate when narrowing your choices.
You may have to scan through a dozen or more services to find one that combines the page and book sizes, design features and options for binding and covering your finished book in a way you like and at a price you can afford. Some services restrict books to around 20 pages while others can print books with between 200 and 400 pages.
Prices for services are usually determined by the size and thickness of the book, the type of paper used, the quality of the printing and how the book is bound and finished. Expect to pay considerably more for larger, thicker books, which usually require heavier paper and bindings. Add-ons like presentation boxes and sleeves will increase the overall cost of a project but make it more attractive and more durable, adding to its long-term value.
Presentation boxes add cachet to important projects as well as making them more durable. (Source: Nulab.
Check out the different ways the service provides for importing photos into templates. Most will let you import photos from your computer as well as external storage drives, cloud services and Dropbox. Some can upload images from hosting sites such as Flickr or social networks such as Facebook or Instagram.
Take your time when choosing a service and look for value for money, rather than choosing the cheapest option available. Photobooks can become valuable heirlooms so it’s worth doing a good job right from the start.
Choosing a template
Almost all services are template-based, which makes laying out the book relatively easy. But many of the templates aren’t customisable, so it’s worth checking out sample designs to see if they suit your purpose and are aesthetically pleasing.
Some services require you to sign up for ‘membership’ in order to download a template, while others provide the templates online. Web-based templates are fine for laying out basic books but downloadable software will give you much more flexibility and creative control.
Look for templates that allow you plenty of opportunities to revise your layout, and to save the project and come back to it later. You will probably change your mind several times during the layout process so you need a service that lets you rearrange images or move them to different pages.
Cahoots Easy Designer software provides a great deal of flexibility plus a number of attractive templates to use as a starting point. (Source: Cahoots.)
Check out the options for adding or reducing the number of pages or swapping to a different template. Some templates let you change the number of pages without having to delete or add pictures, although you may need to adjust the number of images on some pages. Some programs only allow you to insert or delete pages one at a time, while others limit this function to double page spreads.
One thing to look out for is how the templates handle layouts that extend photographs over two pages. Although these double-page spreads allow you to have the photo printed at the maximum size (which is more impressive), the image can be interrupted by the ‘gutter’ created by the binding (see below).
Organising the contents
The next step involves gathering together all the resources you will use: images, text and graphics, such as maps and diagrams. The number of photos you require will depends on the kind of book being produced and its purpose. Most photobooks contain between 50 and 100 images.
Shorter books work best with a single theme. It might be a trip of a lifetime, a family get-together or special event like a wedding or special birthday. Make sure all the images you choose relate to one another and tell the ‘story’ of the book in a visual way. Select a couple of images that are graphically strong to use on the cover and/or for the leading pages.
Photobooks are a great way to hand on family traditions, like recipes and cultural practices. (Source: Momento; image credit: Zahn Pithers.)
Longer books work well if a subject is complex and/or portrays a substantial duration of time. They are ideal when compiling family histories or compilations of recipes to hand on to coming generations. It’s important to keep all of the contents tightly focused on the theme to maintain a sense of consistency and continuity.
Edit the images as you select them. Don’t be afraid to cull those you have any doubts about. You’re more likely to be satisfied with the end result if you only choose the best shots from your collection.
Decide upon any text you will include. Inevitably your book will need a title. You may also want to add captions to pictures. These can be simply the time and date when the shot was taken plus a place name or other identifier. Alternatively you might want to provide a detailed explanation of the picture’s contents and its relevance to the publication.
Some people like to include their diary entries for the trip. Make sure you correct any spelling and/or punctuation mistakes and cut out repetitions. Try to create a consistent flow of information that covers the trip from start to finish.
Consider adding maps to show where you went. These can be downloaded from the internet or scanned from brochures or books and then imported as JPEGs into an image editor before saving in the collection. You might like to trace your route and save the files separately for inclusion in your book.
Designing and laying out the book
Once you’ve chosen the template, laying out the book is relatively straightforward. Most of your choices will involve maintaining the sequence of the ‘story’ you’re telling and deciding how many images to put on each page.
Edit your photos beforehand rather than relying on the software template, and try to save them in a separate folder at a size that is close to (or slightly larger than) the size at which they will be printed. If you start with large, high quality images you have some scope for cropping. Low-resolution photos won’t look sharp when printed.
In most cases the number of images per page should relate to the page size and the quality of the image. Eye-catching images deserve single-page spreads, in which the picture covers the entire page.
Decide whether you want a ‘full-bleed’ spread with no borders or, if that would crop away key areas of your photo, choose a ‘container’ size smaller than the spread. Use the template’s guidelines when placing images, making sure you drag the photo over the edge of the bleed line so it prints to the edge of the page.
Portfolio books that are designed to showcase a set of images should generally be printed as single-page spreads. Consider putting the image on the right hand page and any related text (place, date, etc.) on the left, keeping it small enough to ensure it doesn’t attract attention away from the photograph.
Gather photos that belong together in multiple-image spreads, which can contain as few as two photos or up to eight. More than eight pictures on a page inevitably means they are rather small, which will lessen their impact. Vary the sizes of photos in a spread to add interest or highlight a specific feature.
Look for creative ways to group pictures on a page, varying the sizes of photos to add interest. The use of a full-bleed high-key monochrome image for the background gives the page more impact. (Source: Cahoots.)
Be wary of autoflow when using templates as in some cases it can result in landscape images being cropped to portrait format or portrait photos going into landscape containers. It can also add pages to a project without you being aware it’s happened.
The cover layout is usually dictated by the template you choose. Some templates provide more flexibility than others, although most aim for overall design integrity and can rule out things like mixed fonts. Many services will print covers that include images, something that is difficult to do when you design and print your own books.
A final piece of advice from one of the suppliers we contacted: Don’t design a book and sit on it for several years without printing. Photobook suppliers have been known to change their software and, once that happens, it may be no longer printable. It’s always useful to be on the mailing list of your favoured photobook supplier so you can be notified of coming changes.
It can be difficult to know where photobooks are printed as some photobook providers print in Australia, while others print off-shore. If you’re keen to support local companies, check before using the service.
Most services use digital equipment such as the HP Indigo or Xerox Versant digital presses. Indigo presses have been around since 2002, while the Canon DreamLabo was launched back in 2012 and is capable of printing the contents of a 20-page A4-size photo album in just 80 seconds. Other equipment may be used, but not for the top-quality services.
Some companies do all the printing in-house, often using professional-quality inkjet printers to provide a ‘premium’ service and allowing a lot of customisation to meet customers’ individual; requirements. Others outsource all the work.
Some services offer a choice between soft and hard covers for your book. Soft covers are generally cheaper but more vulnerable to wear and tear, and the cover may curl up over time.
Hard covers are more durable and feel better in the hands. Depending on the type of binding, some can be opened flat for two-page viewing without tearing or damaging the binding.
Pay attention to the binding methods the supplier offers. The cheapest methods are comb binding and spiral binding, which hold the pages together with loops of plastic or wire. They have the advantage of allowing the book to be laid out flat but the binding loops are always visible.
Saddle stitching secures the pages with a line of staples down the middle of a folded sheaf of papers. Many booklets are saddled-stitched and it can be used for soft-cover photobooks.
Some services offer thermal binding that joins the pages together with a strip of tape that is fused by heat. It’s less secure than many other methods but can produce a near seamless join.
Perfect Binding and Burst Binding use a flexible adhesive to attach a cover to the spine of the assembled pages. These methods are commonly used for paperback books and magazines like Photo Review. The main problem with most of these binding methods is the ‘gutter’ created between adjacent pages, which is usually very noticeable.
A similar problem arises with side sewn binding, in which the pages are invisibly stitched along the spine to create a curved gutter. The outer pages sit flatter than those at the centre of the book where the gutter is deeper.
Section sewing is a variation on side sewn binding and popular for hardcover photobooks. Pages are assembled into sections, which are then stitched with cotton to lie flat. The cotton may be covered with narrow tape the same colour as the page background.
The most expensive ““ and best looking ““ binding for photobooks is LayFlat bookbinding technology. There are several variations, including one in which the pages are invisibly stitched along the spine and the hinge remains visible, and another with a flexible back hinge that enables a double-page spread to be printed without a gutter.
LayFlat bookbinding technology provides an attractive binding method that allows books to be opened flat on a tabletop. The inset shows a close-up of how this method works. (Source: Cahoots.
You can often save money on the per-copy cost by ordering multiple copies when you place the initial order. Many services will also let you reprint a book at a later date and some will even allow you to make an updated version with changes to the cover and/or contents.
Most photobook suppliers can offer a range of other products including personalised calendars, stationery and cards as well as photo prints on materials such as canvas, metal, ceramics and glass.
Many photobook suppliers offer other products, such as calendars and greeting cards. (Source: Momento; images credit: Lauren Bath.)
Delivery costs can add substantially to the overall cost of the project and should be taken into account when planning the project. The weight of the package and the speed of delivery will be key factors to consider. Costs will also vary on re-orders if you change the number of pages or the type of cover.
Indigo presses are used by the Sydney-based Momento which is long-established and has won awards for the books it has produced. Another high-profile premium supplier, Nulab, recently changed ownership and printing platform, moving from Indigo to Kodak digital press technology.
Albumworks, which is located in Melbourne, was the first book producer to install the Canon DreamLabo in Australia. As well as offering its own branded services, it prints the books for Canon’s Photo Pico service as well as the larger, higher-quality ‘HD’ books ordered through outlets like Officeworks, Target, Ted’s Cameras, etc.
Cahoots in Subiaco, Western Australia outsources the printing but binds in-house using Fastbind professional photobook binding equipment sourced from Finland. Covers are printed on inkjet polypropylene media on an Epson 4880 wide format printer and laminated in-house with a gloss or matt finish before being attached to the hardcover shell.
Fujifilm runs its own digital printing and gift ordering software platform, Imagine, which can be used to order photobooks, among other services. Imagine is used by a number of large retailers in both Australian and international markets and is accessible to consumers online, on photo kiosks in stores and through a mobile app. All services have the same interface and ordering experience and users can share images and projects between each channel.
More sophisticated photobooks are listed among more than 800 personalised products produced for Fujifilm by Photo Create, which is located in Glen Innes NSW. Photo Create uses a range of printing equipment including the Fuji Xerox iGen digital publishing system, wide format printers, silver halide printers, dye sub printers and various finishing and binding equipment. Most orders can be fulfilled within a few days.
Photobook Australia is the local branch of a worldwide organisation supplying photobooks and other printing services. It promises to ship projects within seven days to addresses within Australia.
Blurb is another multinational service provider with links to the Amazon group. Photobooks are only a small part of the range of services it offers.
Article by Margaret Brown – see Margaret’s photography pocket guides