Most photographers enjoy going into a bookstore to browse the many photo books on offer. Because of the many barriers in place, very few of us will ever see our books commercially published as these books are. However, those barriers no longer prevent you from seeing your own photos in print. Digital technology is revolutionizing the printing business the same way it's revolutionizing photography. It's now possible to print single copies of full-color books at a reasonable cost and photographers are jumping in. When you want to preserve and share your photos in an easy to browse format, a printed photo book is one of the best ways to go.
As described in the previous section, one way to print your book is to lay it out and generate a PDF file. You can then send this PDF to a local or on-line printer for printing and binding. You can also have it printed in color at places such as Kinkos, Sir Speedy, or Staples and they can also bind the pages in a variety of ways. If you do it locally, ask to see samples of their work because some printers and services get better results. You'll also find that prices per copy drop as you increase the number printed. Single copies can be quite expensive.
If you want to go directly to print using layout software designed specifically for that purpose you can do so at a number of on-line sites such as Blurb, Apple, MyPublisher, LuLu, and Sony—in a variety of sizes and bindings.
The first step in creating a photo book is gathering together all of the photos you want to include. You then use a layout program to place the images on the pages and add text or captions. These programs normally offer a variety of themes and layouts from which to choose, or allow you to start from scratch. The layout software generally falls into three classes:
- Integrated. Programs such as Apple's Aperture and Adobe's Photoshop Elements have layout software integrated along with the many other tools they provide.
- Downloadable software lets you layout a book on your own system and then upload it for printing. MyPublisher.com's BookMaker and Blurb.com's BookSmart software are just two examples of the many such programs available.
- Web-based programs let you lay out a book on-line. These programs tend to be slower but you can access your work-inprogress from any computer.
Blurb has a downloadable layout program called BookSmart.
Ideally the program you select has an autofill feature, like Kodak's SmartFit books, so when you specify a group of photos it automatically lays them out. You can then go back in and tweak the layout of each page if you so desire. The alternative is to place each photo manually—one at a time.
Although photo books tend to contain mainly photographs, there is always room for text. You will want a title for the book and may want to consider captions or an introduction setting the scene–when, where and with whom the photos were taken or what they are about. Text can bring memories alive years from now, long after you have forgotten details. In fact, some photo books are much like journals.
What's made single-copy publishing possible is the development of the digital press. Many book printers use HP Indigo printers—high-speed, high-quality liquid-toner printers that print in seven colors. A page printed on an Indigo printer is very richly colored, with fine detail, much like a page from a color magazine. (Other printers from Kodak, Durst, Punch, Graphix and the iGen3 from Xerox use a dry toner process).
When creating a photo album, you may have a choice of bindings, especially if you are doing it yourself. Most binding methods use machines that punch holes in the pages and then insert a metal or plastic spiral or comb. Some binding systems are relatively inexpensive so check those from GBC, Ibico, and Fellowes. If you don't have access to the necessary equipment, most copy places such as Kinkos, Staples, Sir Speedy, will bind the photo book for you. Choices often include one or more of the following bindings although companies that do on-line printing usually offer just perfect or hardcover bindings:
- Coil binding uses a continuous coil of wire or plastic fed through small round holes punched in the pages and allows the album to lay flat when opened or even fold back on itself for easy reading.
- Comb binding uses a plastic comb with teeth that slip through punched holes in the pages and allow the album to lay flat.
- Wire binding is like a comb binding, but uses wire that lets album pages turn easily, and lay completely flat when opened.
- Perfect, or tape, binding like that used in paperback books, uses a cloth tape fused along the left margin as a spine.
- Hardcover binding is similar to a perfect binding but the cover materials are more rigid.
- Strip binding uses thin plastic strips to bind the pages together.
Things to Consider
When it's time to have a photo book made, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Archival quality. Most sites are currently ignoring this issue, but how long will your printed book last? Check to see if they are at least using acid-free paper and if they have had any tests done to see how their ink/paper combinations age.
- Help. Since you don't have samples and are going on faith when you order from an on-line service, how good is their on-line help? Do they tell you how to best prepare your images for their printer? For example, on MyPublisher they tell you that if you want to fill an 8.5 x 11 inch page with a photo it needs to be 2066 pixels wide by 2034 pixels high. Do your images have this resolution?
- Size. The size of these books can range from the size of a deck of playing cards to the size of a coffee table book. Smaller sizes can feature one picture per page, so page layout isn't needed. Larger sizes can have elaborate multi-image layouts on each page.
- Themes and layouts. How attractive are the themes and layouts offered for your use? Can you change font styles, sizes and colors?
- Text. Can you add text and captions? Select from a variety of fonts? Add page numbers? How flexible is the layout for these elements?
- Editing. Are there editing tools so you can make minor adjustments to images while laying out the book?
- Covers. Some are plain, others have a cutout window so the photo and title on the first page show through. Others have stick on labels or paper jackets like hardcover books in a bookstore. The actual cover materials can be hard or soft and made from a wide variety of materials. One printer (Photo-Works) prints an image on the cover and also lets you have a title printed on the spine so the book is easy to identify when shelved.
- Paper stock. What weight paper do they use?
- Bleeds are when photos run off the edge of the page so there is no margin.
- Cropping of images is often done automatically but may result in cropped heads and other important picture elements. Is there a way to adjust images so they are cropped the way you want?
- Quantity discounts. When ordering see if there is a discount if you order more than one copy.