Gadget Bag: Custom Publishing

Are you working to preserve the habitat of a special place or presenting a collection of your images? Creating a quality photo book is easier than ever.
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Custom books from Bay Photo

Most think of a gadget bag as the place where a photographer collects all those useful little accessories that make it easier to create photographs. But not all “gadgets” are hardware. Anything that helps you accomplish your photographic goals counts. A hardbound or softbound book featuring your own photos is a great treat in its own right, but you also can use a photo book to bring a topic of special interest to a wider audience. Today, online desktop publishing makes the process simple, if not cheap.

You can produce physical books or ebooks that are designed to be viewed online. Much of the process is the same for either type, although here we’ll just consider printed books—there’s something about having a bound book of your photos in your hand that an ebook can’t provide. You come up with a concept, select and prepare your images, upload the images and text, create the layouts using the book publisher’s application (or even a layout program like Adobe InDesign, if you’re into such things), and let the publishing service take it from there. Each company’s website will provide a good idea of how the process works. If you can’t easily figure it out, try another company. You can’t tell anything about the quality of the final product—image reproduction and binding—from a website, so it’s a good idea to check with photographer friends who might have self-published a photo book to find examples. You also can order one low-page-count book to check before committing to a big project and multi-copy run.

Photo books can be made in a variety of sizes and formats, and cost goes up rapidly with increasing size and number of pages. One advantage of self-publishing is that you don’t have to order a large number of books at one time. You can order just a handful, or even just one. Of course, the cost per book comes down somewhat with larger orders. Most can include captions and text, too.

Some providers let you download free software and put your book together in your computer, then upload it for printing. Others require that the whole process be done online. A few let you choose whether to work online or via downloaded software. Some allow you to upload your book in PDF format for printing. But, for most photographers, using the site’s book-making features will provide the best results.

A couple of tips: Gather all the photos you want to use in your book into one folder on your computer desktop—this will make it easy for you (and the book-making software) to find them. Make sure the images have sufficient resolution: They should be 300 dpi at the published size. If the images are too small, they will look bad in the printed book. Note that 72 dpi is fine for ebooks that will be viewed on-screen rather than printed. Be aware that it can take a long time to upload lots of high-resolution images.

There are quite a few self-publishing companies that can deliver excellent books (do a search for “self-publish photo book”). Here’s a brief look at a few, to give you an idea of what’s out there. If you’d like to sell copies of your book, keep in mind that some self-publishing companies also provide marketing and sales services (for a fee).

Noted photo-gear retailer Adorama offers book publishing through its site. Adorama’s photo books feature lay-flat binding, so the book’s gutter doesn’t disrupt photos, and they’re printed on photo paper (in a variety of surfaces, from matte to high-gloss). You can choose cover type (leather-lux, real leather or fabric cover), format (portrait, landscape, square or horizontal spine), and size (6×4.5 to 12×15 inches, 10 pages minimum, 76 pages maximum). Prices range from $15.40 for a 6×4.5-inch hardcover book with 10 pages to $136 for a 12×15-inch leather-cover book with 10 pages. Additional pages run from $1.08 each for 6×4.5 to $7.20 each for 12×15. You can select from Adorama’s templates (modifying them as desired) or “build your own” book. You can upload images from your computer or the web. The process is done online.

Bay Photo
Bay Photo ( is a popular, longtime custom-printing lab that was the first to implement ROES (Remote Order Entry System). Today, you can use Bay ROES to create and order photo books (and other Bay Photo products) online, or you can download Bay Photo’s free Bay Design all-inclusive layout design software, and use that to create your book on your computer, then upload your order. Both provide layouts that you can modify as desired, as well as built-in ordering from Bay Photo. Bay Books are available in sizes from 5×5 to 12×12 inches (including portrait and landscape formats); prices range from $20 for a 20-side 5×5 softcover book to $80 for a 20-side 12×12 hardcover one, with additional sides running from 50 cents (5×5) to $2.05 (12×12) each (two sides = one additional sheet). Bay Books are printed on high-quality Indigo printers, using 4-color and 6-color (adds light cyan and light magenta) inksets. Turnaround is a quick three days.

Blurb ( is a popular independent book and magazine publishing platform, for both photo books and all-text books. Photo books are available in sizes from 7×7 to 13×11 inches, a softcover 20-page 7×7 costing $12.99 (additional pages 40 cents/2) and a hardcover 20-page 13×11-incher, $49.99 (additional pages 80 cents/2). Blurb books can run from 20 to 240 pages (to 440 pages with standard 80# paper stock). Prices per book go down as order size goes up, in several steps. You can download Blurb BookWright software (which was designed specifically for easily creating print books, magazines and ebooks) to design your book, then upload it for printing. The program contains templates and layouts that you can use or modify to suit. There’s also a simple online ebook-creating application. CustomTabletop Photo Books feature bookstore-quality binding and paper.

BookBaby ( will print books of 24 to 900 pages, in quantities of one or 25 to 10,000-plus. Bookstore-quality photo books can be produced in eight trim sizes (6×9, 7.5×7.5, 8.5×8.5, 8.5×11, 11×8.5, 9×12, 12×9 and 10×10 inches). You can provide PDF files of your cover and interior, or have BookBaby design the book for you for an additional charge. One copy of a 24-page, 11×8.5-inch hardcover photo book from your PDF files costs $79; 25 copies would be $612 ($24.48 per book). If BookBaby formats your book, the cost would be $1,510 for 25 copies. BookBaby also offers ebook publishing and sales services.

Mpix photo books

Mpix ( is a major photo lab that lets you produce photo books online. After uploading your images, you can create your book using provided templates, or choose the Customize option for more control over the design. Economy Photo Books are available in sizes of 5×5, 8×8, 8.5×11, 10×10 and 11×8.5 inches, at prices (for 20 pages) of $19.99 to $34.99 per book; additional pages are 50 cents each. Economy Photo Books feature art cloth or custom hard covers, and can be up to 50 pages. Soft Cover Panoramic Photo Books come in sizes of 4×6, 5×5, 6×9 and 8×8 inches, and run from $19.99 to $29.99 per 20-page book (additional pages are 50 cents each). Premium Panoramic Photo Books feature linen hard covers (dust jacket optional). They’re available in sizes of 5×5, 8×8, 10×10, 8.5×11 and 11×8.5 inches, and run from $39.95 to $54.96 (matte book paper) or $40.95 to $74.95 (semi-gloss photo paper) per 20-page book. Additional matte pages cost 75 cents each, semi-gloss pages, $1.25.

MyPublisher ( is related to Shutterfly, but deals in higher-end photo books aimed at pros rather than general consumer books. There are four sizes: Mini (3.5×2.75 inches, $2.99 for 20 pages, softcover only); Pocketbook (7.75×5.75 inches, $12.99 softcover/$19.99 hardcover for 20 pages, additional pages 49 cents each); Classic Hardcover (11.25×8.75 inches, $34.99 for 20 pages, additional pages 99 cents each); and Deluxe Hardcover (15×11.5 inches, $64.99 for 20 pages, additional pages $1.99 each). Lay-flat pages are available in the three largest sizes. You can choose 120# or 180# paper stock, matte or satin finish, several nice cover options, and even slipcases and presentation boxes. You can design the book yourself on your computer using downloadable easy-to-use MyPublisher BookMaker software.

Shutterfly ( is a file-storing/sharing site that lets you produce hardbound and softbound photo books. Prices range from $12.99 for a 20-page, softcover 5×7-inch book (additional pages 65 cents each) to $219.99 for a 20-page, leather-cover 11×14-inch premium book (additional pages $2.29 each). Premium photo books feature lay-flat pages, double-thick premium professional-grade paper and a choice of quality covers. You can use Shutterfly’s Simple Path (pictures are automatically arranged for you, one to four pictures per page/500 per book, five sizes) or Custom Path (many styles to start with, you can add, move and resize photos, up to 25 photos per page/1,000 per book, add and move text boxes anywhere, and more). Both allow you to produce books with up to 111 pages. Shutterfly also offers Photo Story for iPad, which lets you create an ebook with sound.