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Gadget Bag: Make Your Own Photo Book
Making a custom photo book has become fast, easy and inexpensive. As the realm of self-publishing opens up to virtually any photographer, you now have another way to share images and even sell your own books.
Blurb (www.blurb.com) has become synonymous with self-publishing, with a well-deserved reputation for producing top-quality books at an affordable price. Using Blurb’s BookSmart software, you can choose to exercise extensive or minimal control over the layout process. Templates let you select from a variety of fonts and designs, so even a highly automated book won’t look like everyone else’s books. Choose a template, then import a folder of image files into the project. The software warns you if you need higher-res files, and it can interpolate them if necessary (or you can do it yourself). The project is automatically uploaded to the Blurb website to finalize binding and cover details and to complete payment. Once you order a copy of your book, Blurb keeps it on file in your account, and you can reorder more copies.
Bay Photo (www.bayphoto.com) is well known as a custom print lab, but less known as a custom book printer. Using its Bay Roes lab connection software, you can pick a cover, then put together the individual pages. You assemble the book page by page, add your photos and then add that page to your shopping cart. The order of the items in your cart determines the order of the pages in your book. You can select binding options, including hinged pages, which many photographers like because they tend to lay pretty flat. Bay can retouch and color correct the images you upload if you’d like, and there are also several paper coatings, page textures and even premium 6-color printing. Bay books are gorgeously constructed, with beautiful high-quality photographic images and attention to detail in the binding and overall construction.
The Mpix system (www.mpix.com) is visually organized with simplified layout tools. It’s web-based so the first step is uploading image files to the Mpix server before assembling a layout. This can take a while, so give yourself some time. Once uploaded, you can choose from a simple, fully template-driven approach or a more complex option that let’s you customize the layout. You drag and drop photos into your desired order, and the software keeps you informed about how many you have to go, which is a nice feature. You have to click Customize to really gain control over the design and resize or reposition photos and text. Auto-alignment and other guides make it easy to position page elements accurately.
Pikto (www.pikto.com) offers a number of book design templates and several paper options. Looking at the Pikto samples, you can get inspiration for your book and get an idea about how the different bookbinding materials—surfaces, textures and papers—work together. To build your book, download Pikto’s Book:it application and watch the instructional videos on the website to see how it works. There are several templates, from plain and clean to more elaborate and ornate. When you import your folder of images, Book:it automatically makes the first one the default cover image. Using the thumbnail previews, you can rearrange the order. There are lots of font options, and the layout tools make it easy and intuitive to create a fairly complex text treatment.
Collages.net (www.collages.net) is another lab with an online suite of offerings designed to cater to professional photographers, especially those who sell prints, albums and books directly. To make your photo book, you can use the Collages.net free album and book design software, which you download, or you can outsource the design of your entire book to their design team. That’s a nice feature if you just want it done and you aren’t interested in the process. If you’re doing it yourself, the Collages.net design software makes it easy to design and lay out your pages. They provide templates and hints on page setup, file naming and color space conventions that help ensure your book is printed correctly. The company clearly caters to a lot of wedding and portrait photographers, but nature photographers will find the layout choices useful, too. You can choose your options, including papers from standard to satin or linen, as well as two lay-flat options and a high-gloss or a matte book cover.
PhotoBook Press (www.photobookpress.com) has a reputation as being the place to go if you want meticulously crafted art books or presentation portfolios. They take a very hands-on, handmade approach, which is quite different from most of the other companies in this article. PhotoBook Press books aren’t inexpensive, but their books are also at a higher level, being handmade with sewn bindings. There are a lot of options to choose from. It’s very helpful to see how different options impact the cost before you begin; some materials turn a $150 book into a $350 book. There’s a slipcase option, which adds yet another level of luxury to your book if you desire. PhotoBook Press offers free custom design software, their professional designers can lay it out for you, you can design it yourself with your own professional software, or you can upload a folder of images to simply make proof books or test prints. If you want to do it yourself, download their software, watch the tutorial and have at it. You can apply photo filters for automatic image improvements or converting to black-and-white or sepia.
Adorama is best known as a photo gear retailer, but they also offer lab services, including photo books via their AdoramaPix website (www.adoramapix.com). AdoramaPix makes it possible to share your book online so you can provide a link to a virtual preview for friends and family to see and give you input if you’d like. From AdoramaPix.com, click the “Create a Book” button to get started. You can select from a number of cover options and aspect ratios. From there, you can select a theme. There are a variety of templates, sorted by terms like classic, modern and bold, to match the overall look you want. Upload your photos, JPEGs or TIFFs, but beware that large files and TIFFs can take a long time to upload. Also, the AdoramaPix software allows you to import image files directly from Flickr, Picasa, SmugMug and other sites. Dragging and dropping pictures from the “Images” tab into your layout is easy, and a checkbox on the thumbnails at the left shows you that a shot has been used. The preview button lets you verify that everything is in place, and a running total cost displays in the top right.