How to make a cookbook—a delicious gift for everyone

Whether you’re thinking of making a cookbook to preserve old family recipes for the clan or just to share your own creations with the ones you love, it’s never been easier. Let us show you, step by step, how to make a beautiful personalized cookbook that you’ll be proud to give as a gift and showcase in your own home. Looking for inspiration? Take a look at some of our favorite cookbooks made with Blurb, and get some handy food photography tips from experts.

Before you get started, download BookSmart, our free book-making tool, and install it. Once you’ve done that, Click here to start the tutorial.

If you use Adobe® InDesign®, you’re in luck. You can lay your cookbook out directly within InDesign. Here’s how.


1. Start your book with BookSmart

You’ve installed BookSmart, right? (If not, do that now) Open the program, and then click the “Start a New Book” button. At this point, you’ll want to have all your recipes and photos collected, the files organized, and have a fairly good idea of how you’ll want to order them (but you can easily change the order as you go). The more effort you put into organizing your files (and your thoughts) ahead of time, the easier the book-making process will be.

A few thoughts on organizing your content before making your book:

  • Many successful cookbooks have a theme that unifies the recipes inside (e.g. treasured family recipes across generations, 15-minute appetizers, breakfast treats from around the world, etc.). If a theme makes sense for your book, think of how the content can tell that thematic story from start to finish and sequence it ahead of time.
  • Even if you’re not a sketch artist, doing a hand-made mock-up of your book ahead of time can be a great way to get your organizational structure worked out before you start building in BookSmart (though you can do it there too). Figure out how many pages you’re going to have, grab a stack of 8.5’x11”, fold it in half, and staple at the fold. Then roughly sketch out which recipe and which photo goes where. Visualizing the finished book early on (even if it changes dramatically along the way) can help you figure out the best layout for your content.
  • Have all of your assets in one place on your computer. Get all of your food photos edited and sized in advance of making your book, and name them so they’re easy to identify (e.g. Roast_Garlic_Potatoes_01.jpg). And make sure you have all of your recipes (along with any editorial copy you may be including) in a single document that you can either import all at once or copy and paste from as you build each page.

2. Name your book and choose a size

Name your cookbook and choose the size from the menu on the left of the screen. We find that Standard Portrait and Standard Landscape are popular formats for cookbooks, but you can make your book as big or small as you want—big to impress the world, small for handy portability.

SThink about the use case (or cases) for your book. Are you making one copy that will live in your kitchen? Then maybe you should choose a size that looks good alongside your other cookbooks. Are you giving it out as a gift to multiple friends and family members? Maybe a small 7”x7” softcover best expresses the “portable edible” you. You might even consider making your book in a couple of sizes: The gorgeous hardcover Standard Portrait for durability in the kitchen, and the smaller softcover for spreading your culinary genius far and wide (and affordably).

3. Select the “Cookbook” layout

Choose “Cookbook” from the Starter Layout menu as your “starting point.” We’ve put together a pretty great layout for cookbooks based on lots of research. This layout will allow you to present your food photography and recipe information in a clear way, with a nice two-page spread configuration for each recipe.

But don’t forget: There are more than 70 other page layouts you can use if the starter cookbook layout doesn’t meet the needs of your book. And you can mix and match layouts within your book, too. You can literally have a different layout for every spread in your book (though we don’t recommend that!).

4. Import your photos

Now it’s time to select the photos you want to include in your cookbook (you can also do this later on). Remember, photos are an incredibly valuable resource in a cookbook, so don’t feel like you have to limit yourself. Having a photo (or two) for each recipe is the best way to bring those lists of ingredients and instructions to life. Here are those food photography tips again, just to make sure your food is looking its best.

As you can see, you can import your photos from a lot of different places: Your computer’s hard drive, iPhoto,, SmugMug, and many others.

Remember in Step 1 when we talked about organizing your content before you even start your book? It’s a great idea, but it may not be the way you want to work on your book—and that’s okay. The great thing about BookSmart is that you can work at your own pace, in your own way. If you have a few of your photos ready to go, you can import and place those now. And you can add more photos at any time.

5. Choose additional layouts

In Step 3, we showed you how to select the Cookbook layout as your starter layout. Here’s your chance to choose some different layouts for your pages—a chance to decide how you’ll mix text and images. As you think about the flow of your book, consider the types of different pages you might want to include. Layouts that have a single large image on the page are perfect for chapter headings or even to introduce special recipes you’ll want to highlight. Layouts that have more text are where you’ll put the actual ingredient lists and instructions. Layouts that are just text are made for introductions and any stories you may want to add to your book.

If you’re not sure how you want your recipes and photos to look, browse through some of your favorite cookbooks. Think about what appeals to you in terms of layout and arrangement of content. Is there a consistent way of listing the ingredients that makes it easy for you to quickly choose something you want to make? Are the photos right next to the descriptions so you can easily get a sense of what you’ll be making?

Find the layouts that you think will work for you and then find the BookSmart template(s) that most closely match what you’re trying to achieve. And remember, you can always make your own page layouts if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for.

6. Arrange your photos

Now it’s time to do your initial placement of the photos you imported in Step 4. On the left side of your screen, you’ll see the “My Photos” panel. Every photo you’ve imported so far will appear there. You can just drag and drop from that panel onto a photo area in one of the page layouts. BookSmart is pretty smart; it will resize the photo to fit the area. And if there are any problems (for example, if the image resolution is too small), you’ll see a little warning notice. But for now, just start dragging and dropping.

When a photo has been dropped into a page layout, you’ll see a green checkmark in the corner of the thumbnail. This gives you a quick look at what photos have and haven’t been used in your book. You can also click on the Get Photos button at any time to import more photos to use as you make your book. And that Autoflow button you see? If you want BookSmart to just import all of the photos you have at once, you can click on that. You can always drag and drop them onto different pages at any time.

7. Add text to your pages

Once you feel like you have your photos under control (and you can always change things later), it’s time to add text (comments, captions) to your recipe pages. A standard formatting bar at the top of the screen lets you select your font, size, etc.. You can vary your fonts as much as you like, but try to limit the total number to create visual harmony throughout the cookbook—two or three different fonts should be plenty.

A good design rule of thumb is to be consistent. You may want to use one font throughout for all of your chapter titles, one for the recipe name headers, and one for the actual recipe text. The key things to consider: Does it look good to you? Is it easy to read? Are you being consistent throughout the book?

8. Add or delete pages

Once you’ve gotten into the book-making process, you’ll probably start to have a better sense of how long your book will be. If you planned everything out in advance, you may already know exactly how many pages you want. But if not, you can always delete or add pages from the bar at the top of the screen.

The Add Page button also lets you insert title pages, table of content pages, and other common types of pages. Just select the location you want to insert the new page in the carousel at the bottom of the screen and then add the page.

Make sure your cookbook flows coherently, sticking to an arrangement like chronological order or appetizers to main dishes to dessert throughout the entire book.

9. Design your cover

This is a fun—and important—step. It’s time to design your cover. The process is similar to designing your inside pages, but remember: This is the first thing you and everyone else will see when they pick up your cookbook. This is the place to feature your favorite image (often called a “hero image”) and come up with a catchy title. And don’t forget to spell your name correctly!

There are lots of resources on the web dedicated to book cover design. Do a little research, find some examples of covers that you love, and think about what it is that makes you want to pick up that book just by looking at it. People won’t necessarily judge your cookbook by its cover, but if it doesn’t look great, they may never pick it up in the first place. Have some fun with this step.

All done? Click the “Preview” button in the bottom right of the BookSmart interface and review your book. Check the little details—spelling, page numbers, etc.—as well as the overall feel of your book.

10. Order your book

Now it’s time to really commit. You’ve done all of the hard work, placing photos and text, arranging and rearranging pages, inserting title pages, building your table of contents—whatever steps you’ve taken to make the cookbook you’ve always dreamed of. It’s time to order.

We’ve made it pretty easy: Just click on the “Order book” button.

11. Complete the final checklist

Okay, we’ll admit it. We really want your book to be perfect, so we’ve created this final checklist to help you cross all of the Ts and dot all of the Is. Just run through these final checklist steps to make sure you’ve covered everything.

Check spelling. Nothing is more disappointing than getting a beautiful book back from the printer with some spelling mistakes in it. Our spellchecker can help you do this final proof.

Check to make sure your content is within the print and trim boundaries. Our page templates make it really clear where these boundaries are, so just check to see that every page is okay.

Preview one more time. Just use our easy preview tool to go through every page in your book.

12. Sign in to Blurb

To send your cookbook to us, just sign in to your existing Blurb account—or register for one if you’re new to Blurb. You can do the registration process quickly and get right back to the upload if this is your first time making a book with us.

13. Upload your cookbook

Your cookbook will now upload to our servers—it should only take a few minutes, and you can track the progress page by page as it’s being sent from you to us.

14. Order your cookbook

Choose your cover and paper type (and if you wish to order a PDF version of your cookbook, just check the box that says “Add a version Instant PDF”), and then check out. Congratulations—you’re done! Your cookbook is being printed and will be on its way to you soon.

If you want to learn more about cover and paper types now, you can review all of our book types and book elements.