How to make a notebook—a truly creative gift

A gift that's truly personal and one-of-a-kind—that's the idea behind our customized notebooks. They’re the perfect gift for the creative types in your life (and really easy to make, too). Select your favorite images to feature on the cover and throughout the planner—then add plenty of blank white pages (lined or unlined) for the recipient to fill with anything they can imagine. Add our high-quality, professional-grade printing, and you’ve got a gift that’s truly a work of art. And it really couldn’t be easier; especially with this handy step-by-step tutorial we’ve created to walk you through the process.

Before you begin, download BookSmart, our free book-making tool, and install it.

Ready? Let’s get started.


1. Start your notebook with BookSmart

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If you haven’t downloaded BookSmart, our most popular book-making tool, do that now. Once it’s downloaded, open it, and then click the “Start a New Book” button. One great feature of BookSmart is that it allows you to work when you’re offline, so you won’t need an internet connection while you work. Smart, right? At this point, you should have your photos selected, your files named, and some idea of how you want your notebook laid out.

If you don’t have your photos selected yet, that’s okay. You can add or delete photos at any time during the book-making process (we’ll get to that in a bit). But here are a few helpful tips for getting organized before you get too far down the road with your notebook.

  • Consider a theme for the notebook. If the recipient is an painter, maybe choose a set of images that inspire painters: Tools of the trade (brushes, paints, etc.), museums, famous artists (make sure the images are in the public domain!), etc.
  • Even if you don’t consider yourself a “creative type,” 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 photo goes where. Visualizing the finished book early on can help you figure out the best layout of image and blank pages.
  • Have all of your assets in one place on your computer. Get all of your images and photos edited and sized in advance of making your book, and name them so they’re easy to identify (e.g. Notebook_image_01.jpg). And if you have any editorial copy (maybe inspirational quotes), organize that 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 notebook and choose a size

Decide what you’ll want to call your notebook (this is a great place to get inventive—a great name will help the recipient of the gift get even more creative) and choose “Notebook” from the Starter Layout menu on the left of the screen. BookSmart will then select our pre-made notebook templates for you to work with. But don’t worry—you can always customize as you go. You’ll also want to choose between Pocket or Trade size for your book.

3. Choose the default page layout

We’ve created custom notebook page layouts in three formats—gridded, lined, or blank. Lined pages are best for people you think will write, like poets, creative writers, or just people who like to write down their thoughts and impressions. Blank pages are best for people with a strong visual lean—cartoonists, sketchers, doodlers, and artists. Gridded pages are good for all types and make a good background for larger projects. Not sure what you want—or think a mix of page types might be best? Don’t worry, you can change your layout at any point.

4. Select the photos to include in your notebook

Here’s the part where you’re creating something truly one-of-a-kind for your recipient (or recipients) and where you’ll be putting your own stamp of personality on the project. Or you can really tailor the notebook to the recipient; you might choose images of things that you know will inspire them (that might include images of you too). Again, don’t worry if you don’t have it all figured out now; you can also do this later on. Choose photos that have a theme—fine art, travel, family photos, shots of things they love—or keep it random to keep them guessing.

You’ll find you can import your photos from several different places online and on your computer: Your computer’s hard drive, iPhoto,, SmugMug, and many others.

5. Choose layouts for pages with images

This is where you decide how you’ll mix text and images. While you’re considering the flow of your book, think about the different kinds of pages you might want to include. Layouts that have a single large image on the page are perfect for breaking your notebook into “chapters.” Layouts that have more text are great for inspirational quotes and personal notes. Add as many photos as you want, but remember to leave plenty of blank pages for them to fill in. That’s the main point, right?

Remember that tip in Step 1 about considering a theme for the notebook? This is a great time to think about how that theme (if you have one) flows through the notebook.

6. Grab specific images for each page

Now focus on the panel on the left of the screen, the one called “My Photos.” Here you’ll find the images you selected all gathered up together for you to use. Simply drag the image files and drop them into the photo areas in your layout. Worried the photo won’t fit? Don’t worry (we say that a lot, don’t we?)—BookSmart will automatically re-size your photo to fit that area. If there’s a problem with any image (for example, its resolution isn’t high enough to print well), BookSmart will notify you right away.

Once you’ve dropped your photo into your page layout, you’ll see a green checkmark in the corner of the thumbnail. Those checkmarks help you keep track of the photos you’ve already used (and the ones you haven’t). You can also click on the Get Photos button at any time to import more photos to use as you make your book. If you’d rather that BookSmart simply import all of the photos you have at once, click on the “Autoflow” button. You can then drag and drop them onto different pages at any time.

7. Add text to your image pages

If you’ve decided to add text (comments, captions, whatever) to your image pages, now is a great time to do it. Go to the formatting bar at the top of your screen and select your font, size, etc. Go ahead and play around a little bit, but don’t go overboard. Too many fonts in one book is a little jarring—two or three should be a good number to make sure your notebook has harmony and elegant design.

Not sure what kind of text you want to add? Here are some ideas. Think about captions to show where photos were taken and by whom, inspirational quotes to get creativity flowing, or personal messages and stories to remind the recipient of who made their amazing notebook. With our text layout tools, you’re free to add as many words as you want—or as few.

8. Delete or add pages

Think you may have gone a little overboard adding pages? That’s just fine. You can easily remove as many pages as you like from the bar at the top of the screen. On the other hand, if you feel like you need more pages, it’s just as simple to add them from the same bar. That handy Add Page button also allows you to insert different kinds of pages— blank, gridded, lined pages, or image 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.

9. Design your cover

Okay, step back for a second. This part of your project is an extremely important one. Your cover should really speak to the person you’re making this notebook for and should invite them to open it and to explore. You can chose to have an image, an image and text, or just text, but no matter what you choose, make sure you’ve picked the best material you have. This is important—make sure you’ve spelled everything correctly, especially the recipient’s name if it’s going to appear on the cover. The actual process of laying your cover out is similar to designing your inside pages.

10. Order your notebook

Have everything wrapped up, cover to cover? Have your images placed, your text worked out, and each page arranged in order as you like them? Wonderful. Click the “Preview” button and review your notebook. When you’re finished, click the “Order Book” button.

11. Cover your bases

We admit it. We’re perfectionists, and we hope you are too. That’s why we created this handy final checklist to make sure you’ll be totally proud of your work.

First, check your spelling. Nobody wants a beautiful, custom-made notebook with spelling mistakes in it. Our spellchecker can help you do this final proof. Then, check to make sure your content is within the print and trim boundaries. Our page templates make it clear where these boundaries are, so just check to see that every page is okay.

Preview one more time. Just one more time, we swear. Flip through each page and make sure it’s how you want it—our handy preview tool makes it easy to simulate the flow of the book from cover to cover.

12. Sign in to Blurb

To upload your notebook so we can get it to our printers—and so you can get it to your favorite creative—just sign in to your existing Blurb account. If you’re new to Blurb, register for an account. Registration only takes a minute or two and your notebook will be right there waiting for you to upload it when you finish.

13. Your notebook will now upload

And off it goes, through the magic of the internet. You can even watch your notebook get transferred to us, page by page. Or you can go fix yourself a quick snack, and come back in a few minutes. Either way, it will get to us in just a few minutes (maybe longer if you haven’t paid for that broadband upgrade!).

14. Order your notebook.

Congratulations! You’ve just made a one-of-a-kind notebook. You should be proud. Now just choose your paper type and decide whether you want to go hardcover or soft. Hardcovers are more durable, but softcovers are easier to carry around everywhere you go, so keep in mind what the recipient will likely be doing with their incredible gift. Are they a meticulous, careful type who takes great care with every possession? Softcover is probably fine in that case. Or are they someone who throws everything into a briefcase or backpack without worrying about the consequences? You guessed it—hardcover is probably the way to go.

Now it’s time to check out and pat yourself on the back. You did it!