How to design and print your book with Blurb

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Final part of the series on how to print your photo book with pro photographer Jared Platt

Editor’s note: In this three-part series, pro photographer and educator Jared Platt will teach you to create high-quality photo books with Blurb. Jared will take you step-by-step through picking your photos, using the top bookmaking tools, and printing your end product. Want to see the entire tutorial? Visit Jared Platt’s website!

Welcome back to class. I’m Jared Platt, a professional photographer and instructor who’s here to take you from photos to self-published photo book. In this last lesson, I’ll teach you how to get from a fantastic selection of pictures to a designed and printed photo book.

Remember, we’ve already learned why we should print a photo book and how to pick our photos. We’re moving on to the fun part: layout and actually getting a book printed!

What do you need to design a book?

Now that you have a collection of images (even a loose collection) and a general sense of how you want to present your ideas, it’s time to get into the design.

There are a few different ways to approach book design: You can use a template that someone else has already created to drag and drop your images, create your own layout in a graphic design program, or hire a professional designer.

We’ll focus on the first two options, as they give you more control over your book’s final look and feel. Both rely on software to design the layout of your book.

Book design software

Three programs will do an excellent job building your book (and will automatically upload to Blurb for super easy, on-demand publication). You can choose between Blurb BookWright, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic, and Adobe InDesign.

  • Blurb BookWright is a free, intuitive program that can auto-flow your photos into pre-built, professionally-designed templates. Powerful enough to create your own layout and comfortably design text-heavy books, it makes book creation easy for photographers with any level of graphic design skills.
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic is uncomplicated to use—and makes editing images directly inside your book design really easy. In fact, I don’t think there’s any reason to look elsewhere if you already use Lightroom Classic.
  • Adobe InDesign is the gold standard for page layout. It’s a professional-level program that offers flexibility and control when designing books (and other types of print media).

So how do you choose? We’ll get into it below.

Waves at shore line with large rock on horizon

BookWright, Lightroom Classic, or InDesign: How to pick

All three of these bookmaking programs can create a beautiful book design and quickly get sent to print—whether you use Blurb or not. However, there are some key differences that will help you choose the right program based on your skill level and book project requirements.

Since you are in my class, I’ll also offer my suggestions. If you have more text in your book (or don’t own Lightroom Classic), then BookWright is your best option. If your book doesn’t have a lot of text, Lightroom Classic is your best bet. Unless, of course, you already know InDesign (then use it!).

BookWright: a free program for text-heavy books

BookWright is an excellent program if you’re looking for a simple way to create a text-heavy book without learning graphic design or paying for a program. It’s easy to use, completely free, and quite powerful.

In fact, it has many simple functions for organizing images—just like Lightroom Classic. And it has a far easier text editing environment. So if I am designing a book with entire pages of text, I will choose BookWright over Lightroom Classic every time.

Also, since you can rely on a variety of templates and automatic input of your photos, it’s perfect for first-time bookmakers or those who want to focus on the writing and story more than the design.

The downside to BookWright is that you need to export your final images into the program. That means you have extra copies of your images, and also, if you need to change any, you’ll have to go back to your original photo and then re-export them. 

However, you’ll get that time back with the time savings from the improved text editing environment. The shape tool also allows you to add subtle graphic elements to the book’s design, which is a plus.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic: hyper-efficient photo editing and book design

Lightroom Classic is one of my favorite programs. It’s an efficient photo editor that can do a lot—and it’s also great for book design.

The program’s Book module already has Blurb built-in for hyper-fast printing post-design. It’s effortless to use, and my favorite feature is that I can create a book using only RAW photographs. So if I make the book design in Lightroom Classic, I can modify any of the pictures right there, and they will be automatically updated in the book design.

You can also design the book in Lightroom Classic on a plane (or anywhere offline) while the actual photos are sitting at home on a large hard drive. So you don’t need to collect the images first, export them, and then import them into another program to finish a book design. That’s what makes Lightroom Classic a convenient and efficient tool for designing books.

It does have two shortcomings. First, it is not simple to work with text. Although the text editor has the same text controls as InDesign, it is cumbersome and clunky to work with text in the book module. Second, there are limited paper and products available in Lightroom Classic’s Book module. But, if the available products work for your project and you have a design with a limited amount of text, it is the most efficient way to design your photo book.

Adobe InDesign: best for professionals who already know it

Adobe InDesign is unquestionably the premier program for page layout design. If you already know the program, it is very powerful and can create anything. Professional photographers, book designers, and magazine editors all use InDesign. In fact, I use it anytime I am designing something that needs an extremely fine touch—especially something that will have a lot of text, like a magazine or a how-to photo book.

You can add photos, text, vectors, and even video thumbnails to an InDesign document. It is similar to BookWright in almost every way, just more powerful (and more complicated).

The downside is just that—it is a highly complex program to learn. In fact, if you don’t know how to use it already, you probably don’t want to learn how to use it. (And that’s why I’m not offering a tutorial in this class.)

Design your book in two steps

Don’t get nervous now and stop now. Keep going! You have nothing to lose.

You don’t even have to order your book in the end. But starting your book will allow you the experience of layout images in relation to one another—and adding in words that go along. There is a lot of education in this process. So get started.

1. Calibrate your monitor

If you haven’t calibrated your monitor, it doesn’t matter how much you spent on it or how nice it is. Without this crucial step, you simply can’t trust the color, contrast, or brightness you see on screen.

If you are editing your images on a non-calibrated monitor, they might look perfect on your display, but they’re doubtful to look great in print.

When I talk to people who don’t like their prints, I ask them what tools they used to calibrate their monitors, and they look at me with either confusion or shame. Don’t make the same mistake!

2. Design your book in your chosen program

Now that you’ve chosen your book designing software and calibrated your monitor, you can have fun with the actual design!

No matter what program you use, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Begin with your book size. The size of your book will determine so much about your book—from the number of your photos to the size of files you need to export. You’ve already thought about this in the previous lesson, so it’s time to make a final selection. Blurb has everything from tiny squares to large landscapes. Just pick one.
  • Keep it simple. When it comes to book design, less is usually more. Don’t try to cram too much onto each page. Instead, leave some white space for the images to breathe.
  • Think about balance. Pairing images with complementary colors, tones, or stories can create a satisfying visual balance on the page.
  • Use fonts wisely. While you don’t always need to have text, if you do, choosing the right font and size is essential. The right typography choices also contribute significantly to the story you’re telling with your images.
  • Don’t forget your logo. Add your graphic elements or logos to your collection or album before exporting your images.

Now let’s jump into the in-depth tutorials on Lightroom Classic and BookWright below. I’ve picked those since they are the two most straightforward programs. If you’re interested in learning InDesign, there are plenty of step-by-step tutorials to check out (including a tutorial by yours truly).

BookWright

If you are designing in BookWright (or InDesign), start by selecting your final collection or album of images and exporting them as full, high-resolution images. Most cameras today have high enough resolution for a 12×12 inch book, so just export them at their native size, and you should be fine. 

However, if you are shooting with an older camera, you might need to increase the size slightly when you are exporting them. sRGB JPGs at 100% quality at their original size are also perfectly acceptable. Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the process!

Lightroom Classic

If you are using the Book module in Lightroom Classic, just choose your second (or third or fourth) pass collection or album and then go into the Book module and start placing images. If you need to edit any of them, you can do it directly in Lightroom Classic, and they’ll update in your design. Remember to have fun!

How to order your book

You’ve selected your photos, picked out your format, and designed the layout of your book. Now, it’s time to make the actual order. What’s great is that all three of these programs allow you to submit your book directly to Blurb. It’s easy.

There are a few things to keep in mind during the ordering process.

  • Carefully choose your paper. Your book’s paper, cover, and even wrapping all play a part in its purpose and meaning. It’s vital to take time to select the best options for your project. Blurb offers archival quality paper with finishes from high gloss to premium matte.
  • Select the cover style. Your book’s cover is one of the first things people will see, so it’s foundational for making a good impression. Blurb offers a wide range of cover styles and materials, from softcover to hardcover with dust jacket.
  • Review your project. Preview your PDFs at 200% to check for spelling and punctuation errors, bleed issues, blurry images, and pixelated text. It may be worthwhile to have a friend look things over as well!
  • Just order one for now. Even if you plan on printing a bundle of books, it’s a great idea to see your finished product first. With a proof copy, you can confirm that what you are expecting to translate to the printed page is translated in the way you are expecting.

My final project

During these lessons, I made both a layflat book and a trade book as a companion to the main photo book. Ready to see the finished product? We’ll unbox together.

I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful! If you have any questions, reach out. I’ll be answering them via my upcoming online event with Dan Milnor and Blurb!

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Read the rest of Jared’s series with the case for printing photo books and how to pick your photos for your photo book with Blurb. Or see the whole tutorial on Jared Platt’s website!

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