You’ve just returned from a great Disney vacation. You’ve taken hundreds, maybe thousands of pictures, you’ve sorted through and processed your masterpieces- now what? If you’re like me, you’re eager to share and display your photos. There are many ways to share your pictures- prints, online galleries, scrapbooking or even carrying your iPad around everywhere you go. My favorite method, however, is digital scrapbooking- making and printing a photo book. I love photo books because they are an organized and compact way to tell a story with my photos.
There are many great photo book websites, each with their own book-making applications. If you are short on time or want to keep things simple, using their software to design your book is a great option. However, I love having full creative control over my book so I design my own pages in Photoshop and then upload my completed pages to the site for printing. This is definitely a more time-intensive endeavor but once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it can be very rewarding.
Below, I detail my procedure for making a photo book. I begin with a disclaimer- I am not a graphic designer or a Photoshop expert. I have learned from books and from trial and error. If anyone reading the following steps has suggestions for a better or more efficient method, I would be happy to hear suggestions! Also, I use CS4, on a PC, so my screenshots and instructions reflect that.
Before starting, it is important to choose which site you will use to publish your book so that you can create pages with the exact dimensions of that book. Like I mentioned, there are many photo book sites that print books of varying sizes, quality, and price. Personally, I feel that it is worth a little extra money to print a high quality book. After all the effort you go through to produce beautiful images, the final printing should enhance, not detract from, this process. I have tried several services and have been most happy with the books I have printed with Blurb.
Why use Blurb for your photo book?
Price & Paper Quality
I now use Blurb exclusively when creating my photo books. Blurb’s prices are quite reasonable, especially when you compare their print quality to other photo book sites online. Simply put, their print quality is amazing. I have tried different paper weights and finishes and have found that their premium paper, with a lustre finish, is especially good and that is now my regular choice.
I can honestly say from experience that Blurb’s customer service is excellent. Recently, I received a book that had a minor manufacturing defect and when I brought it to their attention, they quickly issued a reprinting of my book. I was also happy with how fast customer service was to respond to a question I had prior to placing my order; within two hours of sending them an email, I had an answer in my inbox.
Photo Book Software
Blurb provides convenient options for designing your photo books. They have an online application as well as their recently updated Booksmart software that is available for download. Blurb will also allow you to import photos that you have previously uploaded to Flickr, Photobucket, Picassa and Smugmug. Using their software is a great, simple way to customize your book. However, if, like me, you would like to have complete, customizable control over your book, this is also an option that they support. It involves creating a custom template in Photoshop and then importing these pages into their software.
Creating a Blurb photo book custom template
The first step is to create a template with “photoboxes” to drop the pictures into. I initially browsed a couple sites to get some layout ideas and then made several different templates before I began designing books. Over time, I have continued to modify these templates and have created a library of dozens of different layouts. I prefer to vary the layout from page to page, both in the number and the size of the photos showcased. This helps the pages flow in a lively manner and keeps the reader’s attention.
1. Create a new document with the specific dimensions of the page, obtained from the site you will be using. These may be listed as “full page bleed dimensions”. For example, Blurb lists the size of their large landscape book, full page bleed, as 12.627 x 10.877. Go to [File > New...] and input these document dimensions, with a resolution of 300 ppi. Before clicking [OK], first press [Save Preset...] so that these specifications will be easily accessible for your future templates.
2. Next, I set to view the rulers [View > Rulers] and I pull in some guidelines (just drag from the ruler and drop them where you want them in the document). I mark margins on each side. Full page bleed pages are trimmed in production so you should keep vital information at least ½ inch away from the edges. I will also pull in other guidelines as necessary to facilitate designing a well balanced layout- for example, I often mark the middle.
3. Create photoboxes. Each photobox will be placed on its own layer so that you can manipulate it separately. Create a new layer [Layer > New > Layer...] and then, using the Rectangular Marquee tool, draw a box of your desired size. You could just draw a random sized box or you could use a fixed ratio, such as 4×6. When you’ve made an outline, select the Paintbucket tool and fill in the selection to make your box. I usually use a middle gray color so that it stands out against either a black or white background.
4. Now that you have filled the box, deselect the marquee. At this point, you can use the Move tool, if necessary, to adjust the location or size of your box.
5. Create more boxes, either by repeating the steps above or by duplicating the layer of the box that you’ve already created and then adjusting the size and location of the new box with the Move tool. The rulers come in handy at this point because they will allow you to lock a box into a location, ensuring that your layout is evenly spaced.
6. Once you have created the template, save it as a PSD, maintaining the layers. I usually title them using the number of boxes in the template so that I can easily sort my templates by number of boxes.
7. This is the basic template- to dress things up a bit, you can change the background layer. I usually use a simple black background (fill the background layer with black using the Paintbucket tool) but there are a lot of free backgrounds you could find online if you prefer something fancier. I also add a border to the boxes. Again, I keep it simple with a 15 pixel, white border [Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options...> Stroke...]. If you prefer something fancier, play around with the blending options.
Adding pictures to your photo book
Now that you have created a template, it is time to drop in some pictures.
1. Select a few pictures and open them in Photoshop. Drag them as layers into your document.
2. Next, convert each photo into a smart object [Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object]. A smart object will preserve all the information in that file, regardless of how you change its size or distort it. Without converting to a smart object, if I downsized the photo, I would lose some information. Then, if I later decided I wanted the photo to be bigger, I would have a lower quality image due to the information I had previously lost.
3. Move the photo that you want to place to the layer above the box you want to place it in. Create a clipping mask with the photo to the box layer below it [Layer > Create Clipping Mask]. The clipping mask (bottom layer) will reveal that portion of the layer above it that is in the same location as the nontransparent parts of the mask (the gray box).
4. Resize the photo so that it fits well in the mask, revealing the part of the photo that you want to appear.
5. Repeat for the other photos!
At this point, your page is basically done. You can adjust the layout if necessary, change backgrounds and borders, or even add a text box and input text. Make sure that you save a copy as a PSD, with all the layers, in case you decide to change something later. Then, flatten the image and save as a JPEG. This is your page. Once you have created all your pages, you will import these JPEGs into the bookmaking software you have chosen. Chose the full page bleed layout (it will usually look like a completely gray page) and drop your pages into the book. Then, click “order” and get ready for the most difficult step- waiting patiently until the day that your new beautiful book arrives in the mail!
Some examples of my custom Blurb Disney photo book
As I mentioned earlier in the article, Blurb is my choice each time I create a new photo book. You can’t beat the great paper and print quality, fantastic customer service and fair pricing. I highly recommend taking the time to create a photo book so that you can share your photos with others. While Flickr, iPads and email are fun, I believe that photos look so much better when printed and that nothing beats a good book!