How to create a custom Disney photo book using Blurb & Photoshop

By Katie Marino on March 25th, 2011   |    Posted in:  Beyond Photography   |    53 Comments

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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.

Customer Service

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.

Creating a new file in Photoshop

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.

You will start off with a blank page in Photoshop

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.

This is your finished template for a custom Blurb photo book. Now you can start adding photos to create your book.

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).

We start by adding the first photo for our custom photo book and will continue by filling in the other areas

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!

This is a finished page for your Blurb photo book

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!


  1. Photogineer (Doug)   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Excellent Post. I have used Blurb for the past two years. I have created two books with them and given them out for Christmas Presents to my Family. I have taken a years worth of photos and made a sort of memory book for my parents and sister. To say the least it is a huge hit at Christmas when the whole room gets quite and everyone is reading the books. The quality and ease of use is my favorite part of using Blurb. Plus using a PC, I could not use iPhoto to create these books. There customer service is also great when I had an issue with a delamination of the front cover. They replaced the books no questions and were very quick about the responses. So far I have been happy with them and will be making my “Year in 2011″ book with them. I would encourage everyone to sign up and give them a try. Plus you can even sell the books on there site and make a little cash.

  2. Jeff   |   Mar 25, 2011

    This is AWESOME! Very well written and very thoughtful, I have contemplated Blurb and this has pushed me to do it.

  3. Greg Stevenson   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Great article Katie.

    I’ve never created one of these books before but I think I’m going to after reading this. It would be nice to give a copy to all the family members so they have a reminder of why they should never vacation with me again!

  4. Tom Bricker   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I also have contemplated Blurb, but have never used it. I have used Shutterfly (solid), Snapfish (okay), and another company that is now defunct–at least I think. I see a lot of images in Katie’s book that I can’t wait to see her post on Flickr next holiday season! It looks like she did some awesome work photographing the Christmas decorations!

    • Adam Hansen   |   Mar 25, 2011

      I thought the same thing when going through the photos she sent in for the article. Looks like she took some amazing photos that trip and I can’t wait to see more.

  5. Diana Kehoe   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I’m leaving for WDW tomorrow and have been visiting this site for the past two weeks and it has really gotten me excited. This will be my first time photographing Disney and I will definity use Blurb. I did see one of their books and they are beautiful. I have used other printing companies and had intended to use either Blurb or Kodak. But on your recommendation, Blurb will be the one. Thank you!!!

  6. Paul Gowder   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I’ve used Snapfish and MPix for their books. I’ve looked at Blurb a few times but never ordered. I’m going to work on one this weekend now! Thanks Katie!

    And like others said, you have some great photos in your book that you haven’t posted on Flickr yet! Can’t wait to see them!

  7. Jessica (figmentfan84)   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Excellent article Katie! My boyfriend and I are graphic designers by occupation and photographers in our spare time, so we’ve talked about making photo books for quite some time to combine our two passions. We have just never gotten around to doing it though. I forget which company we had looked into using, but Blurb sounds like a fantastic one to use. And I love Doug’s idea of making books for family members. For Christmas last year, we each created a canvas-wrapped print for my parents through Canvas Pop (a *superb* company, btw). They loved them, but a photo book sounds like a great way to give them even more photos. :-)

  8. Paul Boniface   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I intend to use Blurb, or one of its competitors in the UK (Jessops, cewe) to create a photobook from our next trip stateside, It will be our 1year old and 4 year old girls trips, These would make excellent Christmas presents..

    Unfortunately, we don’t go until mid to end of May, so 10% off finishes to soon.. oh well…

    This is a great site and has inspired me to take my camera (eos350d) off of automatic for the first time.. I have been practising though, dont want to completely ruin the holiday (translation : Vacation) photos

  9. Scott   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I’ve used Shutterfly for this in the past and have been satisfied with the results as well as the price (they had a special for a free photo book). However, I like the ability to make my own templates and will have to check out Blurb next time.

  10. Becky   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I have been thinking about jumping into the digital books for awhile now! Thanks for your instructions!

  11. Kevin Singer   |   Mar 25, 2011

    This could not have been posted at a better time for me. I had planned on creating a photo book this week as a gift for somebody. I love the idea of creating your own templates in Photoshop first, I am definitely going to try that.

    This article is an excellent example of the quality posts your site delivers on a regular basis. The detail Katie went into is great. That is why you have quickly become my favorite blog, posts like these separate you guys from many of the other photo blogs I check out.

  12. Kelliann   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Great job Katie! I have seen her albums and they are beautiful. I can’t wait to try this out myself. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  13. ChiSoxKeith   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Great post and great photos.

    I’ve done a couple of Shutterfly books but I’ll definitely try out Blurb for my next book. The fact that Blurb has what looks like robust offline creation tools is definitely a plus.

    If I can ask, what font did you use for the cover and your headlines?

    • Katie Marino   |   Mar 25, 2011

      Keith, I used two different fonts. The headlines were done with a font called “Satisfaction” which I downloaded for a small fee. The text was done in Segoe Print which came installed, either with my laptop or with photoshop.

      Thanks everyone for the great comments- what a great discussion there is taking place today!

      • ChiSoxKeith   |   Mar 25, 2011

        Thanks for the tip. Found the Satisfaction font only!

  14. Tracy Brooks   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Thanks so much for this article. I have used Shutterfly in the past but was frustrated with the template options. I love the idea of being able to create my own backgrounds and templates. Great information!

  15. Vicki Vaught   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I love Blurb! I used them for the first time to make photo books for the grandparents this past Christmas. I did the year of 2010 of pics of the kids….starting with our Jan 2010 trip to Disney! The books came out great….very impressed with the quality—totally professional! All the grandparents loved them. Although I’m way behind on this project (seeing as how it’s now March 2011!! LOL), I’m currently in the process of making a photo book of our 2010 Disney trip. This discount is great timing. :)

    As for Blurb itself, not only is the paper/book quality very good, I was also impressed with the quality of the colors of the pics I put in the book. I was worried that they wouldn’t look the same as what I was seeing on my computer, but they turned out awesome. The binding (I did a hardback book with a picture wrap cover) is very durable as well. I am very impressed with the books and at this point have no plans to try any other sites, as I was so pleased.

  16. Courtney   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I use blurb, too. I download digital scrapbooking elements and then make 8×10 pages to look like scrapbook pages. Then I put them as full pages in my blurb book.

  17. Amanda French   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Awesome article! Great photos too!!

    I just created my first blurb book. I made a cookbook for my senior thesis in graphic design for undergrad. I loved that I could use indesign to create my book, which gave me endless freedom in terms of layout. Check out my book on blurb, it is called “Work Hard, Eat Hard,” and chronicles my family genealogy with recipes.

    I totally agree with you on the quality too, you can’t beat the quality, it’s just over the top. If your book looks good on screen it will look unbelievably good once its printed and bound. Blurb really takes extra care in the details, which makes for really high quality beautiful books.

    Thanks for the coupon code too :)

  18. Marsi   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I love Blurb! They’re my first choice for digital scrapbooking. And I’m about to go to WDW! So my next Blurb book will be a Disney one.

  19. Marsi   |   Mar 25, 2011

    ps – thanks for the coupon!!!!

  20. KYM odonnell   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Love this, as we are heading to Disney in two weeks and you’ve given me great ideas to make a digital scrapbook! Thanks!

  21. Mischa White   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Great looking layouts! I like how all the colors really pop against the black background. Also what font did you use for your titles? I’m a font whore and I love the font you used. I’m an avid digi-scrapbooker and am designing a few books to print on Blurb. I used to use Shutterfly but once I compared the prices and quality to Blurb, I was hooked! I love having the creative freedom to design my own pages and add my own emblishments and still have them printed in a beautiful coffee table book to enjoy.

    Thanks for the coupon code! Extra incnetive to finally order my son’s baby book that has been done for a few years now (he’s 5…think it’s about time I got it printed?).

    P.S. There are some awesome Disney fonts available on the internet for free including one that looks just like the Disneyland font.

    • Katie Marino   |   Mar 26, 2011

      Hi Mischa. I used the fonts “Satisfaction” (for the titles) and Segoe Print (for the text). Now order that baby book! :)

  22. Adele   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Excellent article with some great ideas! I did my first photobook a couple of months ago using the Blurb templates and was incredibly impressed with the paper and book quality! My second and third books are currently “under construction” of our 2 trips to Japan. I’ve become much more creative and am designing my own templates –so very easy to do! Your article has provided me with more tips and ideas–thank you!

  23. Anita Boeira   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I love blurb, I have used it to print my final thesis for grad school. it was such a hit, most of my peers this semester will be using (the 10% discount for friends is coming in handy). Great not only for photo books, but also for technical books and manuals. Go Blurb! :)

    Also, this post inspired me to create a Blurb version of my scrapbook from when I worked for Disney in the International College Program 04/05.

  24. Lori K   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Love the layouts you created!! I’ve done 2 books through blurb, and will continue to do more!!

  25. Kate T   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Great job with your book Katie, I also made a book of our trip to the States in 2008 and am still in the middle of piecing together our 2010 trip. The only hard thing about using blurb is deciding what pictures to use. We took over 7800 photos on our last trip and my book is already up to 60 pages. The discount voucher will come in very handy. We are also planning another trip in June of this year, so need get a move on with my current book so I can start the next one. I am addicted!! Love the font on the front of your book also.

  26. Terri   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Great job! I really like your photo layout and appreciate you showing how to accomplish it. I have been using Blurb for many years now and have created 10 books with them. Everything from family history, memorial books, vacation, christmas and my favorite poems. I’ve watched them improve their product through the years and appreciate how well they listen to their customers suggestions for improvement. The new change of being able to convert our books into different sizes is a huge improvement and one we’ve been asking for for a while now. I’m hoping to convert some of my large size (11×13) family history books into a smaller size that may make it more affordable to some of my family who on limited funds. I’m in the process of creating a 400 page family history book right now and $20 coupon would be absolutely great – just had to throw that in – LOL…

  27. Heidi J   |   Mar 25, 2011

    I love Blurb! I’ve used them for all my photo books and they are great quality! They have really good customer service too.

  28. Tiff   |   Mar 25, 2011

    Your pictures are wonderful! I have made dozen of books through Blurb. I take so many pictures that the pricing scale there makes it affordable to get them all printed. I just made a book from our trip to Disney World too so this was a fun article to read.

  29. Colleen   |   Mar 26, 2011

    Thanks for your post Katie. I scrapbook but do paper. I have tons of “just for fun” photography pictures from Disney that I want to do something with since they usually don’t make it into the family scrapbook. I will definately check out Blurb to do a photo book.

  30. Katie   |   Mar 26, 2011

    Great article! I’ve used Snapfish before to make digital scrapbooks. If you’re like us and save ephemera like park maps, tickets, and boarding passes, you can always scan them too to make it feel even more like a traditional scrapbook.

  31. Thena Smith   |   Mar 26, 2011

    What ever did I do BB (Before Blurb)? I have lost count of the number of books I have created there.
    I have done photo books for the family and poetry books for scrapbookers and have been so pleased with each of them.
    Thena Smith

  32. Doug Maffett   |   Mar 26, 2011

    Great post. My wife loves to scrap book. Any idea if there are custom layouts available on the web anywhere, or any other sharing location? She does everything by hand, so do get her started digitally, I need to find the easiest way to transition her into it.

    • ChiSoxKeith   |   Mar 27, 2011

      Not sure if the templates work with the Blurb software, but if you have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements you can get templates, backgrounds, notions digitally at a site called Lots of great stuff (including some disney inspired papers).

      • Doug Maffett   |   Mar 27, 2011

        Thanks, I’ll check it out.

  33. Paul Gowder   |   Mar 27, 2011

    There is a Groupon for Blub today!

    • Adam Hansen   |   Mar 27, 2011

      Thanks Paul for the heads up, just got in for 2

  34. Adam Hansen   |   Mar 28, 2011

    Just wanted to congratulate Scott Oliver on winning the Blurb gift card and thank everyone for contributing to our best day yet on the blog!

    Don’t forget, everybody gets 10% off their next Blurb book order by using the promo code: DISNEY (valid until the end of April 2011)

  35. nanettej   |   Mar 29, 2011

    This is a wonderful blog Katie. It occurred to me about a year ago that I take all these pictures and do nothing with them. I’ve since been working on photobooks and slide shows to share with my family, I think they make everything that bit more special. I would encourage anyone to try this out.

  36. David   |   Apr 28, 2011

    Just found this article and I have to say what a fantastic job you have done writing it up as well as the photos. I have never even thought about doing something like this but you have 100% convinced me to have a go at it myself.

    Thanks again


  37. Charles Brabec   |   Aug 14, 2011

    Took a trip to Wyoming that also roamed Idaho, and Utah back in early July. Saw this post and decided to give Blurb a try with those pics. I am very pleased. Your suggestion to do my own full-page layouts worked quite well. The book maker tool allows you to use their layouts, but I was fine on my own. I put together a 36 page book and had it ordered last Sunday – paperback, using premium luster paper. The estimate was 8 days to print, plus around another week to deliver. In practice, they had the book printed by Tuesday and at my house by Thursday – 4 days total. Print quality looks great. I’ve already given away my first copy and ordered 4 more for gifts. Thanks for the tip!

  38. Renata   |   Jun 26, 2012

    Hi Katie, very nice post! Just one doubt, why do you create the lay outs in photoshop and not on the book smart application?

    Many thanks!


    • Katie Marino   |   Jun 26, 2012

      Hi Renata. You could definitely create the layouts in the book smart application. For my use, I have found that application to be a little limiting. I find that I have more control and can fine tune things easier in photoshop. I also work more quickly and smoothly in photoshop. But that’s just me :)

  39. John   |   Oct 10, 2012

    hahaha, those photos are not hers! They exist online all over the place.

    • Adam Hansen   |   Oct 10, 2012

      All of the photos are Katie’s, including the screenshots she created in Photoshop. Not sure what you are talking about.

  40. Jocelyn   |   Nov 14, 2012

    Thank you for your article. I really need your help and am getting no where with Blurb. I need help with the placing of these photoshop pages into their templates. They all look blurry. Please will you email me and help me with that last step. I am so frustrated and I am running out of time. I know the answer is something simple. I’d be so grateful for your assistance. Many thanks, jg

  41. Melanie   |   Apr 26, 2013

    THIS COMPANY HAS TERRIBLE SERVICE. I ordered an expedited book, paid extra shipping and the book arrived damaged. they will not allow me to call them to discuss the issue or replace is in a timely manner. It is for a masters thesis project and all they say is sorry but I can’t guarantee any help with the issue. Now I have a damaged as in rolled bent all over the cover and back cover and they have the nerve to not even give me a supervisor to speak with. This is a faceless company with “no phones” as they say so they don’t really have to help customers when they make huge mistakes

    • Adam   |   Apr 29, 2013

      Sorry to hear about your experience with Blurb. To be completely honest, I have always heard great things about their customer service and am surprised to hear this.

      They do have a live chat option on their contact page, maybe that might help?



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