Photo Books from Blurb: A High-Tech Gift Idea with Low-Tech Charm

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they expose you to his minimalist design sensibility. The sample books Thorne shows usually have one image per page, surrounded by lots of white space. All kinds of variation are possible—you can make the images smaller or larger, use big margins or none at all, or throw several images on one page—but Thorne’s point is that less is more.

Another crucial step before you fire up BookSmart is to pick the images you want to include in your photo book, and decide on a sequence. Thorne recommends printing the photos and laying them out on a table. In my case, I went to Flickr, where I had already uploaded all of my Italy pictures, and moved about 100 of my favorites into a new set called “Italy Project.” The images fell into a natural chronology—Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, etc.—so I didn’t have to agonize much over the final order.

Once you start building a book in BookSmart, the first big decision is about the size and orientation of the book you want to order, from a small 5×8-inch pocket book all the way up to a large landscape-orientation book (13×11 inches; that’s the size I chose). You also decide at this point whether your books should have a dust cover, or whether you want images printed directly on the outside cover.

Facing pages from Wade's Italy book from Blurb

Facing pages from my Italy book

Then you choose a default layout as a starting point. Blurb offers many categories of layouts, from cookbooks to wedding books to poetry books; I started with the photo book format.

Next you “slurp” or import the images you’ll be using. The software can grab photos directly from iPhoto on your Mac or from a folder on your PC, or it can connect to Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa Web Albums, or SmugMug. In my case, I told BookSmart to slurp all the images in my Italy Project set.

Then it’s layout time. BookSmart starts you off by helping you choose a cover image, a back image, and a typeface for your title and author information. If you’ve ever played around with fonts in Microsoft Word, none of this will be too difficult. As Thorne explains in one of the videos, it’s important to choose a strong cover image that expresses the theme of the book. In my case I used a shot of my parents and me enjoying a drink in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square. (A kindly fellow tourist snapped the shot. I hope my photo of his family turned out as nicely.)

Colloseum panorama spread

Colloseum panorama spread

To help arrange your photos on the inside pages, BookSmart provides dozens of pre-built templates, but if you can’t find one you like, you can always edit the existing ones and save them as custom templates. I kept things simple on most of my pages, dropping a single photo in the center of the page. But with other pages, I went a bit wild. In a few cases, I used up the entire page, letting the photo bleed right off the edge. For a panoramic image of the Colosseum in Rome, I chose a black background and made a spread, with the image continuing right across the gutter.

BookSmart even helps you with details like the title and copyright pages, chapter headings, page numbers, and photo captions. To see how the project is shaping up, you can switch to preview mode and flip through the whole book. When you’re happy with it, you click the “Order” button and the whole project gets uploaded to Blurb’s servers for … Next Page »

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6 responses to “Photo Books from Blurb: A High-Tech Gift Idea with Low-Tech Charm”

  1. Kevin Hogan says:

    Great review Wade. One Mac-centric question: Is there any reason to use this program as a Mac user? I have had success using iPhoto to do basically the same thing at around the same price. Are there additional benefits?

    • Wade Roush says:

      Hey Kevin, thanks for the comment. I’ve never finished a whole book project using iPhoto. But from a quick comparison, I’d say Blurb’s BookSmart offers more templates and more flexibility, including the ability to make custom templates. Also, Blurb has an e-commerce layer where you can sell a book or an e-book through their online bookstore or iBooks. With iPhoto, Apple seems to be aiming squarely at average consumers, whereas Blurb is more for prosumers or creators — but is still simple enough for beginners to use.

  2. Thanks for the fun read, Wade. Now I really want to try this!

  3. Mike Hunt says:

    Is there a world outside of Central lake, MI?

  4. Jamie Roush says:

    Very nice. I’ll keep my mouth shut about what’s waiting under our tree for Mom and Dad if you give me one of those Amazon gift certificates.