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A few years ago, I got my first photo book printed, and I was instantly in love. I was seriously impressed with the quality of the printing, the binding, and the price. It cost me less than half of what I would pay to print individual photos and put them in a photo album, so it was well worth the investment.
Since then, I’ve tried to do a book a year, and although I’m woefully behind on that goal, I have added a few more to my bookshelf and I’ve got several in the works. I get lots of compliments on my books, so today, I thought I’d share some tips and tricks for making your own photo books.
Please note: There are a lot of quick and easy photo book options out there, and they are perfect for many applications. However, if you want something truly unique to you, it might take a little more time and effort. All of the tips I’m going to share today are going to improve your photo book game, so feel free to pick and choose the ones that work best for you, your skills, and your timeline.
I have tried a couple of different photo book creators, and the one that I love best is definitely Blurb. While the others do a decent job as far as print quality goes, Blurb gives you more options for customization and creativity. You can choose from a variety of paper styles, covers, and sizes, and Blurb has the highest max page allowance that I’ve seen (up to 440, depending on paper and cover style). If you take a lot of photos like I do, you might need every last one of those pages to get all your photos to fit. And once you order a book from Blurb, it stays in your account for life, so you have an automatic backup should anything happen to your physical copy.
And if all of that isn’t enough to convince you, how about this: Blurb has the best price per page that I’ve seen, especially when you consider the fact that they’re almost always running a great sale. They also have some of the best customer service I’ve ever experienced anywhere. They’re tied with KEH Cameras for the companies I brag about the most whenever customer service stories come up in conversation.
I also really love Blurb’s native design software. I started in the days when their only option was BookSmart, an intuitive, user-friendly program that makes designing your books a breeze. They’ve since added BookWright, and I love it even more. It has a bit of a steeper learning curve, but I love the additional control it gives me over layouts and design. Both programs are free, so if you’re not sure which one is right for you, you can try them both without any commitment. (And don’t worry: if you’re not interested in having full control over layouts and photo order and such, both programs have an auto fill option. Just import all your photos, press the button, and voila!)If you’re ready to make the leap into the wonderful world of making photo books with Blurb, get 25% off photo books with the code WINTERBOOK now until 3/18/22. (If you miss that window, don’t fret! I keep this post updated with their current offers.)
Looking for A Step-By-Step Guide for Making Photo Books?
Less is More
One thing I don’t love about many of the other photo book options is that the pages are too cluttered for my taste. I tend to be a bit of a minimalist when it comes to photo books, so I don’t often use backgrounds, borders or frames. If that’s your style, go ahead and use them, but be judicious about it. Use them sparingly to create a nice contrast.
The “less is more” mantra is also important for photos. If you cram too many photos onto a single page, it can be hard to focus on any of them. I do occasionally use spreads that have lots of photos, but I keep those for photos that document smaller details of a single theme. Again, it’s okay to use these every once in a while, but don’t make it the norm for your photo book lest it become overwhelming.
Keep Your Layouts Balanced
Balance is key to making your photo books look gorgeous and professional. Not only should individual pages be well balanced, but each side of the spread should complement the other. Don’t be afraid of a little white space—it can help you avoid cluttered pages and give certain images and layouts more or less “weight.”
And maybe it’s just me, but I can’t stand when photos touch each other. I like to give them a little room around the edges so pictures don’t blend together. If you’re using BookSmart or BookWright, you can ensure that your buffer areas are even and uniform by using grids and guides.
Keep Typography Consistent
I get it: fonts are fun. I have thousands of them, so you don’t have to tell me that they’re the bee’s knees. But when it comes to design, too many fonts are the quickest way to look unpolished. Best practice is to pick three, max: one for titles, one for subtitles, and one for body text. (And if you use a variant of your title text for your subtitles, you can cut that down to two.) Make sure they pair well (check out Pinterest for lots of pairing examples), and avoid overly cutesy fonts if you want it to look classy.
Designing the covers is my favorite part of making photo books. I have a secret dream of being a professional book cover designer someday, so I love creating designs for my photo books. You don’t have to give your books fancy titles like I do, but I enjoy feeling like I’ve created something a little more fancy than a yearbook. Regardless of whether you decide to give your book a title other than “Our Family Photo Book,” it’s important to remember that the cover is a first impression. If you’re going to keep these books visible—on your coffee table, perhaps, or displayed nicely on your bookshelf—you’ll want it to look nice. Spending the time to design a nice cover will go a long way toward creating a gorgeous photo book.
Don't Forget the Spines
All of the photo books I currently have printed were designed in BookSmart, which doesn’t have the option of extending cover designs over the spine. But the newer BookWright does have that option, so all of the books I’m working on now will have spine designs. I CAN’T WAIT to see them all lined up on my book shelves with their fancy spines.
For some fun spine design inspiration, check out my Photo Books board on Pinterest.
Use High Resolution Photos
This is especially important if you want to use some of Blurb’s gorgeous 2-page spreads. If you try to blow up a low-resolution phone picture across two pages of a large photo book, you’re going to end up with blurry, pixelated spreads. The nice thing is that Blurb lets you know if a photo is too small to print well in a given image box.
Leave Room for Add-Ins
Since these photo books are just for me, I like to leave room on some pages to add in additional flat elements after I get the book printed. This makes it feel really unique, and provides a little contrast to all those flat, glossy photos. I just use photo corners to stick paper ephemera to these pages. Some of the things I have added to my books include:
- Ticket stubs
- Tri-fold brochures for places I’ve visited
- A paper target from the shooting range at Philmont
- Notes from friends
I also like to make a soundtrack full of songs that had some significance for me over the course of that year. I burn these songs to a disk and attach the paper disc sleeve inside the cover using more photo corners.
Incorporate Your Design Skills
One thing I love to do with my photo books is to create a theme that’s reflected throughout the book. For example, one of the books I’m working on right now is called Postcards Stamps. I got a lot of postcards that year, so I designed a cover that incorporates many of them, and each chapter starts with a page decorated with a postcard I designed for that section. (Time consuming? You betcha. I take this photo book thing very seriously…)
But even if you’re not as crazy as I am, photo books can be a great opportunity to showcase—or develop—your design skills. You can use Photoshop to turn your images into different shapes than the standard square or rectangle, create fun layouts with InDesign, make some maps (I love this map making tutorial from Suzanne O’Brien Studio), use clipping masks to overlay images onto text—the possibilities are endless.
And fun fact: If you use Lightroom, the built-in book module is a Blurb builder, and InDesign users can get a plugin to create Blurb photo books from within the program.
Looking for some beautifully designed InDesign templates to help you create beautiful photobooks for your family? Check out my Etsy shop and start telling your family’s story today!
Create an Index
Creating a table of contents and an index might seem like overkill, but if you’re making a massive book like one of these, those details will be surprisingly helpful. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wanted to find a picture of a particular person or event. Using the TOC or the index made it so much easier than having to flip through all of those pages.
If you’re making a photobook in InDesign, you can use the program’s built-in index creator to do this as you go along. (Here’s a step-by-step tutorial.) But you can still make an index if you are making a book with BookWright, which is how I did it for years. I simply waited until all of the pictures were in place and page numbers were added to each page. Then I created an Excel spreadsheet in which I listed all the people, places, animals, etc. (whatever I want indexed) in one column, and the pages they appear on in another. After that, I copied the two columns into Notepad to remove the formatting artifacts (which can affect how they appear in Blurb), and pasted them into text boxes at the end of my book. After adjusting the spacing and formatting as needed, I had a lovely index that makes finding specific pictures much easier.
There you go! Incorporating any of these tips into your photo book design process will take your books to the next level. Check out Blurb for some great photo book inspiration, and don’t forget to use the code WINTERBOOK to get 25% off!
What questions do you have about making photo books? Let me know in the comments below!
If you found this post helpful, please share it! Thanks!
Thanks, does Blurb operate in Australia? Margaret
Hi Margaret! Yes, I believe Blurb does operate in Australia. ?
I have been searching for inspo and help on how to get going with my photobooks, and this post has been amazingly helpful thank you so much! And for the intro into Blurb. So excited to get started.
Oh, I’m so glad! I hope you love it. Making photo books is one of my favorite things. 🙂
Beautiful Jess! Great tips! I’m wondering what size books those are and which paper option you chose. Thanks!
Thank you! These are the Standard Portrait (8×10) vertical books. Because they’re all over 240 pages, I only had the option of standard paper. But if your books end up being fewer pages, the premium and proline papers are all really lovely, too!
About the leaving extra pages – one of my recent photo books, I took the time scan in ticket stubs, business cards, etc. and just added them like photos. It worked great!
That’s a great idea, too! Thank you for sharing!
Hi Jess, I would love your expert option…. I made a beautiful Blurb book in 2006 for Family Vacation with 1100 pictures (month long drive from Canada to Tijuana,Vegas, Disney, Sam Fran San Diego etc. I am not familar/comfortable with new software with Blurb. My Mom passed away recently and I am making a book for my sisters. They have all contributed photos either digital or paper that I had scanned onto USB . The best part is there are many pictures no one knows I have or have forgotten and that’s a great surprise. There were 7 children and there are 26 Grandchildren and too many great grandchildren to count. The pictures will range from 1953 to present. There are several of my Mom, which I’m happy about and more than enough of everyone else. I was planning on giving everyone as many pages as are necessary and start with the oldest and her name say in Script and her pictures and then next page or so her children and names and then greats. The focus of the album is my Moms pictures and life and the older ones (us siblings) more than the grandchildren, it’s my sister’s memories and we have lost some younger family members as well. The pictures will range from old black and whites to Anne Gedde baby type pictures so it will be a mix for sure . Do you have any suggestions so it doesn’t look like a bunch of pictures just splattered in a page since there really isn’t theme? I believe Blurb printed black and white pages but I wouldn’t mind coloured maybe but probably not since the photos are so varied. I realize you don’t work for Blurb but I’m really struggling getting this project started and I have no one to ask as I am the only one who has made any . This is a major undertaking and I want it to be very special. Your books are amazing and I just would appreciate anything you might have to add. Thankyou for reading my comment!
Hi Diana! Your photo book about your mom and sisters sounds so lovely. One thing you might consider is grouping photos by category. You mentioned that you would be grouping them by individual already, so you could do subgroups like age ranges or special events. For example, one page (or however you’ll need) could be about your mom’s childhood, followed by pages about teen years, college, marriage, life events, etc. Progressing through the book in roughly chronological order will tell the story really well. As you add in yourself and your siblings, you could add them in birth order and follow the same pattern. Something that really helps make a photo book project feel cohesive and polished is consistency. So however you decide to order the photos and structure the layout for the first person, make sure you follow the same order for all the others who will be highlighted in the book. Does that help? If you have further questions, feel free to send me an email from the contact page. I’m also launching an online course about making photo books in the very near future, and that might be helpful. If you join my newsletter list, you’ll get an update when that is released!
Will this Blurb programme work for South Africa? If I compile a photo book after downloading the free software, will I be able to transfer the info onto a USB and take it to my local Kodak shop for printing and making digital copies?
I am currently using Fuji photoshop but these are limited to 85 pages. I intend doing a large family album covering several decades and also need it to include a fair amount of script. Would I be able to copy a MS Word document into the photobook or would I need to compile the script in the photobook as I go along?
Any comments would be most appreciated. Many thanks.
Yes, I do believe Blurb ships to South Africa. You can definitely copy an MS word doc into Bookwright, or even import it as an RTF file. The text boxes have an overflow feature that makes it easy to link text boxes if your text runs over the allotted space. As for printing locally, I don’t think that’s an option. Bookwright does allow you to export a PDF, but it’s a low-resolution proof intended for final checks before ordering. If you’d like to have it printed locally, I would recommend using a template designed for software like InDesign, Photoshop, or Canva.
Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any additional questions.
Hi Jess. What a fantastic, detailed post, thanks. I’m thinking of doing a photobook for my daughter’s 21st with pics from birth to now so will be chronological. Do you know if Blurb lets you use a photo as a watermark as in how you can have a watermark in word? Also I’m based in Amsterdam. Any other advice? Thanks
Hi Shirley! I’m not 100 certain I know what you’re asking, but if you’re looking to have a semi-transparent image as the background on all of your pages, you can absolutely do that with Blurb Bookwright. You’ll just need to create a Master Page, which means that whatever is on that master layout will be on all of your pages, like this: https://www.jestkeptsecret.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Test-jpg.webp. You can set the master elements to be above or below your regular page content. Is that what you were looking for? If not, let me know. I’m happy to help!
Thank you for writing such a thorough and thoughtful guide on photobook creation. Yours is the first well written article I’ve come across with unrushed verbiage that doesn’t push or feel like reading forced content specifically generated for hits or digital floor traffic.
Wow, thank you! What a generous comment. I really appreciate that, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂
Thank you for your very informative comments!
I’m wondering if Blurb lets you write titles etc. in French as well! Can you make smaller albums with less than 50 photos?
Yep, you can write titles in any language you like! And you can have as few as 20 pages, so 50 photos should be no problem. 🙂
This is a great post! Thanks for the great ideas. I have done 40 pg baseball yearbooks for our school for the last two years and will do my last this year. (My son is a senior) My next big photo book project is a graduation present for my son. I plan to do a birth to graduation book for him. I am planning to do the pages in categories instead of chronological. For example I am going to do a “wheels” spread to include toddler riding toys, tricycle, bike, roller blades, lawn mower and driving.
In the past of I have done all my layout work in photoshop, then used in-design to collate, add finishing touches and create the file for the printer. Does Blurb take in-design files? Do they want bleed? Do they print all the way to the edge? I did a photo book for my son’s hockey coach one year and was surprised to get it back with white borders on all the pages. I didn’t design for that and was disappointed.
Those sound like such fun projects to work on! I love the idea of the wheels spread. 🙂
Yes, Blurb does have an InDesign plugin that makes it super easy to set up your files for them to print. They do want a bleed, and they will print all the way to the edge. I’ve been super happy with my full bleed spreads and images–no borders on any pages!
Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any more questions.
Hi Jess, thanks for the helpful post! I am wondering how you narrow down what photos you use in your books? I am making a year photo book and I have SO many photos of our first baby. My thought was to just pack the pages but I agree with you that that’s overwhelming. My thought was to save all the photos and have the photobook be the highlights of the year. Anyways I need help with a vision of how to choose which photos make the cut. I would love to hear how you do this! Thanks!
That is such a great question! I take a LOT of photos, so I completely understand how hard it can be to only pick some of them to be in the book. My first step is always to go through and purge duplicates and close duplicates (photos that aren’t exactly identical, but show the same subject or activity). Then I go back through and look for the photos that do the best job telling the story. I’ve found that picking page layouts that have fewer spots for photos than the number of photos I have kind of forces me to be really, really judicious about which photos make the cut and helps me end up with only the very best shots. It always feels a little uncomfortable, but I honestly can’t remember a single time I’ve regretted those decisions. And if I have a photo that I like, but it doesn’t really flow well with the other photos, I’ll usually cull that one. If I absolutely can’t bear the thought of leaving certain photos out, they’re obviously important to me and I find a way to make them fit, but that’s rare.
I’m actually getting ready to launch a guided book-making group where you can get feedback on photo choices, layouts, and the whole process. If that sounds like something you’d be interested, make sure you’re signed up for my email newsletter or follow me on IG/FB. I’ll be making an official announcement in the next couple of weeks! 🙂
I’ve been trying to find some inspiration in making a photobook for a friend and mine’s road trip through Utah and I found it in your helpful post! I also like to keep it simple and uncluttered, and at the same time provide interest in each page. Your suggestion to continue with a theme throughout the book is just what I needed to get me going on this and your design ideas are perfect. I already have a voucher with a different photobook company, but have signed onto Blurb and they have provided me with a discount, which I’ll use next time around.
Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and ideas, I’m so excited to get working on my book today!
Oh, I’m so glad this post helped! I hope you’re so happy with your photo book. 🙂