Friday, June 3, 2016

Making Your Own Photobooks

To me, nothing beats a physical photo book that you can hold in your hands and flip through to enjoy.  There is a sense of timelessness to browsing and reading a physical book.  It's even more gratifying to hold a book that's made by you.

In the past, if you want to print a book, you would have to find a publisher, and print in large quantities.  But now, print on demand is extremely accessible to everyone.  You can print one book, if you wish, or a thousand if you want to sell it, and there are many companies now offering this book printing service.  I will talk about two that I have used: Blurb and Photobook Canada (or Photobook America/Worldwide).

Blurb -- This is the first book printing company I used.  I printed a total of three books, but none for myself.  Two wedding books for my sister-in-law, and a soft cover book for a friend.  It has been at least 6 or 7 years since I used them last time, so my past experience might not match how they operate now.

What I like best:

  • Print quality.  In my opinion, it's slightly better than Photobook Canada, but it's a close call.
  • Sophisticated book making software (free)
  • Generally lower price than others (until I discovered Photobook Canada)
  • Fast turn around
  • A lot of paper upgrade options, but it also quickly makes the book expensive.
  • If you want to sell your book Blurb has connections selling to both Amazon and Apple iTune/iBook store.

What I don't like much:

  • Book making software is not as easy to use as others (this could be different now, though)
  • Promotions (they often have 25% to %40 off specials) only lasts a few days and if you don't already have a book created and ready, you will miss it. 
  • Higher cost (compared to Photobook Canada)
  • Smaller book sizes.  Instead of 11" x 8.5", Blurb offers 10x8 inch.  I like the slightly larger size and the aspect ratio of the standard 11x8.5 inch paper.
  • Default paper is not as nice as that used by Photobook Canada

When I started using Blurb, the default page count of an 10x8 inch book was 40 pages and cost less than $40, which was excellent price.  But now I just checked their web site and the default page count is 20, like pretty every other book publishers and it costs around $37CAD.  So the price has gone up significantly and is no longer the most affordable printer.

Photobook Canada [or Photobook America or Photobook Worldwide] -- This is the service I use right now.  I have printed 8 books so far from 11" x 8.5" to 17.5" x 12".  Generally, I like the image quality, but don't expect commercial photobook grade.  The books are printed in Malaysia and shipped to Toronto (for me) by DHL.

What I like

  •  Excellent default paper.  Paper upgrade is available, although not as extensive as what Blurb offers, but I find the default Premium Silk paper to be excellent, especially on the 17.5" x 12" inch size.
  • The best price of any book printer I have found, if you wait for the promotion (pretty much weekly).  Often you can buy 8.5"x11" hardcover books for $20 to $25 CAD, including taxes but shipping is usually extra.  Occasionally, they offer free shipping with some promotions. I purchased three 40 page 14" x 11" size books at $25 CAD each, including taxes, plus $13 shipping by DHL for each book, and a 17.5" x 12" 40 page book for $45CAD, just want to see what my pictures look like in a large format book.  That's crazy good price for large format hard cover books.  Best of all, with the promotion, you can purchase the book voucher, and do your book later.  The voucher is good for 3 to 6 months, depending on how many vouchers you buy or number of pages of the book you purchase at the time.  This also forces you to actually create the book or you will lose the vouchers.  In contrary, when Blurb has a promotion, it's usually only good for a few days.  If you don't have a book already to print, too bad, unless you can create a book in 3 days.
  • Print quality is very acceptable.  At first you may be disappointed that the pictures printed does not look as vibrant or has the same shadow details as the picture on your monitor, but you have to remember that paper/ink does not have as wide a colour gamut as your monitor.
  • The software can generate a low quality proof of the book that you can share with friends and family, without watermarks.
  • Extremely fast turn around.  I almost always get the book within 5 business days after uploading to their server.  DHL usually delivers the book within 3 business days while the printing takes a day or two.  I was originally a bit unhappy about the high delivery cost, as Blurb cost around $8 when I did books with them (it could be more, or less than that now, I am not sure) but I have realized the book comes from Malaysia and it ends up in my hands in Toronto in a few days is quite amazing.

What I don't Like

  •  I would like the print quality to be a bit better.  I think the compression is a bit too much when they assemble the book for upload.  This is the same for Blurb.  For Blurb, an 80 page, 10" x 8" inch book came out to be less than 90MB.  Photobook Canada does not leave the finished book behind once it's uploaded to the server, so I don't know exactly how large the file is.
  • Relatively high delivery cost.  Would be nice to have a lower cost option for slower delivery.
  • Book making software not very sophisticated.  The most annoying aspect of the software is that it pauses every 10 to 15 minutes to do some housekeeping tasks and that freezes the app until it's done.  Saving also takes a long time.  I like Blurb's software, that it automatically and continuously saves all the changes.   

In the end, it does not matter which service you use.  Having your own book in your hands is a great feeling of accomplishment.  Books are better archival mediums than hard drives and optical discs, and you can pass them around for others to enjoy.  So far I have made one book for each of my kids (and there will be at least a few more for each), and I am sure they will like it when they grow older and see the pictures of themselves and they may even pass the books to their kids.

Size comparison: Top - 11" x 8.5", middle - 14" x 11", bottom: 17.5" x 12"


  1. Few days before you post, I've read a blog post of how to publish your own book on Amazon (, and I've remembered that some time ago you were talking about to publish a book with some of the cine and projection lenses you have, and the way you use it.

    If you take again this project and publish the book, please let me know. I will be interested in buying one, and probably I will not be the only one.



    1. @Manel, I will seriously consider re-doing the book. The Vintage Affairs book you see on top in the pictures contains some of the contents. Thank you for your input.

    2. I agree with Manel, I only just discovered your blog, but I like your style of writting and believe that quite some people would too.
      Great work Yu-Lin Chan and thanks for sharing!!! :)


  2. @Higuel: Thanks for your encouragement. I have decided to create a small series of books with these topics: Projection lenses, Enlarging lenses, Cine/Movie lenses, Lenses from fixed mount rangefinders and normal mount vintage lenses. I will start with the projection lenses. Hopefully I won't disappoint :) May take some time since I have never written a book before and I am currently pretty busy with other stuff, but I have made up my mind to create at least one book to see how things go. Thanks again to both you and manel and others for the encouragement.