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how to make a photo book at home

While it might not be cheaper than outsourcing, producing your own photobooks can be a lot of fun and it’s very satisfying to see the results of your creative labours.

Books make valuable aide-memoires, both now and for the future. They’re also excellent gifts for special people you want to acknowledge.

A photobook can be a portfolio of your best images, a valuable record of trips you made and a great way to recall past adventures. Keep them in pristine condition by wearing cotton gloves while looking through them.

Equipment

You don’t need sophisticated equipment to produce a photobook; but you’ll need at least an A4 printer. Some four-colour printers produce good enough reproductions for printing books, but for the best results you’ll need a printer with at least a six colour ink set.

Canon’s PIXMA iP8760 is a low-priced A3+ dye ink printer that can be used for printing photobooks because it uses a six-colour ink set.

An A3+ or larger printer will give you more flexibility when it comes to page sizes. However, if you have to choose, it’s better to pick a smaller printer with more inks than a 4-colour printer that can handle larger paper. Essentially, the more inks you have, the greater the subtlety of hues and tones the printer can reproduce.

If you’re buying a new printer, choosing between dye and pigment inks will depend on the types of paper you want to print on as well as individual preferences. Dye inks are absorbed into the paper’s surface and generally provide the richest colours, particularly on glossy papers. Pigment inks are generally more durable but they sit on the surface of the paper and are vulnerable to abrasion when pages are handled. They are best used with matte papers.

Fortunately, the latest dye inks work well on matte papers and many people prefer printing on matte surfaces because they like how they feel in the hands. Glossy papers tend to stick to the fingers and, even though lustre, semi-gloss and ‘pearlescent’ papers are less sticky, they can be tricky to handle in humid conditions. More on papers later this article.

Costing your project

Although calculating the cost of the paper you use is straightforward, it’s almost impossible to calculate the cost of the ink because printer manufacturers never publish accurate figures for photo printing. However, going by the tests we’ve done over the past few years, we estimate the average amount of the ink used to cover one square metre of paper is roughly eight millilitres, depending on the image itself and the printer settings.

High-key images will use less ink than images where dark tones predominate. The printer’s quality setting can also influence ink usage, although to a relatively small degree.

If you’re printing a large book, say 100 pages, it could be worth checking whether you can see any differences in quality between prints made with the standard and high quality settings. Switch off the high-speed setting if you print with standard quality as it will produce inferior prints.

In a typical A4 book, the average size of a full-page illustration with margins of around 10mm (including a 15mm margin on the bound edge) is approximately 240 x 160mm or 0.0384 square metres. From this figure, the ink used per page is between 0.236ml and 0.295ml. This figure will enable you to calculate the approximate cost per page, based upon the cost of the ink cartridges, the quantity of ink they contain and the cost per millilitre of that ink.

Each standard cartridge for a typical entry-level printer contains between 3.5 and six millilitres of ink. You can check a cartridge’s capacity by weighing it before you install it and after it has registered as empty; the difference is the weight of the ink (one millilitre weighs one gram).

The leading printer manufacturers offer higher-capacity ‘XL’ cartridges, each with around 11ml of ink.

Depending on the cost per ink cartridge, we estimate the cost per page with an entry-level printer to be between 80 cents and just over $1, allowing for varying printer head efficiency. New printers are usually more efficient.

Moving up to a more sophisticated printer will reduce these costs because, although the cartridges are more expensive, they contain more ink. For example, the flagship A2 pigment printers from Canon and Epson use 80ml cartridges which cost around $80 each. That works out at less than 30 cents per illustration, which is a significant cost saving and worth the high cost of the printer if you do a lot of printing.

Australian company Rihac sells refillable cartridges and continuous ink kits for many photo printers and, although the inks are not identical to those supplied by the printer manufacturers, if you stick with the high-end pigment printers they are very close in both colour accuracy and durability. Kits are available for Epson A2 printers, although not for the Canon equivalents. They can reduce the ink cost per millilitre to around 35 cents and the ink cost for an A4 page to around 10 cents.

Papers

Unfortunately, the inkjet paper market tends to favour single-sided papers; double-sided papers are relatively rare and you may need to look outside of the regular photographic suppliers to find what you want at a price that’s acceptable. Canson, Centurion, Hahnemühle, Innova and Ilford are among the brands that offer double-sided inkjet papers. You should find them at specialist photographic stores as well as online. Try to choose papers than work well with your printer, are easy to handle and make your pictures look attractive. In most cases you will need double-sided papers for book printing. The exception is for ‘portfolio’ style books where the image is printed on the right hand side and the left (the back of the sheet) remains blank. Avoid papers that have the manufacturer’s branding on the back of each sheet.

Make sure the paper you choose is thick enough to prevent the image showing through the paper but not so thick it makes the pages difficult to handle. Heavier (thicker) papers give a more upmarket feel but you’ll need a robust, high-quality binding method. For printing at home we recommend a minimum ‘weight’ of 170 gsm and a maximum of 250 gsm.

Initially, it’s easiest to start with standard page sizes, particularly A4 and A3, since most double-sided paper comes in these sizes. A4 books can be laid out in either landscape or portrait orientation but A3 works best in landscape format and is best kept for portfolio-style books. We’ve found half A3+ sheets, which provide pages measuring approximately 30 x 21cm (slightly longer than A4 size), make very attractive bound books.

Ilford’s Galerie Premium Duo Matt 200 gsm double-sided paper is the ideal weight for photo books. It’s available in 50-sheet boxes in A4 and A3+ sizes.

Note: Some manufacturers offer photobook kits containing double-sided papers plus a spring-bound cover that is pulled back to allow sheets to be slipped in and closed to clamp them in place. They are distributed in Australia through Photo Direct.

Laying out

Start by determining which pictures you want to include and the order in which you will present them. For a portfolio with a single picture on the right hand page, between 30 and 60 images should produce a nice-looking book. Where you’ll be using both sides of the paper and often arranging two or more pictures on a page, start with between 60 and 100 pictures.

Depending on the size and thickness of the pages, we feel 100 pages is the maximum to aim for when printing on both sides of each sheet. Fewer than 30 sheets can make the book feel flimsy, while more than 70 sheets can be difficult to bind.

Do-it-yourself book designers can choose between a number of popular layout programs, such as Adobe In-Design, Serif PagePlus or CorelDraw. Portfolios of images can also be laid out in most image editing software applications, including Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, particularly if they don’t include much text.

We’ve found Microsoft Publisher (part of the Office suite) is simple to use and gives you plenty of freedom to design your own page layouts. It’s also easy to print from.

A double-page spread laid out in Microsoft Publisher using a template based upon a 30 x 21cm page size.

Layout programs allow you to set up pages as templates, making it easier to standardise the layout for the entire book. They are also likely to support custom page sizes, which enable you to print on non-standard sized papers. Unless you plan to slip the pages into plastic envelopes, each page will need an allowance for binding the pages together (this will be on different sides of the layout when the front and rear of a sheet will be printed on). A margin of about 10mm should be enough for ‘perfect-bound’ A4 size books but you should allow at least 15mm for other types of binding and when you print on larger paper.

While for aesthetic reasons we aren’t keen on layouts that extend photographs over two pages, there are also some practical considerations to take into account if you choose to lay out your book with pictures spanning a double-page spread. It can be difficult to know how much allowance to make for the gutter to prevent parts of the image being duplicated – or cut off. Accurate measurement of the binding allowance will be necessary and you will probably need to duplicate those parts of the image that fall into the gutter for each page. As we said, it can be tricky!

The first page in the layout should set the tone for the rest of the book so be careful in your choice of font and picture (if you use one). Some people prefer to restrict this page to a simple title and author statement; we prefer a picture, title and date. Examples of each approach are shown here:

Two of the many options for the first page of your book, the top one showing the use of a picture and the lower one a text-only alternative. The Maiandra font was used in the upper example, with Garamond used for the lower one.

Choosing a font style for titles and captions is largely a matter of taste; some people prefer unadorned fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, Garamond, Lucida and Verdana; others look for something more distinctive like Comic Sans, Papyrus or one of the script fonts. We’ve had success with conventional fonts like Calisto, Georgia, Century Schoolbook and Baskerville Old Face as well as the more informal Maiandra GD. Aim for consistency throughout the publication, sticking with one – or at most, two – fonts.

Printing

Each page is printed in the same way as a normal print using the relevant ‘photo’ settings in the printer driver. Make sure you match the paper setting to the type of paper you are printing on, particularly with respect to the choice of surface.

To ensure accurate colour reproduction, start with a colour managed workflow based upon calibrated monitors. Use ICC profiles and soft proofing and make visual checks of each printed page as it emerges from the printer, allowing a few minutes for the paper to dry and the colours to stabilise.

If you’re printing on both sides of the paper we recommend printing all the odd-numbered pages first and then going back to print the even-numbered pages in the same order. That way the ink has time to dry out completely before the paper is passed through the printer again.

Resting the last page printed on top of the printer enables you to make sure the next page is properly orientated when printing on the reverse side of the paper.

Although printer manufacturers warn you not to put anything on top of the printer, when printing the reverse sides of sheets we like to keep the next couple of pages there as we print to ensure we load them correctly. It’s too easy to make mistakes when you can’t see which way the paper should be loaded and most of us are too impatient to wait until the printer has delivered the latest page before embarking upon the next one.

Binding

We covered popular binding options in the last issue, and most are available to DIY photobook creators. Binding machines are available in stationery stores and many office suppliers offer binding services that include comb, wire and thermal binding, which binds printed pages together with a strip of tape that is fused by heat. All three methods allow the pages to lay flat when the book is opened.

For the best results when it comes to presentation and durability, we recommend taking your printed pages to a professional bookbinder. Most will be happy to advise you on the best techniques to use and help you choose covering materials and titling styles. Binderies specialise in side-stitching with cotton thread, which produces a long-lasting result.

Hardcover books generally have end papers that cover the inside of the front cover and spread across to make a blank first page for the book. Most people prefer plain white or cream-coloured end papers but you could also choose a colour that complements either the front of the book or the dominant theme colour.

With thick books, groups of pages are sometimes stitched together – a technique known as ‘section sewing’ – before the cover is attached. The joins between the groups are taped over to conceal the stitching.

Binderies will also emboss the title of the book on the front cover and/or the spine of the book. In most cases, you will have a limited choice of font styles and sizes because the bulk of the work binderies handle is university theses. If you want to add pictures to the cover, you can print a dust jacket to slip over the hard cover provided by the bindery.

Article by Margaret Brown – see Margaret’s photography pocket guides

Excerpt from Photo Review Issue 76

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