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  • Writer's pictureKate Greenleaf

Your Guide to a DIY Photo Book

So, I’m just guessing here, but you may have suddenly found yourself with a lot of time on your hands… stuck in your house… with little to do…. Now might be the perfect time for you to tackle your photo book projects. On the off chance I’ve also had some free time, I thought I’d put together a step-by-step DIY process for you to get started. Here goes....

Step 1: Gather your universe of materials: digital photos, print photos, slides, kids art, whatever it is you want to capture, and get everything in one place so you can evaluate what you have and what book(s) you want to create.

Step 2: Review your materials. Decide how you want to organize things and what kind of books you want to make. For example, do you want your books to be in chronological order? Do you want it to be specific to a certain person? Do you want to create a series of books? How do you want to display your books? Perhaps you want a series of hardcover books with covers that match the décor of the room where you want to display them? There are no wrong answers, but thoughtful planning now will pay dividends in the future.

Step 3: Now this can get tedious, but you need to digitize everything. Start with your print photos and arrange them into like sizes so that you can scan them in batches. Because you’re creating a special book or books, you’ll probably want to invest in a high-quality scanner. It’s important that the scanner is set to an appropriate DPI (dots per inches) so that you end up with a nice print quality. Most printers recommend at least 300 DPI, BUT keep in mind that if you’re digitizing a 2x4 photograph and you scan it in at 300 DPI, blowing that photo up and making it larger will decrease the quality. For smaller photos, I recommend scanning them in at 600 or even 1200 DPI depending on how large you want them to appear in your photo book.

It's important that you remember which photos you’ll want to scan at a higher resolution as you can’t scan everything at the highest DPI possible. You might ask, why wouldn’t you just scan everything at the highest DPI you can get? That’s a great question. The answer is because it will take much, much longer to process the scans and will take up a great deal of storage on your computer.

Make sure you clean your scanner often to avoid any lines or blemishes on the digitized photos. If you have a feeder on your scanner, make sure that is clean too as a mis-feed can damage your photos. You may want to consider scanning your items chronologically (or however else you’ve chosen to organize your books) (see step 2) because some scanner software will allow you to assign a timeframe to the photos or a name to a batch of photos, and this will make things easier when you get to creating a layout.

For large photos or other materials that are too big to feed through your scanner, you can use a flat-bed scanner, or you can search for professional scanning services. I recommend you look for some in your hometown as you likely don’t want to ship special artwork around the country.

Step 4: Now that you have everything digitized, it’s time to sort through and choose which photos you want to include in your book… and which photos you want to leave out. (You can do this before you digitize, but I like to get everything into a digital format even if I don’t end up using it in a book.) For a 200-page (100 spread) album, I usually estimate using approximately 300 photos, or three photos per spread. (More on that in Step 7)

One way that I like to cull the images is to scroll through and “favorite” the images I like. If, after your first pass, you’ve “favorited” too many based on the book you’re looking to create, you can continue to par down, and if you haven’t “favorited” enough, you can do another pass, OR you may want to reconsider your end-product.

Remember that many photos are taken in a short period of time – think of the stranger who took four almost identical photos of your family on your last vacation. It’s important to check all of them and pick the best one. If you are adept at Photoshop, you could even replace a face from one photo with a face from another.

Step 5: Once you have all of the photos (or art work or recipes), that you want to use in a book, you’ll want to go through those photos do any color correcting, cropping, red-eye removal, and blemish removal that the photos may need. Most computers come with basic retouching tools, and you can always use your smart phone, but for very nuanced changes you might want to invest in Adobe Photoshop as it is a very robust program with many options.

Step 6: Next, you should decide which company you want to use to print your book. It’s important to decide this now because everyone has different software programs they use for layout design and depending on the product you want to create, different companies have different restrictions, for example there will be page number limitations depending on paper type, and certain printers will offer some options that others may not.

There are so many fun options out there depending on what kind of product you want. Some features to think about: What kind of paper you want (thick or thin, shine or matte, rigid of flexible)? Do you want a lay-flat book? What kind of cover do you want (image-wrap, leather, linen, acrylic, metal)? Do you want to include any special features such as gilded edges, embossing or debossing?

With all these options, it can be a little overwhelming. Make sure you have a good idea of what kind of book you want to create before you choose your printer and start the layout design. Each printer has a specific set of skills, but can’t do everything, so you’ll need to shop for the best printer for you. Here are links to some options I suggest looking into:

The price range for printing with all of these companies varies greatly so you’ll want to consider your budget and price out a book with your features and page count before you decide who to use.

Some printers will let you upload a PDF so you can create your layout using your preferred design software, but others require that you design your layout with their software, some of which I’ve found to be more user-friendly and others less user-friendly. If you want more control over the process, you might want to use Adobe InDesign to design the interior. Make sure to focus on all the measurements to be sure you have the right margins, gutters, bleeds, spine widths and jacket measurements.

Step 7: Now you’re ready to create your layout! You know approximately how many pages you’re looking for and which software to use. I mentioned before that I like to count on approximately 3 photos per spread. I think that too many photos on one page creates a jumbled look, and the eye doesn’t know where to focus. Instead, I’d rather use the best photos and have them take center stage. That said, there are times when I’ll use a number of photos on one spread. For example, a great time to do this would be a wedding album, when you want to “capture the scene”. I’ll often create a clean spread with a variety of photos that give you a snapshot of the feel of a certain part of that event. Click here for an example.

Step 8: Print the book and enjoy seeing it in your home! Remember that you might want to make a few extra copies as gifts, or you may need to reprint the book in the future, so be sure you can save the files and photos if you need to revisit the project in the future.

Step 9: If you are cataloging things you don’t need to keep, you can toss things like children’s art and other unnecessary items now that you have them scanned! Just make sure to back up your digital files in more than one location!

If you have any questions or need some help getting started, feel free to contact me and I can help you with your next steps.


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