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December 18, 2008 - 6 comments

Tips When Using Blurb’s B3 Service and My Wish List for Blurb

Working with Blurb on Dirty Pictures was my first experience and I've learned a few lessons along the way.

Watch our for Distortion

I spoke with a colleague of mine who recently went through his first experience using Blurb and was told that they had to purposefully distort their photograph so that it would look correct when printed on the cover.

This isn't so obvious when using abstract imagery but can be really noticeable when using people and faces on a cover.

Pay extra special attention for distorted features.

Trim Measurements Vary Between Hardcover and Softcover books

Blurb has some serious documentation and information regarding page sizes, trim and clearance. Still, we had quite a difference in trim between the hardcover interior pages and the softcover interior pages.

As you can see, the hardcover page numbers worked out fine.


The softcover pages didn't work out so well.


My quick solution was to just delete the page numbers but how is it that the same interior page dimensions for the same size book can be so different?

Black and White Images Need Lots of Warmth

We added quite a bit of yellow to our black and white images after reading advice from photographers to do so because of how cool the paper and the printing becomes.

The change from the original color of the black and white image to the printed page was quite noticeable.

This is the "color" of the black and white image originally imported into Indesign:


This is the "color" of the black and white image printed in Dirty Pictures:


There's a great shift even in the "spot" color specified for the chapter titles. To compensate for the color shift, I selected an a more electric green knowing that it would dull down and become cooler.

Definitely check your images using the ICC profiles to proof and get used to the cooler quality of your images if you are seeking a true neutral black and white image.

Expect Big Delays During the Holiday Season

I don't know about the rest of the B3 members but I would like a "special workflow track" for printing services specifically for B3 members. Or at least some solution to help B3 members meet their own deadlines. B3 members are running a business after all. Missing deadlines isn't an option. It's just downright embarrassing and incredibly frustrating.

Blurb does require anyone ordering a massive volume of books to have the run approved prior to ordering but at what point during the holiday season do they tell you that it isn't a good idea? I inquired just before Thanksgiving about ordering a volume of 200 books and there was no way to guarantee delivery by our deadline date. Lucky for us we were able to reschedule plans but had I been working with a client without that kind of flexibility this could have been a potential disaster.

Use an RGB Black

For a rich, dense black that might match shadow areas of your photograph, use an RGB black. Filling a shape with just 100% black through Indesign will appear flat and if you run it next to a photo that you may want to "bleed" together, the 100% black will be noticeably different.

Make Sure Text is Set Larger Than Usual

The copy in Dirty Pictures reproduced fairly well for being exported as pixlespixels. There were two instances where copy did not reproduce very well:

  • -- When the type was set in a Light weight and the point size was under 8.
  • -- When the type was set in a Black weight and there wasn't enough tracking applied to accommodate the not-so-crisp results.

I used Leitura Sans and Vafle for Dirty Pictures so your experience will vary depending on the typeface and I'm glad I chose sans serif over serif.

Check the Binding

The same colleague who tipped me to his distorted photo on the cover also mentioned a loose binding where he could lay the book flat and see the stitching.

I hear some people like that. Some people don't. So depending on your flavor, make sure to check it out.

Review Copies are a Must

Proof like mad and order as many review copies as needed to make sure your book is exactly the way you want it. Ordering a book each time you make a modification is not ideal but if that's what needs to be done, it has to be done.

Order Custom Workflow and Premium Paper

We ordered three review copies, each with Custom Workflow. Two of the books were ordered with Premium Paper. The third we ordered without Premium Paper and the difference was striking.


Update 12.18.08: I woke this morning thinking of two other lessons.


When Exporting Pages from Photoshop, Use PNG

I opted for PNG over JPG since TIF was not an option. JPGs are lossy and I didn't want to risk losing any information before importing the pages into BookSmart.

Turns out, a friend had exported his pages as JPG and noticed in a review copy that their book's text pages were pixel-y. So for another review copy, he exported as PNG and got better results.

Crop To: Trim Box; Not Bounding Box

When importing PDF pages into Photoshop, make sure to pull-down the menu for "Crop To: Trim Box" rather than "Bounding Box" (Bounding Box is the default). I noticed straight away that if you use "Bounding Box" as it shows in the Blurberati Post (How to Import Your Custom Design into BookSmart) your pages will be imported without the extra trim or margins.

Blurb Image

I've imported many PDFs into Photoshop and always use "Crop To: Trim Box" but when I followed Blurb's post and it showed "Bounding Box" I changed my habit and went with their photograph.


Mistake. Set it to "Trim Box" and you'll get the margins you most definitely will need.

My Wish List


  • -- More advance notification that the book(s) ordered will be delayed.
  • -- The option for changing delivery options due to delays. If a book is going to be held up due to production delays, give us the option to expedite delivery.
  • -- The option for Saturday delivery for Next Day Shipping.
  • -- Indesign templates with the correct bleed, trim, and clearance measurements available for immediate download just like the ICC Profiles.
  • -- The ability to upload PDFs.
  • -- The option to rush printing without sacrificing quality.
  • -- The ability to make uploading changes to books more seamless.
  • -- If using BookSmart, the ability to move the text boxes around so text can be vector rather than pixels.
  • -- The option to add members to your account or create a group with permissions so they can keep track of stats and any other account information
  • -- The option to move books between accounts so designers can upload books to a seller's space.

I'd love to hear what your experiences have been with Blurb and if you have any other tips to add, please share!

Published by: dpdavis in Design


December 18, 2008 at 7:37 am

Very thoughtful and insightful post – thanks for taking the time to articulate your learnings. This is the kind of feedback that will help us to do a better job refining our product for folks like you, and we take this feedback to heart.

Your wish list reads pretty similar to the list of stuff we’re aiming to build / add / improve on in 09 and beyond – please be patient as we’re constantly working towards making it easier and cleaner for you to bring your best work into a beautiful book.

Thanks again for the feedback and the learnings.


December 18, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Interesting and good-to-know points. I dropped by the Blurb booth at SXSWi in 2007 and while I thought their set-up was decent, felt that their photography books were really subpar. Lots of lossy artifacts and plenty of muddiness in large bands of single colour. The black and white photos fared slightly better than colour but the colour was by no means a product I’d ever get printed.

I love PDXCross and the concept of Dirty Pictures but I’m admittedly very skeptical (and turned off by Blurb) about the quality of the books. Granted, 2 years is a long time and I’m sure the quality has fared better but what I saw had a really long way to go. I wish I could see one in person but not being in Portland, that’s not the case. I’m sure at some point, one of my fellow ‘cross racers here in the Midwest may pick one up if they haven’t already and I’ll come across it.

Lulu is better I felt at the time but I still feel the best people who do a good on-demand photo book is actually Apple.

December 18, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Like you said, it’s very humiliating if you use them for a project and then they change their published promises without almost any notice.

December 18, 2008 at 4:00 pm

@Mike — Thanks for taking the time to stop by. We’ll be keeping an eye on features and if anything, make it a priority to help us meet deadlines.

@Naz — Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts on quality. You’ve given me an idea to start an exercise using the same photographs. We did think of Apple but many of us had experiences where the book would start to fall apart in a short amount of time. If you do get your hands on Dirty Pictures, please let us know what you think. Best.

@Rob — I’m right there with ya. Cringing.

Susan Seubert
December 18, 2008 at 10:27 pm

Very good post. Thank you for sharing!!

December 19, 2008 at 1:21 am

Anytime! Glad you found it helpful. Surf’s up!

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