Blurb Photo Books Review

So far this week I have covered the Mpix photo book printing software.  So today I will jump into the Booksmart software by Blurb printing services.  Booksmart is available for both the Mac and PC platforms.  Like Mpix and iPhoto, Booksmart is very intuitive and simple to use.  The wizard function will assist you step-by-step in assembling your photo book using a variety of different templates.  You also have the option of creating your book from scratch.  You begin the process by selecting what size book you would like to create.  There are four sizes to choose from, 7×7, 8×10 (portrait & landscape) and 13×11.  It’s the 13×11 that makes Blurb stand out from the pack.  So far it is the largest size book I have seen available (great for those coffee table books).  All of the books are available in hard and soft covers except the 13×11, which is a hard cover only.

The next step in the process is the selection of a starter layout.  There are a multitude of choices including photo books, yearbooks, cookbooks, and more.  At any point during this process you can decide to just jump right in and start designing your book or continue to let the wizard guide you.

The next step in the process is to select the images that you want to use in your book.  Blurb really got this part right.  You can load images from your hard drive, from an iPhoto collection or directly from your online photo storage site, i.e, Flickr, PhotoBucket, Picasa, and SmugMug. If you are using iPhoto, Booksmart will interface directly with your image albums and allow you to drag your images directly into the book layout.

From this point, you will need to choose to drop the photos into the layout yourself or allow the AutoFlow feature to do it for you.  If you choose AutoFlow, you have a little say in how the images are ordered but nothing too fancy.  You can select Oldest to Newest, Newest to Oldest, or Alphabetical.  This may work for you but I tried it but found that I preferred to drop in my own images.  Also, the AutoFlow doesn’t use multiple page layouts, it just drops one image per page.  This is fine if that is what you are after but I like to mix up the number of images and sizes on each page, especially since I was using 94 images.

Before jumping into the layout page, you need to choose one of the 3 available themes; Viewfinder, Darkroom, or Vivid.  From here on out, it’s all about laying out your book.  This is where I actually find the software to be a little lacking.  The basic photo book layout contains 17 actual picture pages and they are default sized for a single image to fill the whole page (full bleed).  I would prefer a variety of layouts that I could fill and then change as necessary but that’s just my personal preference.

There are a multitude of image page layouts available that handle anywhere from 1 to 16 images on a page.  Almost all of them allow for text to be added as well.  My big problem with the layouts are that they are completely static.  Once you choose a layout, you can not resize the image boxes or move them around on the page.  This can get frustrating when you are trying to fit that portrait image into the landscape sized box.  With that aside, it’s still a pretty easy workflow.  Just pick your layout and drag the images in from the side box into the desired page/location.  The program isn’t completely without some image adjustments.  You can increase or decrease the size of the image on the page but only within the confines of the image box that is defined by the page layout.

Once you are done, you can choose to publish your book or print a proof album.  I find this a nice feature but just know that there is a proof watermark placed on the pages if you choose to print it yourself.  Still, this is a nice option if you want to show a proof to a customer before sending the book off for final printing.  Another great feature is the ability to invite contributors to your book.  If you are collecting images from several people, say from a family gathering where several of you were taking photos, you can have them sign in and submit their images for the book project (very slick).

As for pricing, the Blurb books are very competitively priced.  A standard 40-page soft cover book will run you $19.95.  A hard cover with a dust jacket is $29.95 and a hard cover with an imagewrap is $31.95.  The large format books start at $54.95 for up to 40 pages.

Likes – Price, Large Format (13×11 Landscape), Variety of book types to choose from, Image importing from online sources such as Flickr, Integration with iPhoto, Proof book printing, and online contributors.

Dislikes – Not enough variation in AutoFlow, No ability to move or resize images on a page, Inability to create custom page layouts and save them in a set.

All in all I would say that the Blurb Booksmart software does a great job in offering users a wide variety of styles and options for their book printing needs.  My next project will probably get sent to them to check out their actual print quality although my reader feedback has, so far, been very positive on this point.  If you would like to give the Blurb printing a try or just find out more information, head on over to the website where you can see more samples of the Blurb printing products.

*By the way, my iPhoto books arrived today and they look AWSOME!

Comments

  1. Great series of reviews, thanks! I’ve used iPhoto in the past and have been excited to see hands-on experience with the other products. I’ll also be really interested in seeing how the final pieces turn out once they get to your house (binding quality, cover quality, image/paper quality, etc.).

  2. Jarryd Barton says:

    I like these series of articles. Just a question. I have been looking at possibly using momento as an option for some books I wanted to create. Have you had any experience with this program?

  3. I haven’t looked into that one yet Jarryd but I will add it to my list.

  4. I’ve used blurb a few times now and I’m very impressed. I just received my latest book in the mail yesterday and posted something on my blog about it so you can see the quality of it first hand. The books look just like something you’d buy in a bookstore – the quality is that good.

    For me the only issues I had are very minor and should be expected when you have software simplifying some of the workflow in the book creation. For example I hate that I can only apply a color and generic text on the binding – where I really wanted to apply an image that helped me “design” the binding of the cover to match the cover design. This was also my first time printing on the hardcover with the image wrap – an option I absolutely love. However, you’ve got to give yourself even more room than you expect for the bleed on the right. You’ll see in the link I provided that the words on the cover are close to the edge – even with giving it more than the amount of space required in normal cover design.

    And Jeff, you can resize images – you just have to resize them in the box you have put your image in. You are right when it comes to positioning though – you are limited. I have found that if I want to get more creative with layout (as I did with the kindergarten book I linked you to) that you just use photoshop and layout the pictures as you want. For me this worked perfect for this type of book. So I guess it depends on what type of book you’re creating. For photo books I think this is perfect – sure use photoshop to make it more creative when needed but otherwise blurb is super easy to use, affordable, and great quality.

  5. By the way, blurb has a flickr group you all might want to check out. They’re even offering a nifty $10 discount if you order your book before the end of July.

  6. I bought a program that Dave Ziser uses call Lumipic/fotofusion. You design everything and then send to any book maker you want to.

    Ken

  7. I’ve used Shutterfly in the past and I’ve been pretty happy with the results. But now I’m thinking of doing something a little more professional and at higher quantities. I’d be curious to hear about some options that could cater to those types of needs too.

  8. I love the book I made!

  9. I hadn’t heard of Blurb until the other day when I saw it on Flickr, and it looked interesting.

    Good to know it works with Macs and iPhoto as I have both and that’s always my first question!

  10. zanyviper says:

    Blurb is great for design of the books etc.but very dissapointing in the weight of the paper they use for the pages. way too thin and it gets creased/bent very easily, they need to use a little heavier stock or at least make it an option. i would pay for that …then and only then will blurb books look like real books…otherwise it’s just like any other photobook.

  11. Francine says:

    just wanted to share my customer service experience with Blurb. I ordered a book from them about two weeks ago for a family gathering. I did upload it a bit later than I had expected so I paid extra for 2-day shipping.

    I was quite thrilled when I got an email 2 days later stating that the item had shipped. Three days later, I still had not received the book and checked the UPS tracking information verify the status. Strangely, UPS had no shipping information, only billing information. Blurb emailed me that although the book had been printed and I had been informed that it had shipped, they had not scheduled a pick-up until 3 days later, and the item arrived 5 days after I was informed that it had shipped, hardly within the 2 day shipping that I had paid for.

    After emailing back and forth with Blurb for over a week to resolve the shipping charges – they do not offer any kind of phone support – I have finally resorted to disputing the charge on my credit card. Blurb has told me that despite sending the email that my book had shipped (not that it was completed, or that it was awaiting shipping, but that it has shipped and they do not claim that this email was in error), that the book did ship within their stated 6 day timeframe for completing a book and it was shipped via 2 day air (after 3 days of sitting in the printing department I presume) that my extra payment of 2 day air was an acceptable charge.

    My dispute with Blurb is about their communications and their support- they informed me that my book shipped, but didn’t actually ship until three days later and still expect me to pay the extra shipping charges.

    Personally, I will not use the services of Blurb for future publishing and would recommend that you evaluate your tolerance for dealing with a simple dispute without telephone support, and your tolerance for misleading information that costs you money.

  12. Amazing book Cape Cod Photography Art. Made by Blurb company.

  13. Yah, Blurb is good. But, Colormailer is my personal favourite. They have introduced many new features recently and the price range is also very affordable. Have a look http://www.colormailer.com

  14. Nice review. I’ve printed a couple of books with Blurb and been happy with the results and service. Their new heavier paper option looks good.

    Colormailer sounded good until I got to the screen that says that their software is Windows only, even though they use an iMac to show how the process works.

  15. I used Ubuildabook (www.ubuildabook.com) and could not be happier. They used an 80# glossy paper and a nice thick laminated cover. I also was able to call A PERSON and ask how to use their photobook software. I ended up getting 25 books for a family reunion because unlike the blurb they really have great price volume discounts (about 20% discount at 25 books versus the blurb which is 10 %-also their book is slightly smaller)
    All in all a great experience!

  16. I realized after reading my comment that I did not clarify-the blurbs book is smaller than ubuildabooks. and ubuildabook gives a larger volume discount.

  17. I have a real horror story re: Blurb. I spent several evenings creating a book with my boyfriend to give to our families as a holiday gift. Once we finally had everything in order, the layout was perfect, we previewed the book, and previewed the book once more – just to make sure – because we’d spent so long making it. The next day I wanted to show my sister the preview, so we went to the site and it had completely changed. There was a blank page in the middle of the book which threw off the ENTIRE REST OF THE BOOK. The photos were completely rearranged, often losing the subject’s face, or cutting people out of the shot. What is worse, Blurb was completely and utterly inflexible in working with us to stop printing or re-print the books. They only communicate through email, never allow you to speak with someone on the phone, and provided the worst customer service I have ever experienced. It is a poorly run company, and we wasted $80 – not an easy hit on a book that looks completely ridiculous (not just slightlt imperfect). I am resolved to spread the word that Blurb is NOT the best site for photo books. In fact, it is the worst.

  18. I had the same experience as Francine. I recently used Blurb to make a photo book and ordered it to be delivered by express mail. I was sent the tracking number but after waiting for a week since receiving an email confirmation informing me that the book had already been shipped, i figured something must have gone wrong. So I emailed customer service and after a week of email correspondence they tracked down my package – it had not been shipped!!! when it finally arrived (almost 2.5 weeks late), i was thoroughly disappointed with the quality. the printing is grainy and blurry, and a lot of my pictures looked underexposed and super yellow. i’ve emailed to complain and requested a reprint. blurb told me to take pictures of the book to show them how bad the quality is… it’s such a hassle. i am still waiting for them to revert and let me know whether they are willing to do a reprint free of charge.

  19. we use blurb
    our first piblished book http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/532195

    peter

  20. My husband and I have quite a beautiful love story and I wanted to capture our beginnings in a book. I compiled our email love letters from the time before we met through our falling in love. I added photographs of flowers that my husband shot in macro. We received the book, yesterday and it is spectacular! The quality of the photographs, the colors, the crisp clean print, and the integrity of the book are all of high standards. I am very impressed with the ease of the site in creating my book and of the quick responses from Customer service when I experienced problems uploading. (The problems were actually with my computer connection, not the site.) I love our book so much that I am planning my next project!

  21. John Bell says:

    I like blurb overall. However the last soft cover book had binding issues. When opened at the center several pages came out of the book. Blurb responded quickly and asked for some photos of the problem. They sent a replacement book out at no charge. The same thing happened with this book. I’ve had zero issues with the hard cover books. Has anyone had similar problems with the blurb books? I want these yearly family albums to last a long time.

  22. Thanks for the great review, it is really informative and detailed.

    I also have a review at: http://www.squidoo.com/blurbreview

  23. A word of warning: I spent approximately one week scanning, cleaning up, and laying out 80 pages of jpegs in BookSmart, and when I went to upload it to Blurb, I found that the file format (grayscale) is “not currently supported” and “may not print correctly.” BookSmart, Blurb’s proprietary program, accepts the grayscale images even though they are not currently supported by Blurb.

  24. Just so you know, the new version of Booksmart is completely flexible re layouts, you can edit any layout as required and save custom layouts.

  25. I am awaiting my fith book from Blurb, all four so far have been excellent. A shipping problem with the last book was sorted reasonably quickly with a refund of the book cost and shipping costs. The latest version of Booksmart has facility to move, change dimensions and add or subtract photo buckets and text boxes so it is possible to design a page from scratch or to change a Booksmart page design to suit your own requirements.

  26. Horrified! was my reaction when I received my photo book from Blurb. I wanted a certain color font, and it came back a totally different color. I sent them the color palate numbers of my original color, and the color palate of what they sent me. According to Adobe Photoshop, the blue hue on my uploaded file was 255, the blue hue they sent me was 131; the green and red hues were off by as much. Blurb said tough. If you aren’t concerned that the color fonts may be different, then use them. But if you want exact colors, run.

  27. I have decided to us this. Can you make a book and just sell it rather than buying a copy of yourself.

    • dissappointed says:

      No, you have to buy at least one copy if you want to sell on Blurb. I wouldn’t suggest Blurb if you want to sell your book because they charge you $12.95 for the book and once you add on how much you want to sell it for, it becomes to expensive to buy. ie: my book $12.95 to buy and I $3.00 to that price in order to get a profit from it, which brings it up $15.95. Nobody wants to pay almost $16.00 for a 30 page children’s book. The base price is too high.

  28. Interesting and Informative post!!!

  29. sziviah says:

    I would try Ubuildabook. They publish their ICC printer profile. So color matching was optimal.
    I was also able to get recycled paper which was very important to me. They answered my phone questions and worked with me. I ordered 100 coffee table size books for my art show. Couldn’t have been more pleased.

  30. Lois Jucksch says:

    I am considering Blurb and have created my pages and cover in Photoshop since I wanted to create the entire book (using their dimensions) myself without any restrictions. I had some questions regarding custom layout and could not contact them, always got an error message. I noticed that the older blogs have horror stories and the more recent ones express more successes. Has anyone recently had problems with their customer service or printing and has anyone totally customized their pages? Would like recent feedback before I commit.

  31. For everyone looking for versatility and a beautiful photo book I would definately try the Creative Memories Storybook Program. The books have quality beyond any other and are guaranteed. You choose size of book and download a theme that you like, there are lots to choose from then import photos and off you go. Drag and drop onto the pre-designed pages and you can choose to change sizes, color, download additional embellishments and so much more. The nice thing is you can also just use the beautiful page templates and drop your photos in. Creative Memories is a leader in the photo book industry and products are well tested by thousands of consultants around the globe. You will love the software, Mac version coming Nov 1st also. They have a photo organization program, to edit, crop and share your photos from home. http://www.mycmsite.com/deannajohnson
    check it out there or at http://www.creativememories.com

  32. Trevor Taylor says:

    I wrote a 107-page book for my father’s 70th birthday. I ordered a proof copy on Dec 15. I received the proof copy in very short order and it looked great. I used it to make many changes and adjustments and ordered 2 copies for my dad’s birthday on Jan 15.

    I noticed a page didn’t upload into the “book preview” even though it showed in Booksmart. I emailed customer support but they confirmed the file uploaded and it should be fine. It wasn’t both books printed without page 99.

    After emailing customer support I was offered a free reprint. That reprint was horrendous. Streaks and smudges throughout both books. At this point the months of work were ruined as I had no book to give my dad on his birthday – despite my leaving enough to go through 2 prints!

    The “customer service” (what a joke!) agent Michael, offered to have someone inspect the book to be sure it printed correctly. Well apparently the inspectors snapped the binding of both books at page 2. So once I again I emailed and sent photos. After many days (more time to respond to my emails than to print and mail the proof book I might add), Michael responded something about a lay-flat book and how they wouldn’t reprint since I couldn’t be satisfied!

    I don’t know what a lay-flat book is but I just want the book I ordered to be printed and shipped with all the pages their, no printing errors and the binding in-tact.

    I would definitely recommend you look somewhere else as you can’t reach anyone from Blurb. They hide behind their email/live support chat. Save your money and you memories for a company who delivers what they offer!

    PS – I have the entire thread of emails and the pics of my book if anyone is interested:
    newt_dunbarton@hotmail.com

  33. I need to offer a public apology to the customer service agent Michael. My ill-worded line “customer service” (what a joke) was intended to rebuke the email/live support system which was time delayed and unhelpful, not to slander Michael which it did. That was my poor writing and I apologize.

    Blurb has offered another (4th) printing of my book and refunded all costs associated with this book.

  34. Hi jeff – thanks for these reviews. Have you come across any software that allows for spiral binding? – I would like to create a perpetual 365 day calendar so it would be easy to see one page at a time. Would appreciate your advice.

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