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Thread: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

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    Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Apologies in advance for such a long post! I hope you find the details helpful.

    I am in the midst of creating a 200-page book using Lightroom 5 to be printed by Blurb. I received my copy of a 28-page book that I created for test purposes and am happy to provide my impressions and tips shown below. I hope others who have used Blurb or any print-on-demand provider will contribute to the thread, as this test book is my only experience with printing a book.

    Size
    Blurb's web site explains that its Standard Landscape book is 10" x 8" (20cm x 25cm). I had a real problem that neither Blurb's Booksmart software nor Lightroom 5 displays the pages in that aspect ratio, leading me to wonder how I was to know how the printed book would look. The book is actually 9 1/2" x 8" (20cm x 24cm), not the dimensions explained at Blurb's web site. (Don't get me going about that!) Lightroom and BookSmart display the pages in the accurate aspect ratio, so what you see is also what you get. Whew!

    Front Cover
    The image on the front cover stops at exactly the right place where the cover transitions to the spine. Well done!

    Color Accuracy
    Blurb's web site states the following: "It is simply not possible for POD [print on demand] printers to duplicate the finely controlled color management that is possible with offset printing, so some slight hue differences may appear from book to book."

    I can confirm that that is a reasonable expectation, as I sell printing services for a digital quick printer (we do no offset printing). Differences should be expected from copy to copy of the same book even when they are produced in the same production run. In fact, my test book has three printings of the same image and two of them are printed on the same page. When viewing them solely under cloudy daylight, my wife and I saw understandable differences that neither of us would have detected if we hadn't seen side-by-side comparisons. When viewing them under a mixture of incandescent and halogen light, we saw no differences. Even so, expect differences, as Blurb does not use offset lithographic printing. If they did, their books would be far more expensive.

    Image Cracking
    Blurb uses HP Indigo printing technology, which is a digital process that uses a kind of ink that includes a thin plastic layer placed on the paper. When the paper is folded or seriously bent, that plastic layer can crack, revealing the paper underneath. This is a common problem when using plastic-based ink or toner.

    My test book has several two-page spreads and full-bleed pages (pages that have no margins). I'm not surprised that the image is cracked where the left page meets the right page, as that is where both pages are bent the most. The book has only 28 pages and the cracking occurs only at the two middle pages and the two pairs of pages to the left and right. I don't know if more pages will crack in a book with more pages.

    Based on the results in this test book, I will try to limit my two-page spreads and pages that have no margin at the center of the book to sections that are fairly close to the beginning or end of the book.

    The Gutter's Impact on Two-Page Spreads
    When binding a book, a portion of each page is lost to the gutter, which is the part of each page that is bound at the center of the book. If you load one image into the software to be printed on both pages, part of that image will be lost. Depending on the center of the image, that may or may not be important.

    One of my tests involved loading two files into the software, one file for the left page and the other file for the right page. I overlapped the two images by adding 1/8" to the right side of the left page and the same amount to the left side of the right page. That produced ideal results. I may add more when using a thicker book. Ideally, I recommend using two-page spreads only on images when details displayed in the very center of the image will not be noticed if they are not displayed in the bound book.

    EDIT: I found a post written by a Blurb employee explaining that the size of the gutter does not change when the thickness of the book changes. Now that I think about the binding method being used, that makes sense.

    Alignment of Two-Page Spreads
    One of my tests involved a two page spread that has top and bottom margins. The left and right pages were not aligned very well; it was immediately noticeable that the top of the image on the left page was slightly lower than the top of the image on the right page. The solution when using a two-page spread is to use a page layout that has no top or bottom margin. Better yet, also use images that have no strong horizontal or diagonal lines that occur where the left and right pages join.

    Black-and-White Images
    I read that the HP Indigo printing technology sometimes does not recognize neutral grey very well, resulting in a noticeable tint that can vary from green to magenta. So, I added a very small amount of blue to my black-and-white images, hoping that none of the grey tones would be so neutral that they would be problematic for the printer. Fortunately, I like this look a lot and sometimes add that very small amount of blue to black-and-white images for display on a computer. My test book displayed the slightly tinted images very well. The two images shown below display the difference between my master image and my image tinted ever so slightly for presentation in the book.

    Original without the blue tint
    Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    With the blue tint used for the Blurb book
    Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    When viewing the book in cloudy daylight, various degrees of blue tinting could be easily seen. When viewing the book under halogen light, incandescent light or a mixture of the two, neither my wife nor I could detect any differences.

    Sharpening
    It's generally regarded that images that are to be printed require more sharpening than images that are not printed. I didn't know how much sharpening to use for display in the Blurb book, so I included several versions of images with varying amounts of sharpening. As I expected, images that look "crunchy" on my computer monitor look fine in the Blurb book. I was surprised that images that don't look "crunchy" on my monitor also look fine in the book. However, I did learn from my tests that certain images that display very fine details that are very, very small in the image, such as very tiny particles of an iceberg, do look better with additional sharpening than without.

    EDIT: Amount of the Bleed
    The bleed is the portion of the image that extends beyond the page once the book is cut down to its final size. That bleed is necessary to ensure that once the book is cut, the image extends to the edge of the page.

    I uploaded 10.25" x 8.25" images, thinking that adding 1/8" beyond each side of the 10" x 8" page would ensure that all of the final page would be printed. As mentioned above, the cut page is actually 9.5" x 8", not 10" x 8". My thinking worked well on the long side of the page because it is actually 1/2" shorter than explained at the Blurb web site. However, some images did not fully cover the 8" height; a very tiny sliver of white paper was left at the top with no printing on it. To ensure that that does not happen in the future, I will add 1/4" to each side, resulting in an image file that is 10" x 8.5".

    Overall Impressions
    I am pleased with the quality of the printing to the extent that it is an excellent value. That is to say that Blurb's pricing and printing technology make it possible to affordably print very small quantities of books at reasonably good quality for sharing among friends and family. The quality is not as good or as expensive as a fine art book but it works well for my needs. Based on the results of this small test book, I look forward to completing my book project.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 11th July 2013 at 03:39 PM.

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Mike nice to know progress has been made and not to painful. The book I got from blurb was at least as good as my expectations. I had braced myself for a bit of a disappointment but it was totally acceptable for it purpose of leaving on the coffee table as a trip reminder.

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Well done and thanks for some answers to often asked printing questions.

    I presume one is on the way here ???

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Quote Originally Posted by Bobobird View Post
    Well done and thanks for some answers to often asked printing questions.

    I presume one is on the way here ???
    I am sure Mike will send you a complimentary copy provided you send him the $500 postage.

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Quote Originally Posted by Bobobird View Post
    I presume one is on the way here ???
    Considering the subjects that you like to photograph, it is being sent by carrier pigeon. Not sure what the poop will do to the cover.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 11th July 2013 at 05:42 AM.

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    I added the following information near the bottom of the first post in the thread because I had accidentally omitted it:

    EDIT: Amount of the Bleed
    The bleed is the portion of the image that extends beyond the page once the book is cut down to its final size. That bleed is necessary to ensure that once the book is cut, the image extends to the edge of the page.

    I uploaded 10.25" x 8.25" images, thinking that adding 1/8" beyond each side of the 10" x 8" page would ensure that all of the final page would be printed. As mentioned above, the cut page is actually 9.5" x 8", not 10" x 8". My thinking worked well on the long side of the page because it is actually 1/2" shorter than explained at the Blurb web site. However, some images did not fully cover the 8" height; a very tiny sliver of white paper was left at the top with no printing on it. To ensure that that does not happen in the future, I will add 1/4" to each side, resulting in an image file that is 10" x 8.5".

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Mike,

    A bit belated but many thanks for this. I have been thinking about producing a photobook for a few months, and since I am a Lightroom user, Blurb was the obvious choice.

    However, I was cautious in part because of a horror story from one of the members which was posted here some time last year, so I sent off for Blurb's test swatches. I wasn't too impressed with their images (which I reasoned would show their work to it's best advantage) because they didn't look very crisp. I know nothing about commercial printing, but now I can see the limitations of their process, and why the prices are so reasonable.

    Lots of other invaluable tips there - I know I would not have had the patience to do such a systematic test book.

    I really think we should club together and refund the cost of your test book! It must have saved many $'s or 's, and a lot of frustration. In fact, if you have a favourite charity I'll happily throw in a few $'s.

    Best reagrds,

    Dave

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    That's very kind of you, Dave, but please feel good in knowing that the test book cost very little. The cost was barely more than the minimum cost of a book.

    The most frustrating aspect is that my test book was designed using Blurb's software and I'm still not absolutely certain that everything that I learned applies to using Lightroom to design the book. I am especially concerned that the position and crop of the image when displayed within the software may not match the printed product.

    That's because both software apps use "cells" that contain the images. Nothing in the image is displayed outside its cell, which preserves the exact dimensions of the margins (or lack of margins). The corollary is that either the width or height of the cell will be filled even if the physical dimension of the image's width and height are smaller than the cell. So, the software is always making some adjustments to the display of the image that is completely beyond the user's control.

    I think this problem would be solved if Lightroom (or Blurb) provided the physical dimensions or the aspect ratio of each cell but they don't; if they did, we could simply size each image to match the cell. (I realize that I could measure the display of the cell on my monitor and I have done that. However, there are several methods of displaying the book in the software and the aspect ratio changes from method to method.)

    My hunch is that the precise control of these design details can be had using Adobe In Design. Using Adobe Lightroom, the user gives up that control in return for having a very intuitive, easy-to-learn process using Lightroom. Add to that that most amateur photographers have not licensed In Design, so Lightroom probably offers a very appealing solution so long as the user is willing to give up a certain amount of control. As the person who makes the Lightroom video tutorials said, it speaks volumes that despite that she knows how to use In Design, she never made any books using it and she has made several books using Lightroom.

    I conducted my test using Blurb's software rather than Lightroom because my first production run uploaded using Lightroom generates a 25% discount. My original thought was to reserve use of that discount for my "official" book, which will cost enough enough that the discount will be meaningful. However, I'm still contemplating the possibility of ordering a test book that is designed using Lightroom.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 17th July 2013 at 11:22 AM.

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Tech Support at Blurb provided the following link to me: http://www.blurb.com/create/book/dimensions You may need to log in to the Blurb web site to display the information. Registration is free.

    That webpage provides precise -- and I mean precise -- details about all trimmed page and cover sizes. It also provides links to other information that is critical for anyone who is sizing the images before dropping them into Blurb software or Lightroom's Book module.

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    I ordered my book today by uploading it from Lightroom 5.0 to Blurb. It's the Standard Landscape book (roughly described for marketing purposes as 8" x 10" and accurately described elsewhere as 8" x 9 1/2") with 220 pages including the index and a few other pages with no photos.

    Upload Info
    The first two upload attempts failed after taking more than an hour each time, so I called Blurb. The support person recommended that I disable the anti-virus software and firewall, as he had heard that Lightroom is sensitive to both kinds of software. He suggested that doing so might also increase the speed of the upload. (What's wrong with the Adobe development team that beginning an upload doesn't automatically generate that information? I wasted several hours thanks to the lack of it.)

    The third try worked but the speed was still abysmally slow. It took exactly two hours to upload the book. The real problem is that the progress bar moved so slowly that it would have been easier to detect the growth of grass. Moreover, the progress bar doesn't indicate how many pages have been uploaded. As a result, you have no real idea of how much progress has occurred. So, if your book is fairly large as is mine, be patient.

    I stepped away from the computer for just two minutes (remember that it took more than two hours for the entire process to take place) and that was when the process ended. When I returned to the computer there was no indication whether the upload had been successfully completed or had failed. I assumed that it had been successfully completed, but there was also no way to how or where to complete placing the order.

    Out of frustration, I simply closed Lightroom. That was when I saw that a Blurb window was displayed that allowed me to continue with the order. (What's wrong with the Adobe development team that they don't design a window that says, "Congratulations! Your book has been uploaded to Blurb. Look for a separate Blurb window to continue with your order." Nah. That would be too simple and intuitive.)
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 14th August 2013 at 02:56 AM.

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Good news! I have received all copies of my book exactly on schedule and the one copy that I have reviewed fits my needs almost perfectly.

    Two-Page Spreads
    I had mentioned earlier in the thread that I intentionally placed all of my two-page spreads so they were not close to the middle of the book. That's because when I placed images with no margin near the middle of the small test book, the sharp bend (nearly a crease) of the page at the gutter (where the left and right pages meet) caused the ink/toner of the image to crack.

    I actually made a mistake in my final book, which has 220 pages, and accidentally placed a two-page spread near the center of the book. Fortunately, it's not possible in such a thick book for the page to crease enough when opening up the book; the cracking of the image does not occur.

    That leads to the next item.

    Binding
    The binding that Blurb uses on its softback books (mine is a softback version) is attached to the spine (the part of the cover that faces you when you place a book on a shelf). Contrast that with the binding of a commercial hardback book purchased at a bookstore, in which the binding that holds the pages in place is not attached to the spine. The flexibility that allows the binding itself to move separately from the spine allows you to lay the book almost perfectly flat on a surface. The inflexibility of the Blurb binding prevents you from laying the book nearly flat when the book is relatively large, as is mine at 220 pages.

    So, the good news is that if the book is thick, the images that have no margin will not crack because the pages will not crease near the gutter. The bad news is that they won't crease because it's not possible to lay the book flat enough for that to happen; you really have to make an effort to see about the 1/2 inch (12 - 15mm) portion of the image that is close to the gutter.
    Last edited by Mike Buckley; 27th August 2013 at 09:16 PM.

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Mike just a little information on the binding, the hard covered book that you purchase at a bookstore is for the most part a softback block with a 100lb paper cover wrapped around it instead of the 10 or 12pt printed cover you have. What happens next is that block is attached to the hard cover by way of that 100lb paper to the inside of the cover and that is what hold the block inside the hard cover. Another way to get the book to lay almost flat is what is called lay-flat binding which is different still, the best method to get a book to open flat is to stich the pages together as they are printed in signatures of 8-16 pages that are then sewed together, end pages are still attached to the first and last signatures to hold the block into the case, also because the block is sewed together it is can be rounded and backed, if looked from on end it would look like a mushroom. When the cover is applied the material for the spine is crimped under the mushroom cap this also helps to hold the block into the cover along with the end papers. Most books both softcovered and hardcovered today are perfect (hot glue bound) as sewing costs a lot more.

    Cheers:

    Allan

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    It's clear that you know a lot more about book binding than I do, Allan. Thanks for your contribution.

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Yes I know how they are built as I use to estimate book binding for 12 years. I have been thinking of having Blurb and you have answered almost all of my questions. I would have thought that using 8-1/2" x 11" paper the final trim size would have been 8" on the spine and 10" across the page. I still get confused as per size as paper say is 8-1/2" x 11" width by length, whereas book size is spine length by width across the face so we would say 11" x 8-1/2". So to get my head around the final size is your book is 8" on the binding side (spine) and 9.5" across the face. Knowing this for me will help in setting up the book.
    Very good and useful information and in a way most will be able to figure it out from, Excellent stuff.

    Cheers:

    Allan

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    Re: Impressions of a Test Book Produced by Blurb

    Quote Originally Posted by Polar01 View Post
    you have answered almost all of my questions
    Run any others by me and I'll give them my best shot.

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