Prince Edward Island Photography

Blurb Book Review – Comparing Sizes and Papers

Blurb is the modern day photo album and gone are the days of plastic sleeves displaying boxes of 4×6 prints with hand written messages on the back. Blurb books are perfect for family, personal, memory and vacation books. But what about fine art? or what about for resale?

I have a growing book collection from some of my favourite photographers. I only have so many walls to enjoy prints, so for me, books provide an easier way to support and enjoy the images of other photographers. But this also means – that for no other reason than desire – I also want a book of my own.

Many photographers would love to be published and because only the most successful will ever get picked up by a publisher, the self-publishing market is growing and becoming easier and easier. Arguably, Blurb has become the leader. Maybe even more so now that they have embedded themselves in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

I have several mid sized Blurb books printed between 2006 and 2012. They have been consistent and I can’t see any significant printing changes. In December of 2011, I stepped it up and took a chance by ordering four large 12×12 160 page books with the heaviest paper and all of the upgrades – for a grand total of $187.42 CND each. Definitely more pricy than anything equivalent in a bookstore.

I was satisfied with the results and throughout 2012, I created two alternatives of the same book but at a much smaller scale of 8×10 120 pages and 7×7 80 pages. In the end, I had a sampling of almost everything Blurb had to offer. Here is my non technical review.

12x12 Proline Pearl Blurb Book

12x12 Proline Pearl Blurb Book

So how good are they? Very good if your expectations are reasonable, but, let’s make it clear right from the start that these are not fine art prints and I don’t think Blurb intends to be either. Blurb’s print reproduction is quite good compared to the majority of books you’ll find at a bookstore but they fail in comparison to the super high quality books some artists offer – even with Blurb’s most expensive upgrades. This is an unfair comparison but it’s worth setting reasonable exceptions for the rest of this review because I do own books in my collection where each page could rival any original inkjet print.

12x12 Proline Pearl Blurb Book

12x12 Proline Pearl Blurb Book

Already mentioned above, this 160 page 12×12 hard cover book finished off with all the most expensive and heaviest papers came just shy of $200 per book (before discounts that are easily had). This averages $1.25 per page, which is actually half the price of ordering the same number of 8×10 individual prints from your local Walmart. If viewed this way, the price for a single book begins to sound pretty good because it can be dangerous to compare prices to similar sizes in bookstores that are priced on huge quantity discounts. The extra costs are worth the on-demand, no-inventory, no-investment printing but it will make resale look incredibly expensive.

Small vs Standard vs Large

I don’t want to make Blurb sound super expensive because pricing starts at only $12 – which will get you a 7×7 20 page soft cover book. A price that would be hard to beat anywhere.

Here are a few photos comparing three of Blurb’s book sizes.

7x7, 8x10, 12x12

Book Sizes from top to bottom: 7x7, 8x10, 12x12

Front to back: 7x7, 8x10, 12x12

Front to back: 7x7, 8x10, 12x12

Soft Cover vs Dust Jacket vs Image Wrap

For my purposes, I prefer the dust jackets but I found the image wrap covers did provide more contrast and saturation. And every time I order a family or vacation book, I opt for the soft cover.

Blurb Book Dust Jackets  vs Image Wrap

Blurb Book Dust Jackets vs Image Wrap

ProLine Paper vs Premium Paper vs Standard Paper

This is where my review gets super scientific because I ordered one over everything. Standard Paper, Lustre Finish Paper, Matte Finish Paper, and ProLine Pearl Photo Paper. The problem was, that all books were shipped together and not labeled. While it’s easy to visually see and feel the difference between standard, premium and proline, I could not see the difference between lustre and matte. Maybe I made a mistake in ordering?

Blurb Paper Sizes and Weight

Blurb Paper Sizes and Weight

In the photo above, there are five 8×10 books in the middle. The three books with the standard paper and the same number of pages are noticeably thinner. For a comparison between matte premium with proline pearl, take a look at this image on flickr.

Print Quality

I’m not entirely sure what the difference was but for a select few images, the printing has an odd compression / mosaic pattern. Since I do not know what the cause is (on repeat orders and file uploads) and it only happens on a couple of images – for the purpose of this review, I’ll assume it was a bad file (they print fine elsewhere). With only these two exceptions, everything else looks good.

Blurb Print Quality

Blurb Print Quality - With compression pattern in the sky.

Blurb Print Quality Banding

Blurb Print Banding - With a weird mosaic banding pattern.

Proofing

Edits can really be frustrating because there are none. Once you have submitted a book to the blurb store, you have 15 days to buy a copy or they will delete it. If you find an error, your only option is to upload a new book and delete the old. This will however require another purchase for the simplest spelling updates making minor mistakes very costly. On the positive side, once you buy a single copy, Blurb will archive it forever for future purchase.

Summary

Now that Adobe has married Blurb by offering book building directly from Lightroom 4, Blurb publishing is an easy choice. It’s great for one time printing of your own work or the occasional gift. For story telling, vacations or any other personal event, it is easily superior to the traditional album of small prints. For this reason, I will continue to use Blurb for all simple and quick family related albums.

Blurb Family Books

Blurb Family Books

I’m also satisfied with the printing and would consider it acceptable. If however, you are looking for a super high quality fine art book, or you wish to offer it as a product for resale, I find Blurb hard to get overly excited for. I value my work but still sold the books in these photos at cost feeling any markup was just too much.

The difference in paper is weight and a noticeable thickness when turning pages. I did not see any significant increase in print quality on heavier papers.

Blurb Books

Blurb Books

Blurb comes close but I still have my heart set on a coffee table book to call my own and at some future point – I may actually push forward and self fund my own production run of a very high quality portfolio book. For a rough comparison, I have talked with publishers and to lower prices to bookstore level (buyers expectations), an initial investment of 500 books at minimum would be required. A large up front cost that would require serious sales for a break even.

Blurb Books

Blurb Books

Blurb is the modern day photo album. There is no need to buy plastic sleeves or order 4×6 prints when you can create a very nice hard cover book. For this, the price per book is very reasonable and recommended.

Blurb has both a Canadian Store and a US Store.

17 Comments

  • Andy February 26, 2013

    Creating Photobooks has become a bit of obsession of mine recently and i’ve found http://www.photobookgirl.com very handy for indepth reviews of the numerous options available.

    I have used around 4 different services both in Canada and the UK but always find myself going back to PhotobookCanada as i’ve found them to provide the best value for what im looking for.
    I’ve produced around 10 different books with them ranging in size from 8×11 to 11×15 with the cost usually around the $1 a page mark for usually around 60-70pages
    Of course these books are all family photos etc so are produced to different measures than your books are but we have been sufficiently happy with the products to return.

  • Mike Pereira February 26, 2013

    Hey Stephen – great post! Gave me a few things to think about for my next Blurb book.

    On the “Proofing” front, a friend of mine recently found out she could purchase just the PDF of her book for only $5.00 (I believe you can just deselect the actual book from your order when ordering).

    She took the PDF to a local printer and printed a cheap, but reasonably hi-res coil bound copy for proofing. She could then go back and make edits without purchasing the final book until she was satisfied.

    Might be worth looking into.

    • Stephen DesRoches February 26, 2013

      Thanks Mike. Would your friend be available to explain that process? They have always offered the $10 iPad version but I now see they have a instant $5 PDF version as well.

      An interesting concept if you never have to buy the hard copy but it still feels a little weird considering you’re providing them a PDF in the first place. This adds an extra step of proofing but still doesn’t provide a way to update a book down the road.

      In this case, the best solution would be to not use Booksmart and create everything in InDesign or Lightroom, export your own PDF for free, test print those, and then upload to Blurb for final printing.

  • Sandra February 27, 2013

    Thanks for this review Stephen.

  • Mike Pereira February 27, 2013

    Agreed – the InDesign approach might be easier – and yes it does seem a bit backwards.

    One thing I have noticed: before you export from Booksmart, Blurb asks you if you have printed your book with a local printer before sending it to them. I wonder if there is a way to export the PDF out of Booksmart? Might be worth investigating

    I’ll ask my friend what she did and let you know.

  • Paul Vreeland March 12, 2013

    I gave Blurb a test and published a small book of about 20 images. I found that a few of them were a bit dark, so having the ability to proof a book is important to me. However, I am satisfied with the quality of the work and will definitely give Blurb another go. Kudos to Adobe for integrating Blurb with Lightroom 4.

  • Buddy Eleazer April 30, 2013

    I’ve published several books with Blurb over the years. Recently I published a book called “This or That” and bought copies in both the ProLine Pearl and in Standard paper. Like you, I cannot tell a difference in actual print quality. Clearly the paper is thicker and has a nice feel, but colors, detail are very close.

    Blurb is good and I will continue to use them, but long for a true coffee table book quality.

  • Martin July 14, 2013

    I’m guessing the weird banding you are seeing in a few images is artifacts resulting from the Blurb software resizing your images.
    If you use Blurb’s BookSmart software, don’t rely on BookSmart to resize your images, but resize them yourself in Photoshop/etc to the exact size required by BookSmart (hover the mouse over an image box on a page, and a popup will display the image size required).

    Blurb also have a swatch kit available for sale, allowing you to preview the various types of paper available, with a sample colour image and sample black&white image on each type of paper. The swatch kit also includes samples of the different types of end sheets, and samples of the hardcover linens. The swatch kit is only $7.95 (incl shipping), and Blurb will give you a promo code for a $7.95 discount off your next book – so the net cost of a swatch kit is zero.
    See http://www.blurb.com/swatch-kit for more details on the swatch kit.

  • Angela December 16, 2013

    Thanks for this write-up. I’m making a children’s book with illustrations, on blurb for a Christmas gift for my nephews and the paper choices were driving me crazy! Without seeing/touching samples I feel blind. This was really helpful.

    • Stephen DesRoches December 18, 2013

      Ordering blind is a very accurate definition. You can order a sample kit to get an idea of the paper but it still doesn’t give you the feeling of how a finished book will be.

      Trial and error gets expensive real quick but Blurb does a good job for gifts. I order many more family photo books this year for Christmas gifts.

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