Lines and Colors art blog

Blurb book - Venice Light in Booksmart software  and final
Suppose you’re meeting an art director and you want to leave behind printed samples of your work.

You could print out some pages on your home printer and try to assemble them in an office store report cover, or you could go down to Kinkos and have them print and bind it in some kind of corporate report package; you could give them a disk and hope they take the trouble to view it, or you could just give up and beg them to bookmark your web site.

Imagine the difference, though, if instead of a printed pamphlet, you leave a full-color, glossy, hardbound book of your work, complete with dust jacket.


Suppose you’ve been asked to present a gallery with some photographs of your work as a form of initial contact. Some galleries still ask specifically for slides, but if it’s up to you would you rather give them a pile of photos, computer print-outs, bound or not, or… a book of your paintings that looks like you just picked it up off the shelf at Barnes and Noble?


Perhaps you’d like to collect your work in a book and offer it for sale on your web site, something I know many artists would love to do, but consider out of reach. (I can see all of the “painting a day” artists sitting up and taking notice.)


Maybe you’d just like to have your paintings, or even a collection of your travel photos, arranged as a book that you can give to friends and family as gifts.

“But, Charley,” you say, looking at your computer screen with a quizzical and/or bemused expression, “this all sounds great, but I don’t recall inheriting a fortune lately, I can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars to have a book printed. Have you gone daft?”

“Why, no,” I say, “well, maybe…, but that doesn’t alter the fact that one-off printing of individual books has become practical and, in fact, is now remarkably affordable and easy.”

It used to be that printing a full-color book required and outlay of thousands for an extensive print run, making such things impractical unless you could attract the attention of a publisher willing to invest in publishing your book to a wide audience. In printing the general rule has always been that the more copies you printed, the cheaper each copy became, and you had to print a relatively high number to get the price point per copy to be remotely viable, particularly in color. The idea of printing a single copy of a full-color book was absurd.

Printing technology, though still slow to change by the standards of digital media, has made some amazing progress while we were busy being dazzled by the internet. New on-demand printing techniques, utilizing sophisticated ink-jet technology, have finally made the low print run and one-off printing of full color books, even hard-bound books, practical.

You can now put together an 8″x10″ (20×25 cm) 40 page full-color hard-bound book and print one copy for as little as $30, soft-cover for $20!

There are several companies now that offer inexpensive short-run or one-off on-demand printing using this new technology; the one I have experience with, and can recommend almost without reservation, is Blurb.

In the case of Blurb, the technology is the HP Indigo 5000 digital press. Some of you may be familiar with Apple’s iPhoto books, which use the same principle but are much more expensive.

You don’t have to be a graphic designer, or know how to use Quark or InDesign, to put a book together for printing by Blurb. You download Booksmart, their book template software for Mac or Windows (I used the Mac version) into which you load your digital images and arrange them in a choice of book sizes and page template variations. The software is well thought out and very easy for someone with no design experience to use. Graphics professionals will actually find it a bit restrictive, but it’s not aimed at us, and as a work-around you can use your own typography and layout in the form of full-page images. The process even allows you to do full bleeds (images that extend to the edges of the page) at no additional cost.

It’s suggested you do a test print from your home printer, and then upload the book to your Blurb account through the Booksmart software. In 7-10 working days (1-2 weeks) the UPS driver will plop your shiny new securely packaged book into your eager hands.

You can print in several sizes, from 7×7 inches (18x18cm), starting at $13 for up to 40 pages paperback, to their “coffee-table book” at 13×11 inches (33x28cm), which is hardcover only starting at $55.

Most importantly you will blown away by the quality of the results (providing, of course that you are careful in the preparation of the book on your end). The books look fantastic, the printing and color are absolutely beautiful and look remarkably professional. They may be printed on-demand, but these are bookstore quality books that you would be proud to offer for sale on your web site.

For more information, I’ll refer you to a more extensive review by Kevin Kelly, a reviewer whose opinion I trust and from whom I learned about Blurb, who also reviews another on-demand printing service, Lulu.

I don’t have direct experience with Lulu, but I mention it because Kelly does and because Blurb is about printing in color, it’s not the ideal solution for black and white printing, which should be much cheaper than even the remarkably inexpensive color of Blurb books. Lulu may be of particular interest to those printing black and white comics.

When preparing a book for Blurb printing, be sure to heed Kelly’s advice about blurred images, take care to photograph your work sharply and as professionally as possible. (I list a few resources about photographing artwork at the end of this post.)

Once your book is complete (and you’re seen at least one copy of the finished article to make sure that it’s the way you want it), you can order more, at a discount if it’s over 10 copies. You can also offer the book for sale through the Blurb bookstore.

When I was investigating Blurb, I didn’t have enough artwork in a state that I wanted to print in a book yet, so as a test I put together a book of photographs I took in Venice and published a 20 page Blurb book. You can see it here in the Blurb bookstore. Below the image of the book cover is a link where you can download a PDF preview of the first 15 pages that will give you some idea of the Booksmart template layouts, at least as I have used them.

The image above shows that book in the Booksmart software on screen, the actual delivered book open to the same page and the book cover (inset).

If you’re at all curious about Blurb, you can create a small Blurb book for as little as $13 (plus shipping) just to check out the process. A friend of mine just did that and was delighted and amazed with the results.

So what are you waiting for? You’re only a couple of weeks away from being a published!


16 responses to “Blurb and Lulu”

  1. You were right Charley! I sat up and my eyes got bigger as a read on. I have been wondering for a while how to do a self published book but have been unsure how to go about it. I will put this on my… things to do this year…list.

    Thanks for posting just what I was looking for.

  2. I recently published a 120 page book on birds on blurb (say that 3 times fast! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    The software is great – I tried using InDesign (i.e. Lulu) and Blurb, and kept returning to Blurb. The software has its quirks – but you get used to it, and it’s fairly flexible.

    The printing is outstanding. Really! So is the service if you have issues (one of my early trials had a gamma correction problem and they refunded the money promptly).

    Can’t recommend them enough. Wish it were cheaper, but hey – it’s really high quality.

    BTW, I tried out Lulu as well – cheaper, but quality to match – if you’re a color photographer Blurb is the way to go.

  3. Great write up Charley! I know Karin Jurick (one of the daily painters) has put together four volumes, and Duane Keiser has one too.

    Publishing a journal is on my list of resolutions, and I had been thinking about Blurb– your review makes it more likely I’ll go that route…

  4. Thanks for the push Charley. I have been thinking about this for a while too, but assumed that it would take too much of my time to pursue right now. I think I’ll give it a try.
    I know people who have done ibooks, but this looks like a better option.

  5. I’ve seen Duane Keiser’s book on the blurb bookstore and it looks great.

    I actually used it for a presentation last semester–I was running late so I had blurb ship it directly to my professor. I never saw the book, but I got an A so it must have been good ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. :O I want one! this is great! Thank you Charley ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. Really cool. I would like to try it out in the future. Thanks for the write up.

  8. Snap!…..I was just looking at blurb the other day with a view to possibly using the service . I really was not too sure how it would go and it seemed too good to be true .
    The result looks great . I actually was thinking about it from a portfolio point of view also . A pro portfolio case with all the sleeves etc is approx 300 plus and that does not include printing costs .

    This is really worth pursuing .

    Thanks for the review .

  9. I have recently done two books. One for myself, about learning to draw this past year and one for my brother about the carving he has been doing for the last three years. They turned out fantastic. Service was great.

  10. Using Blurb, I created a book of artwork done by my husband and me as a surprise Christmas gift. I was so pleased to see the quality of the finished book, and he was thrilled. When other family members saw it, they all decided they had to have one. I can enthusiastically recommend the Blurb site.

  11. I was curious and ordered Duane Keiser’s 6 1/2″ square book (112 pages) and it is superb.
    Thanks for the reminder not to forget this terrific tool!


  12. Even I’ve thought of doing this…civilization must be about to collapse under the burden of self published books! Great endorsment and comparison…

  13. What took me totally by surprise is the faithfulness to color and clarity of the images in the book I created using blurbs free software. I believe it must have something to do with the color profile blurb demands. It’s sRGB. I’d never noticed that in the years working in Photoshop; not even noting that I’d always worked in Adobe RGB (1998) which won’t work for blurb. Also, blurb allows for uploading your images in JPG or PNG. I doubt I have reason to fear (blurb knows what they’re doing) but I know the lossiness of a .jpg file after saving more than once, so I uploaded in .png format.

    A sharp salute to blurb!

    Robert Tracy

  14. Thanks, Charley, for this very informative article. And thanks to all the rest of you! Oftentimes on web blogs I learn as much from other’s comments as I do on the original article! I definitely plan to check out Blurb for several ideas I have – (Professional AND personal).
    (I just found this site (linesandcolors) yesterday and have been amazed at how much input I’ve been crowding into my feeble brain since then!
    Upside: Your site is like a good book that I can’t put down; I’m learning so much!
    Your site is like a good book that I can’t put down; I have so much other stuff to do, yet here I sit, reading, clicking, reading,…!

  15. Thanks–I have a cartoon site and was interested in making a book and selling it from my blog. So, is that allowed?

    1. You can buy copies at your price and sell them directly, or you can put it for sale on their site, point people there and take a percentage.