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!