There are so many factors to consider when choosing a format and a printer for your photo book, but what are the best options for your project? To make your decision process easier and help you avoid pitfalls, we’ve compiled some questions to ask yourself and your supplier so you can get as close as possible to your perfect match. You can narrow down the options quickly by answering these questions: what print quality do I want? How many copies do I need? What’s my budget? What binding do I want? And what size should it be?
What print quality do I want?
Until recently it was standard practice for a book run with a commercial trade printer to require a minimum of 1000 or more copies, because they used a traditional offset press that required more volume to justify the set up of the printing plates. But digital print technology has changed so dramatically over the last few years that most book runs are now printed on a digital press.
Most print companies now have a digital press but it’s the make and model, the way the press is set up and profiled and the operator’s experience with printing photographic images that makes all the difference for a photo book maker who wants the best colour reproduction.
The HP Indigo press is the accepted international benchmark for short run photo books, as they produce the highest quality output of all the current digital printing presses. They can be run with 4 or 6 colours, but most printers use only 4 colours, as a wide colour gamut and smoother tones are not necessary for the majority of corporate print jobs for brochures, packaging and the like.
A few specialty printers may run 6 colours on particular jobs but they are rare. At Momento Pro we run all our print-on-demand photo books at 6 colours as the extra Light Cyan and Light Magenta inks allow us to print a broader range of colours and produce smoother gradients that do photographs the justice they are due. We use this same setup for volume orders on request too.
One way to avoid disappointing photo book prints is to ask whether your supplier can provide test prints. Start by asking for print samples, but ensure they include photographs, not just graphics and text, as it’s the detail in the colours and tones of the photo that you’ll want to be happy with. Even better, ask for printed test pages from your own file. The ultimate option is a full proof book print. We print the first copy of a volume order of 25 to 250 copies as a proof book so you can review every page, and this is automatically included in the cost of your print run.
While the pages may be printed with accurate colour, other issues may creep in during the printing process, so manual quality checks on your pages will reduce the potential for print marks. This level of service is rare and more common amongst specialty printers and on-demand photo book companies. At Momento Pro we check every individual page in our non-volume orders. To keep volume orders at a reasonable price point, we do random checks on every few copies.
When finding a print company, aim to find a printer who understands how to print photographs. Most commercial printers won’t understand the nuances of the highlights and shadows in photos, or appreciate the need to maintain colour accuracy. Print companies that have individual ICC profiles for each paper stock are a good sign, as they will ensure the best reproduction of your photo for that particular stock. Download their profiles if you’d like to softproof your images beforehand.
Once you have found a printer than can produce the print quality that’s right for you, you need to check whether they can print the number of copies you’re after.
How many books do I need?
While a trade publisher with a celebrity photographer might print 1000+ copies at a time, we expect most antipodean photo book makers will want to print less than 500 copies as that’s a large run for a self-publisher or small publisher in these parts of the world. A commercial trade printer may accept jobs of 250 to 500 books but if you want less than this the options begin to narrow. Typically orders of this size will be too small or too custom for a traditional printer so you’ll need to seek out a boutique or print-on-demand company.
Unsurprisingly, the higher your minimum order quantity the cheaper the per-unit cost will be, but you also need to consider that when buying hundreds or thousands of books at a time you’ll be paying more for shipping and you’ll have to factor in storage costs if your garage isn’t free.
We highly recommend sourcing pre-orders to identify the demand for your book, and to confidently set the highest order quantity possible. Pre-order campaigns are increasingly common for photo books produced by small publishers and are also well worth it for self-publishers. Crowdfunding offers the perfect platform to formally manage pre-orders but more informal approaches such as an email to your network or even a social post can also give a good indication of how many people might be interested.
It’s worth mentioning that over the last 17 years we’ve seen many photographers surprised by the demand for their book after they printed, launched and promoted it, sending them back for a second print run. Had they promoted the book beforehand they could have increased their order quantity and benefited from a lower price per unit.
Now you know what print company you want to use and the quantity you need, you can figure out the format for your book, but beware, it’s a juggling act between what you want, what the supplier can offer, and what price works for your budget.
What’s my budget?
Knowing your budget before speaking to a printer can save precious time and possible disappointment. Many photo book makers are rightly driven by their creativity and dream up amazing specifications for their book, but it is rare for a print company to be able to provide all binding and finishing options. The more custom and complex your book, the harder it will be to find a company to produce it, and the higher the cost will be.
The rule of thumb is that the smaller the quantity, the higher the production values and the greater the customisation, the more expensive your book will be. Just as, the smaller the size, the lighter the paper and cover, and the more standard the sizes and materials are, the more affordable the book will be to produce – as well as to pack and ship.
What binding do I want?
Your requirements for longevity, quality and price should define whether you opt for a hardcover or softcover book. If you choose softcover, your budget may only allow for cheap yet stylish saddle-stitched binding. If you want more than 50 pages you may need to go with a perfect bound softcover instead, as saddle-stitched booklets have a lower page limit, defined by the size of the staple that binds them together.
If you’re after a premium presentation, a hardcover book feels more distinguished and permanent than a softcover. If your intention is for the book to last the longest lifetime, the pages should be stitched not glued, as stitched pages will result in more secure binding. If you’re looking for maximum quality, books manually crafted by experienced binders will look and feel different to those bound by a machine.
If your intention is to sell the hardcover book in a retail environment, the expectation is that it will be section sewn as this allows the pages to sit flat. Not all print and binding companies offer section sewing, and its availability is dependent on the make and model of the printer and its maximum sheet size.
What size should my book be?
The size of your book should be defined by the purpose of your book, just as it should guide your entire format and design decisions, as the most successful books are true to their intention.
The more intimate the story presented in the side, the smaller and more manageable the size can be, while a book intended for a rare book collection can justify a larger and more impressive space. If it’s a portfolio to present at meetings and win new clients a larger size hardcover will have more impact. If however it’s something to leave-behind or a self-published edition that will be sold internationally, a smaller size and lighter weight, will be more cost-effective.
Consider that the more standard the size, the more affordable it will be the easier it will be to pack and ship.
The biggest choice you need to make with a photo book cover is whether you want it to feature a photo or not. If you choose a photo printed cover you’ll also have to confirm whether you want it laminated. Be aware that uncoated or printed cloth is more tactile and attractive but it may not last as well if handled excessively.
If you choose a non-printed cover, there are endless options to consider. Do you want it to feel smooth or tactile in nature? Do you want a specific material – leather, linen or buckram? Do you want to decorate it with embossed text or a custom design and what colour will the emboss foil be? Or do you want it debossed so that a photo print can be applied with an adhesive or on a printed metal plate? Whatever you choose, be guided by the purpose of your book and the tones and designs of the pages inside. First impressions do count!
Finishes and customisation
If you want to add even more bells and whistles liked colour or printed end pages, transparent pages or multiple paper stocks, gatefolds, a dust-jacket, slip case or box, the costs will increase. Anything outside the company’s standard product range will require research, testing and time, and that will be reflected in the cost. Customisation will increase the price of any book, but if it’s important to the integrity of your project then it’s worth the expense.
Paper is the least of your concerns as most print companies offer a wide range of options. To help you decide though here’s a few questions to ask? How do you want the paper to feel and respond to your images? Do you want a stock that will make your photos pop off the page, or something that is textured and feels incredible? Do you want a creamy tone or you’re more interested in a bright white? If you’re printing a few hundred books or you plan to ship them overseas, a lighter weight stock will make production and shipping more affordable.
This is also where environmental considerations are key. If you want eco-friendly paper you should check its FSC (Forestry Stewardship Certification). If your aim is to minimise your project’s carbon footprint you can also enquire about recycled paper options, and learn about how the print company manages their paper and ink waste.
Now you’ve made all the tough decisions about your printer and the format of your book, and you’re set to produce a photo book that is perfect for you and your project, ensure you prepare your file to the specifications your printer requires. Find out their accepted file formats and what bleed or trim marks they require, otherwise you may extend the production time of your print run or end up with a result you won’t be happy with.
As always, research and good planning results in a more successful outcome and there’s no difference with a photo book. The icing on the cake is when your supplier brings something to the project as well. At Momento Pro, premium photo books are our sole focus, that’s why we run our press with 6 colours and calibrate it religiously. We’ve worked with thousands of individuals, artists and students, and we know the photo book eco-systems, so we can also advise on funding, design and marketing. We love photo books and believe that their purpose should guide their format to maintain their integrity.
If we’ve won you over, contact Momento Pro for your next photo book project – we promise to do it justice.