What is a photobook and how can you make one yourself? You might’ve thought of publishing your own images inside hardcovers, but navigating the necessary information on printing your own book will require some detailed steps and organizing.
I might’ve never made one, if I wasn’t enjoying the luxury of studying in a University and having access to various resources and professionals to guide me with where I wanted to focus. You do not need to have all the same resources to be able to print your own publication, and I will be explaining here why.
I added a freebie in the end to help you out with the start of making your first photobook.
Design comes first
What ideas do you have for the paper material? Or the layout design? Do you have a book or publication you’ve seen in the past and thought it was executed well? Use that as an inspiration for your own book when planning the details.
You will not be able to print and bind a book from one sitting; making multiple versions and printing tests will give you a better feel on how it will actually look in the end.
Carefully go through which colors you’d like to have represented in your publication or what are the main details in your layout design; what kind of cover you want and what materials you’ve thought for the paper.
Do you want extra elements like laser cutting in the cover or special silk paper to be added in the publication? Always go through the reasoning for specific decisions you make; why is a colored spread necessary in your book?
Also think about the amount of copies of your publication; are you making 10 copies for an exhibition or 100 copies to be sold in a bookstore. If there will only be couple of copies, you can easily make them by hand, so you can add a level of difficulty otherwise not possible.
Things to know when designing your publication
- Amount of pages or spreads in your book
- Size of your book (A4 and A5 are easiest if you do not have the option to cut your final book to finalize the edges)
- Overall layout ideas – fonts and composition of your images
- How you are going to bind it – if by hand, then knowing what is the order of the pages
- What is the overall theme of your book ? If it’s based on a mood or theme
- What is your budget for the book
- How can you get ahold of all the materials and tools you need to produce the book
- Who is your audience; who will it be made for and where will it be presented
Which paper to use
This is maybe one of the most important things you have to decide, on top of the layout design of course. The physical feeling of holding a book is such an underestimated experience; if it’s easy to flip through, or the materials feel to bring more value, it will change the reading experience.
The thickness of the paper
The thickness of the paper is calculated in grams:
50g paper is thin and more see-through while 250g paper is almost like cardboard. Usually 90g paper is used in publications, but if you specifically want to build one with imagery in it, you might want to also think about how the ink is going to look in the paper.
If the paper you choose is glossy, the images will reflect light and the black hues might get too dark. If the paper is too rough, almost like pattern-like, it will require more saturated colors to pop out.
Or, of course this will not happen if you choose to have the saturation down, but the quality and thickness of the paper will determine how the colors will come out. Also, there is a huge difference when printing with ink; the colors are soaked into the paper – or printing with laser; which will print a layer of colors on top of your paper.
You can check and order sample paper for example on Papyrus.
What kind of cover will the book have?
Obviously, if you’re binding by hand, your book will have most likely a soft cover. This is because you can bind a soft cover by hand. A harder one requires some machinery to come out nice and clean. You can also order a hardcover from an outside service even if you’ve bind the book by hand.
Equipment to have in the binding process
- Bone folder for folding/creasing/pressing paper
- An awl for making holes
- 15 meters (~49.2 feet) of 100% linen thread
- Clip-point shoe knife for cutting paper
- A paper weight to keep the signatures together
- A clip to hold spreads together
- A ruler
- A bookbinding needle
- A hammer to finalize your binding
STEP 1. Making a signature
Once you have printed and folded your sheets, you will make signatures out of them. A signature is when for example an A3 is folded to be an A4 spread and multiple spreads are added. You can decide how many spreads you add within one signature. Notice, the thicker the paper the harder it will be to fold the spreads inside each other. Here you can see one signature.
Adding signatures to your liking you can decide how thick your publication is going to be. One thing to notice here is; if your paper is more than 90g in thickness – making multiple signatures will have the spreads feeling a bit stiff, since it won’t fold open properly. But this you will have to try in order to know how it will feel in the end.
Steps to bind your book
I wanted to have an open back for my book and also to have the binding pretty simple. Last time binding I had the black thread, and this time I wanted to keep it simple and chose white thread instead. For thread you can use any strong thread you can find from a sewing store. The needle I suggest you get from an arts and crafts store.
STEP 2. Punch the holes
First measure the space between the holes you need. For this you should cut a piece of cardboard the size of your paper. If you’re planning on cutting the final book from the edges, do still maeasure the cardboard based on the size it is when binding it.
After this divide the full size for your desired amount of holes. For example; the size of the book is 21,5 cm – this is divided by 8 (holes) = 2,68 cm. This is the space between each hole. Leave about 1 cm space both on top and in the bottom of the back of the book, so that the holes will be centered.
STEP 3. Start sewing your book
Measure the thread for the book by calculating the full size between the holes: from the first hole to the last one. Then add another 30 cm to the thread length. This way you will have extra thread if you get an unexpected knot and need to cut it.
The direction of sewing: Start going in the lowest hole and after that come out the next hole. Work your way up the first signature like this.
Once you come out with your needle from the last hole (at the top of the book), make a double knot.
This is the only time you make a regular knot in the end of the signature. The next ones will have a different way of binding them together.
—> after this turn your second signature on top of the first one (see image below)
STEP 4. Go in the second signature
During the second signature: start going down the signature.
Every time the needle goes out on the backside of the spine; it goes in through the previous signature hole.
Then out again and back to the signature that you are currently sewing. So going back and forth, binding the two signatures together.
The first signature was the only one that you needed to go fully through with your needle. The next ones will have you going through 2 (two) signatures at the same time.
STEP 5. Make a knot in the end
Once you get til the end of your second signature, make a knot. This knot doesn’t need to be a double-knot, just a loop, through which you take the needle through and continue.
NOTICE: You do NOT go in through the last hole of your second (or third or fourth) signature. You go through between the 2 signatures and make the loop. See the image below.
Tighten the thread before you tie the knot.
STEP 6. Move to the next signature
Move to the next signature and do the same thing all over again. Once you’ve done your signatures, tie a double-knot to both ends of the thread (also the one you started with).
ALWAYS check your thread before you pull it through the holes; it might easily curl and make knots as you go through the binding.
Clear the thread and make sure it doesn’t curl.
However, if curling happens, just cut the thread, make a knot there, and continue with a new thread entirely. You can then clean the extra thread when you glue everything together.
STEP 7. Glue your book together
This can either be done with the tools in your workshop or with alternative tools. For this you will need:
- A machine or a tool that presses your book together
- Book binding glue
- A brush
Before you glue it together, in order to keep the edges of the book safe from the glue and any pressing marks – cut 2 pieces of cardboard that will leave space between the book and the pressing machine.
Then, place the cardboard on both sides of the book and knock everything together to even out the backside.
Then try to carefully move them towards the insides of the book (see the images below).
Keep the cardboards tightly where they are (this is the difficult part and you might need some patience for it), and place it between the pressing machine / tool.
Then add the glue, and cut the unnecessary long threads away. Then try to cover up any loose threads or thread tails hanging out.
Do not add too much glue; it will take longer to dry and will look like a see-though gel on top of the thread. Also, try to get the glue in the smallest holes too, to glue every bit of the backside together.
When the binding is almost dry, you can hit the spine with a hammer couple of times; this way the spine will feel even and no knots will be visibly popping out.
If you are not able to attend any binding workshop to glue your signatures, you can put them between bricks or other heavy material.
Finally, when you feel it has dried fully, you can cut the sides of your book with a cutter – not a carpet knife though if you want a clean outcome. Of course you can leave it as it is with rough sides.
THE FINAL BOOK
In total designing the book, deciding the paper, printing, and binding the first version it took me roughly a week to make it. But once you’ve made the necessary decisions on the details, you can just produce more pieces. Binding one book took me about 2hrs. + drying the glue for 1hr.
This is just to give you an estimate on how much time it could consume, but you can make it faster if you have everything you need and maybe someone who knows how to make it. Most of the time goes in trying things and learning while you make it.
For more information and clear instructions, I recommend this book; it’s pretty extensive in giving you all the information you need.
You can also check SelfPublishBeHappy on Vimeo on designing a photo book by book designer Brian Paul Lamotte who examines and explores different themes and approaches to designing and producing photobooks.
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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like How To Build A Photo Series.
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