You might not be familiar with the name, but if you're looking to design and print your next photo book I would highly recommend you take a look at Blurb. And if you are sceptical about the quality of online printing companies then read on...
This year I made a conscious decision to print more. I've grown tired of always viewing images on an electronic device; tired of having to boot a computer and tap through repeatedly while your friend stares over your shoulder. It rarely feels like an engaging experience.
The issue with printing is quality vs. expense. The former can be achieved through professional labs but it comes with a price that makes it prohibitive to do too often. I wanted to print something that could sit proudly on the shelf: a book that exhibits better quality than your bog-standard digital printer but one that doesn't have to be viewed while wearing white cotton gloves.
Having looked at the likes of SnapFish and My Publisher, I opted to use Blurb - the primary reason being the very positive reviews and the convenience of being able to use the design module from the comfort of Lightroom, without having to download additional software. This makes a significant difference and is the possible caveat to my personal experience.
I visited New York in early 2015 and so I decided that this trip would be the guinea pig.
This is what I discovered...
Range of Options
I did not expect an online self-publisher to offer as wide a range of design options as Blurb. Font types, font sizes, page numbers, captions, the layout of photos on the page, jacket options, book size, and paper quality: the capacity to produce a genuinely unique product is definitely there.
My one gripe about the design options is with respect to book size. You are limited to five choices: landscape (large or standard), square (large or standard), or portrait. It's not a major problem and will probably suit most needs just fine, but it does seem slightly lacking.
Ease of Use
You can have the best looking book on the market but if the design process is torturous it would definitely put me off using it again. Fortunately, this is where Blurb really shines.
In Lightroom you can clearly and simply set out each page, tweak the layouts, add / remove pages, and crucially you can quickly drop in your selected photos with ease. No waiting for each individual image to be uploaded.
It is simple and intuitive. One of the best features is the ability to see the price of your book change depending on the options you pick, thus avoiding any nasty surprises when it comes to checking out.
I opted for the Premium Lustre paper. It does cost slightly more than the Standard but it is worth it. I see no point in skimping on the paper quality when it is such an integral part of any book, so if you are designing on a budget then try to see if you can save costs elsewhere. The Lustre paper itself is of a satisfactory thickness and the finish is clean.
The biggie. From the moment I unpacked the book and saw my full-size image of Manhattan on the dust jacket I could tell that the quality was high. Even with the cost associated with photo books I was still prepared for some fuzziness, but it is simply not the case.
Images are crisp and the colour reproduction is very accurate. What I was particularly impressed with was the quality of indoor photographs that I had shot at around ISO 3200. Noise would appear to be extremely well-controlled throughout so do not be nervous about printing those high ISO photographs.
Photo books can be cheap or they can be very expensive. I wasn't seeking out the cheapest deal on the market; I was trying to find a company that offered a suitable compromise of price and quality. My book had a total of 54 pages and cost in the region of £60 (add another £5 for postage).
I was able to utilise a 4th July discount code that brought the cost down by 40% and from what I can tell Blurb do offer regular deals. If it's not an urgent purchase, my advice would be to create your book and keep an eye out for the discount codes before uploading and checking out.
Given the ease of use and the quality of the product I think this is a fair price, even before the discount. In fact I would say that it is better than fair - I would say that it is a very good price. Where it would be nice to see a minor improvement is the turnaround time; waiting 2-3 weeks for delivery might just test your patience.
Blurb does not seem to be as well-known in the UK as some other book publishing services which is unfortunate as I would highly recommend them to anyone to try out. My only reservation would be if you fall into any of the following categories, then it might not be for you:
If you require a very specific size book
If you need your book in a few days
If your design requirements are very simple
However, if you are willing to spend a little bit more money than you would at, say, Bonusprint or Photobox you will not just come away with a quality product, but one that is bespoke. Not all companies allow you to put as much of a personal touch on your photo book as Blurb and that for me is a huge plus.
My New York book is now pride of place on my bookcase and knowing that I put in a lot of hours to create it, coupled with the high standard of the finish, means that I would happily turn to Blurb again. It really feels like my own, personal creation - and that beats viewing photos on a screen every time.