The Anatomy of a Photo Book
Please note that this post is intentionally filled with printing industry terms that you may not be familiar with. When these terms are used, we link to a companion blog post, "The Glossary of Printer Terms," where you can quickly find their definitions.
Photo books can be breathtaking and vibrant. They can bring you back to a moment in time and evoke the most intense emotions. And you have so many options when it comes to expressing your memories: hardcover, softcover, lay-flat binding, matte coating, gloss coating. But what does it all mean? We’re going to breakdown the anatomy of a photo book, and look at the parts individually.
The Cover: There is an old saying: “never judge a book by its cover.” But in this industry, it’s pretty much the first thing we do. The cover of a book is our first impression of a photo book. A beautiful cover may inspire you to inspect the entire cover, front and back, and it will build excitement to flip through its pages. Choosing between matte and gloss-coated, or choosing to add padding or not can be tricky, and can effect your cover's presentation. While padding is mostly a personal preference, the coatings can have a greater effect. Gloss coating can bring the colors of a vibrant photo to life adding saturation and brightness without a texture. Gloss coating is particularly great for photo-heavy covers, or covers with very vibrant colors. Matte coating adds a beautiful subtlety to the cover, giving the photos depth without adding to the reflective light; instead, it grants a soft texture. Black & white photos and darker colors look especially great with a matte coating. Portraits, wedding photos, and professional photography all look fantastic with a matte coating for that added touch of elegance.
Laying out the cover can be one of the longest processes of photo book creation, and choosing the photo and art that you want to represent the whole story found inside the book can be challenging. Here's one thing to keep in mind: when you’re designing a hardcover book, the cover will wrap around the book and be glued in place with the end sheets. If you’re using an art kit or paper background, be sure to extend it beyond all edges of the bleed to get the best results. Also make sure to check the resolution of the photos you’ve selected. Forever Artisan and Forever Projects will warn you if a photo isn’t high enough resolution, but making sure to double check the DPI never hurts.
The Binding and the Spine: Choosing the binding is directly related to creating the cover; one compliments the other. For our softcover books, we only offer perfect binding, which is comprised of a sturdy glue binding. Softcover books are great, budget conscious way to preserve memories with lower page counts. The more pages that you add, the stronger the binding has to be, and many people opt to use our hardcover books instead. Hardcover books come with two binding options: side-stitching and lay-flat binding. Side-stitching (or standard) binding appears just like other hardback books where the sheets are stitched down the side, and then case-bound into the book. Side-stitching is incredibly durable and we recommend it for books with a lot of pages. Side-stitching creates a "gutter," or the area where the books are stitched through. Forever Artisan and Forever Projects will show you exactly where the gutter is, so make sure to check those before you purchase your book. If you want to avoid the possibilities of gutters all together, we also offer lay-flat binding. Lay-flat binding adds a flexible piece of black substrate, which is what gets stitched so that your entire photo can be displayed on the page. Further, when you choose lay-flat binding, you can use both pages to display one large photo or series of photos without losing the visual effect. All of these binding styles create a spine. The spine is the outside edge of the book, and it normally contains the title or a brief description. Artisan and Projects will calculate your spine width, but make sure that any text you might place in there is within 1/8” from the front and back cover.
With all printing, we have to allow for 1/8” margin on the edges. To get your projects to you in the timeliest manner, we print all of our photo memories on a digital press and use an industrial sized cutter. This means that sometimes pages can ‘creep’ or move slightly. The industry standard is this: anything that is pertinent must be within 1/8” of the trim line at the very least - we call that The Safety or Safe Zone.
Interior Pages: The inside of your book, or “guts” as we call it in the industry, is the heart of your memories. All of the hours, detail, and love you put into them warrant a stunning representation. There are a few tricks for ensuring you get the representation you want. Printers use the color combination of CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) laid on the paper to create your image. These images are printed on the paper individually in separations, and are combined to create the page. Here's what this means: sometimes, when you use a lot of one particular color, it can affect the colors around it. The psychology of color theory is fascinating, and how our eyes interpret color is even more interesting. If you were to look at a photo of people wearing bright red vests, their skin tone would certainly appear red to your eyes, even if it wasn't. They will take on the red tone of the vests because that is how our eyes are reflecting it, and when you print - it has the same effect. This is why we use acid-free/lignin-free dull and matte finished papers. Not only do we want to ensure their permanence, but we also want to make sure your photos are represented as accurately as possible. Pay particular attention to photos with a lot of shadows, or to pages with a lot of vibrant color as these can create problems when printing. If the printer adjusts to make changes to a dark photo, it could change the colors around the photos; and if the colors are matched, sometimes dark photos can look darker than on your screen. The best way to assure that is to calibrate your monitor.
The Finished Product: Though they are all printed separately, they come together to give your memories life. When a page is created with bleeds, the image or images actually “bleed” off the edge so it delivers to print with that extra ¼” (i.e. a 12” x 12” page is delivered at 12.25” x 12.25”), and then that is trimmed off. With books, they are all trimmed together to keep them uniform and then they are prepared for bindery. If they’re side-stitched, lay-flat bound, or perfect bound, they’re all prepared to bind the same but finished different. For the hardback books, the end sheets are glued on to hold the covers and then attach the cover to the interior. For soft covers, they are glued together and left to dry for 24 hours. After the glue dries and the book is finished, it is carefully packed for shipment and sent to you.
In an age of disposable media, Forever pledges to help you collect, curate, and celebrate your memories for life. We want to represent those memories as beautifully as you remember them. Printing a photo book can be one of the most rewarding things on the planet. When you finally get that finished book in your hands, we want to make sure that it is as perfect as you’ve imagined it. Taken together with our recent post on monitor calibration and color management, this post can hopefully provide comprehensive assistance in making the perfect photo books to accompany your cherished memories.