Thursday, February 11, 2016

Photobook Review: Blurb Hardcover ImageWrap

Blurb Hardcover ImageWrap Standard Landscape

Basic Information

Although I was focused on lay-flat photobooks for my year-in-review and vacation books, I had always wanted to put together a photobook of my university years. I saw this as an opportunity to give the extremely well reviewed and established Blurb a try, since it can accommodate up to 240/440 pages (depending on the paper you use). 

Blurb also has the infrastructure to allow you to sell your books directly to customers, but the pricing is very high compared to mass produced books (promotion codes usually are only applicable to your own photobooks, and not for purchasing other books). However, if you do need to self publish and have customers willing to pay (or you are willing to take a loss), Blurb is probably one of the few options out there for you. 

Basic Information
WebsiteBlurb (link)
ProductStandard Landscape
Size10x8 inches
Actual Dimensions
(exterior cover)
24.7 cm x 20.9 cm
(9 3/4 " x 8 1/4 ")
Actual Dimensions
(interior pages)
23.9 cm x 20.3 cm
(9 3/8 " x 8")
Cover TypeHardcover ImageWrap
Spine Printing?Yes (text and background colour only)
Type of Pages/BindingLibrary Binding (not lay flat)
Type of PaperPremium Lustre
# Pages206 pages (maximum 440 pages; 240 pages for Proline papers)
End pages?Yes (upgrade options also available)
List Price
(excl. shipping)
$95.79 (pricing info)
Shipping Cost$5.99 (shipping info)
Promotion Used40% off (excluding shipping)
Total Price Paid
(incl. shipping)
$67.91 (including $4.44 of tax)
Cashback at time of order?I forgot to use cashback, but check Ebates (referral link) (~1%) or Splender (referral link) (6-12%)
Date Ordered11/25/2015
Date Shipped12/1/2015
Date Received12/4/2015
Photobook EditorOnline (Bookify), downloadable (BookSmart or BookWright), Adobe InDesign plug-in, Lightroom plug-in

Software Review - BookSmart

Blurb offers several options for creating your photobook. They have an online option (Bookify), two downloadable programs (BookSmart and BookWright), and support Adobe InDesign and Lightroom plug-ins. I decided to try the two downloadable programs, and went with BookSmart for the project. 

View of the cover from BookSmart

The first page is a word cloud I made with Tagxedo

The text options are nice, although 11pt font in the program prints out larger than expected (closer to 12 point font from Word)

You can easily add text pages

The trim area is shown around the edges in light pink. I should have paid closer attention!

I like the full bleed option

You can save your own layouts (e.g., the left page above), but they are very difficult to adjust going forward

Last page includes a Blurb logo which can be removed for a whopping 25% of the total book cost 

You can view all your pages at once and re-arrange as needed

Options to sort your photos

Preset layout selections

You can edit the layouts yourself and save them 

You can see the dimensions and coordinates of each object, but you can only change the size by dragging your mouse

When saving your own layouts, though, minor changes will not always be recognized (more on that later)

Decent font selection

  • Ability to re-arrange single pages (not limited to only being able to move spreads)
  • Clearly shown trim area
  • Photo sorting options
  • Ability to save custom layouts

  • Hard to trigger saving a new layout (if you only move things a little bit, the program does not recognize it as a new layout). As a workaround, you can add and remove the header or footer. 
  • Making changes to a layout does not apply it to any pages that have already had the layout applied (i.e., very time consuming to update already made pages to a new layout)

Although there are more Pros than Cons listed above, I had a very frustrating experience working with BookSmart. Towards the end of my project, I thought about reducing the amount of white space between pictures by about half. I painstakingly made the changes to one of my custom layouts, and then found out that it would not apply itself to any pages already using that layout. As a result, the layout of the book was not to my satisfaction, but I did not have the energy or patience to redo 200+ pages. It's easy enough to say just have your layouts saved before you start, but it's hard to know exactly what you want at the beginning, so I would really hesitate to recommend this program unless you did not plan to deviate much from the existing preset layouts.

I started out by trying the BookWright software, but there are very few preset photo layouts. I gave up on that software very early on and downloaded BookSmart instead. But you should try both programs to see which works better for you.

The online software (Bookify) has limitations as well: maximum of 200 pages, 500 photos total and each image cannot exceed 10MB or 4000x4000 pixels.

I did not have Lightroom at the time of creating this book, or InDesign, but I'm sure both of those options are less eye-stab-inducing ways to create a Blurb book than BookSmart. If you have access to those programs, give those a try as well.

Product Pictures

Front cover

Inside front cover - end sheets

First pages (end sheet on left, first printable page on right)

I used the 12 point font in the software, but it prints out more like 14 pt equivalent from Microsoft Word

The text prints out very crisp

You can compare this to the software view for the amount that was trimmed

I love the full bleed pages

I would have preferred to reduce the white space between the images here, but too much work :(

The last page is Blurb's logo and then an end sheet

Inside the back cover - end sheets

Back cover

Bottom of the book


Some wear and tear along the spine already

The cover wrapped around the corner sticks out a little

How the book lays open for one of the middle pages

What the Premium Lustre paper looks like -  a nice sheen

Series of pictures showing the binding

Comparison to 4x6 Prints

Here are some comparisons of the book to my control 4x6 prints from ProDPI: 

Cover image looks fine to my eye

Blurb looks a had warmer and darker here

Blurb looks a little darker here as well, but overall the skintones still look natural to me

Blues look great, especially on these full bleed pages

I think this comparison does a good job of showing how Blurb prints darker (an improvement for this picture)

Another full bleed picture

Overall, I think the colour reproduction is very good, but the midtones do seem to print a tad darker than the 4x6 prints here. I would strongly recommend lightening your pictures before printing anywhere, but especially so with Blurb.


Some unfair macros for you to compare against the photos above. I think the print quality is very good, but I find the halftoning looks a bit more obvious in this book than compared to most of my other digital press printed books.  This may just be my imagination though.

Final Thoughts

Although the quality of this book is very good, I am not particularly compelled to create another book with Blurb. I used them for my university years photobook because I knew it would be very long, but as I don't have any other projects planned with so much content, I don't see myself ordering from Blurb again any time soon.

If I did need to create another 200+ page book, I would probably give them another chance but with the following changes:
  1. Lighten my pictures in external software
  2. Pay closer attention to the trim areas 
  3. Use the Lightroom plugin instead of BookSmart or some other third party software
  4. Simplify my layouts  
  5. Possibly try the Proline papers

  • High maximum page count (240 for Proline, 440 for standard or premium paper)
  • Affordable
  • High quality construction (Premium Lustre paper is very nice) 
  • Clear pricing structure with few gimmicks

  • BookSmart sucks
  • Spine printing is limited to text and background colour (no image printing)

It also turns out that the 10x8 inch dimensions of the Standard Landscape is not my favourite aspect ratio. I prefer a wider landscape book or square.

As a side note, I ordered the Premium Lustre paper and am confident it was the right choice for my book. While there was some "bleed through" (i.e., seeing the image printed on the other side of the page), the ProLine Pearl paper would have made my 200+ page book way too thick. Every review I have read recommends at least upgrading to the Premium paper, so keep that in mind.

It turns out that the hardcover width is fixed for certain page numbers, so you may want to try and optimize the number of pages so it fits snugly in the cover. See this thread for information. You can see in my book that the cover looks a bit large; if I had cut 6 pages from my book, I think I would have had a better fitting cover.

Finally, regarding shipping, I selected the cheapest option which had an expected delivery date of December 16, but my book was delivered well before that on December 4.

Additional Reviews


  1. hmm I'm gonna try Blurb for my annual books! (but those are far down the queue lol)

  2. lol, I just read thecatyouandus. Is she your twin sister?! XP

  3. Hello, very interesting product turned out. Thank you for sharing software. That's cool. I want to do something like that. If someone needs advice for HDR I have edited a photo, and then only added them in this book. This is my way to success. Good luck.