Ditch old-fashioned photo albums and make a Blurb book instead

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Bye-bye, gigantic photo albums! Photos by Stephanie Kaloi.

I’ve always been obsessed with photo albums — whether they were thrifted, vintage, or something I picked up from a craft store. I’ve spent many an hour filling dozens of them with photos. I started in high school with albums I bought at the same place I had my disposable cameras developed. It was cheap, easy, and super fast — waiting an hour and then spending another hour or two compiling and organizing was my jam. Once I made the initial leap from disposable to point and shoot cameras I still had to get the photos developed — either at a store or somewhere online (Snapfish, Adoramapix, and Shutterfly are all great). This was cool with me, until I discovered Blurb books.

At first glance, I was totally overwhelmed. I could handle signing up, but actually creating a book seemed to be totally beyond my skill level. I decided to give it a shot — I loved the idea of one thin book containing hundreds of photos just sitting on my bookshelf instead of dozens of gigantic, clunky albums taking up space. Also, while I use Blurb as a substitute for traditional photo albums, the possibilities with the site are pretty endless — everything from art and fashion portfolios to storybooks can be made. My most recent masterpiece is comprised of 662 photos I took in 2010. It wasn’t everything, but it was good enough — and it all fit into a sliver of a book that contains eighty-six pages.

My Blurb books live with our records for now. They're teeny and PERFECT.

Here’s how you do it

Download BookSmart

I used Blurb’s free bookmaking software BookSmart (works on both Mac and PC) to aid in my process. It’s super simple: upon signing in you’ll be asked to choose a size. I tend to go for one of the two “standard” options — portrait or landscape, but it’s all up to you. The next step is picking a layout. I’m particularly picky about how my books look, so I always opt for “Portfolio” since it’s super easy to customize. You select your source at the next screen, and then choose a theme. Again, the theme’s up to you (my fave is Viewfinder).

Get your photos to the book

Once you’re on the screen with “Apply page layout” at the topc, look over to the middle of the left toolbar and click “Get Photos.”

After selecting your source (as mentioned, Flickr was my source, but you can also pull photos from your computer, Smugmug, Picasa, and Photobucket), I always find that it’s handy to UNCHECK “show used photos” under the Filter dropdown menu — this way you won’t see the photos you’re using as you go, and that minimizes the risk of using the same photo more than once.

Decide how you want it to look

You’ll notice lots of little viewing options — you can select how you want to see the pages (I always like to see them one at a time) and Blurb has dozens of different templates. I believe most books begin with twenty pages, but you can add and remove pages to suit your needs. For example, I’ve never felt like my annual books need the “introduction” and “title layouts” that the books come with, so I simply yank them and put in another photo layout instead. Blurb will also tell you if your photos will fit into the spots that you want — things like photo quality and resolution play a role in this, but I’ve successfully created books with photos from DSLRs and point and shoot cameras.

I made these two books from letters I write to my son on my blog.
This is a page from my 2009 book.

Save! Preview! Order!

When you’re finished you hit “Preview Book” and then “Order Book.” You’ll be redirected to the Blurb site, where you can pick your paper (I always go with the auto choice) and style (my favorite is ImageWrap). And psst… if you order through this link, you can save 20% on your order (code BLURB20)!

Comments on Ditch old-fashioned photo albums and make a Blurb book instead

  1. Thanks!! 🙂 I use shutterfly for family albums but I buy prints too because I love classic photo albums.

    I love these books too though. I’m thinking about making yearly scrapbooks for my Daughter 🙂

  2. What is the average cost for a book? Since you go with a lot of standard options I am guessing that you cut some of the cost that way.

    I just got married and am still trying to work out my “album” options. I also have a baby due in October…so there will be lots of photos soon! 🙂

    • I’ve just ordered a book from here and it seems to range between $10usd and 21$usd. It was $8 international postage for me, but even still the combined price of $30 (which is about £15) seems pretty reasonable. I also used a lot of the standard options, but to be honest, unless you were a photography buff, the standard options would be great for a wedding album, and you can add text too.

  3. Since my husband and I started dating I have made us an annual photobook using picaboo.
    I’m currently creating our 3rd album (and now that we live in the same country this album is going to be much thicker than the past two)
    I want to keep doing this forever!
    I love looking back at the albums, I feel that since digital photos people just don’t print them out enough anymore

  4. I love making photo books. I’ve made all mine through Apple on iPhoto. They are probably a bit spendier than other options bit I like the quality. I made a birth book for my daughter complete with photos and our birth story. Right now I am working on the “prequel” to that one with insemination and pregnancy photos. I work a little bit each day during my morning pumping session before work while she’s still asleep.

      • I’m glad you asked! This is Emily’s wife. Insemination photos include pictures of a sperm tank with “human specimen” on the shipping label, a action shot of the sperm vial emerging from the liquid nitrogen, a montage of various ovulation predictor kits and herbal tinctures, a photo of the midwife and myself during the insemination – taken by my wife so there are not any cervix shots, a bunch of empty vials with numbers on them, a Playmobil fertility Goddess, a pile of positive home pregnancy tests…….

  5. Me too! Me too! It’s so exciting to see so many other people with a love for photo albums. I agree with Mich OBTMod about people not printing out as many digital photos as in the past. And while I’ve done blurb/photo books for several different occasions (mother’s day, celebrate my dog after she passed away, my son’s first few months) – I still keep traditional photo albums, too (way too many if you ask my husband – which I don’t because all I have to say is “excuse me, beer can collection?!”). I’m actually way behind in putting my pictures in my album this year but am totally looking forward to it when I finally do sit down to do it. Yay!

  6. I would love to do this and will definitely check it out for my own digital photos, but the big hurdle for me is all the old family photos I already have in piles and piles that were printed out at generic stores and never organized. Two big, full plastic containers of them!
    I’ve always wanted to get them all into digital format for easier organizing and sharing (and a good backup). We will see how far I get with that!

    • Love the Blurb idea for the now generation. However, my dilemma is the non-digital photos kept in thick photo albums from 40 years ago. What to do with these ?

  7. I feel like the greatest advantage of Blurb over a traditional photo album was sort of bypassed here – namely the ability to incorporate text! My wedding album is full of my professional wedding pictures (just like if I’d gotten an album from my photographer). However, it ALSO includes a full transcript of my Rabbi’s speech, excerpts from the blessings that were being read during certain moments, and funny stories from throughout the day. In addition to having the pictures from our first dance, I ALSO have the lyrics from the song that was playing. Not quite as immersive as having the book actually play the music, but I still think its a nice touch.

  8. I gatta throw this out there – I ALMOST went into blurb land, having made scrapbooks since I was six. But, it just wasn’t right for me. Having physical objects in my scrapbooks, like the actual paper I read from at the wedding, to the leaf he proposed with, to the scribble scrabble captions, I think it just makes it so much more personal to have a real photo album. I know I could tape those things into a book, but I don’t see it having the same personality. I totally recognize the allure of blurb, though. Just had to throw down my two cents.

    • What a rush of memories of our class of 1964! We had such fun and did some crazy tnhgis. I must say that my fondest memory is of Mother St. Rita Helen(Lucille Corrigan). What a wonderful person with a marvelous soul. I would guess that none of us know the good she has done for others.I am now a retired teacher. How did I get this old so fast? Steve and I live across the lake in Beamsville. We have 3 sons who have given us 5 awesome granddaughters. I am happy to say that most carry some of my humour . A sixth baby will arrive in January. I am still good friends with Glenda Lalonde and Susan Schmidt. I would love to know what many of you are doing so get busy and fill us the site. Hugs to all!!

  9. We’ve used Blurb a couple of times now, and have been thrilled with the results. Quality and service are ace – my best friend’s father put me on to them, he’s made up dozens of mini-books from his travels. One book came with a slight binding error, and Blurb were very quick to replace it free of charge with express shipping (to Australia!).
    We’ll be making our wedding album using Blurb, and no doubt kidlet photo albums in years to come.
    As a previous poster mentioned, the ability to include text, or even make your own text-based books (cook books, self-published novels etc), is a great feature.

  10. I’ve used iphoto, photobook and mixbook and loved them all. I found photobook was a bit higher quality than iphoto. The iphoto books weren’t customizable enough for me, so I’ll probably continue to use photobook for more formal photos (like my wedding and honeymoon albums), and mixbook for more collaborative stuff. For example, I just had about 25 people contribute to a recipe book using mixbook for my friend’s wedding, and because everyone could contribute to the web-based application, it made coordinating and editing fairly easy for me. I love love love being able to turn digital photos into something tangible, especially as gifts – they’re always a hit and something people will keep forever. I’ll have to give blurb a try! (If you’re looking for someone to review photobook options, let me know!)

  11. Fantastic timing! My husband and I were given a Blurb book at our wedding reception, full of pictures of the two of us growing up. It was a lovely surprise from our parents. We plan to do a similar book for our wedding album – 20% off is very appreciated! (And the tips are great, too, of course.)

    • Thank you for linking to your book! It answered my only question. I have used Mixbook and really liked it but I found the editing tools to be a little difficult to use. I want to check out the Booksmart software to see if I like it any better, but wasn’t sure if online links were available to finished books. The online previews from Shutterfly are really small and crappy.

      • Yep! Once you upload your book, you have the option to make it public/entirely viewable. It’s definitely an awesome feature!

  12. I love Blurb! The price is so reasonable (I used to use Creative Memories — lots of $) and I’ve been really happy with all my books (5 so far). FYI – Blurb is frequently on Groupon, so keep your eyes open. Thanks for the 20% off code!

  13. Is there an advantage of using Blurb over Shutterfly’s books? I am planning on creating a mini-wedding album with photos we received from guests and was thinking of using Shutterfly. Why do people like one over the other (or the many other sites out there?)

  14. Just finished my first blurb book (a concerts-memory book for me and my friends for v-day!) because of this post! I am SO freaking excited, this is the coolest thing! Thanks Stephanie! (Also, I went and read lots of your ‘dear Jasper’ posts.. precious!)

  15. What a fantastic idea! I’m trying to think of events to use this for right now XD When I start having kids I will definately use this service. What a fantastic gift it would be for our parents too!

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