How to make your own Photobook – a Practical Guide

How to make your own Photo Book at home using an online commercial service or your computer. You just need photos and text and it's easy to make photo books.

This friend of mine wanted to do something super special for her husband’s 40th birthday. She decided to make a photobook as a surprise gift. After spending a long time collecting material for a Photobook she entrusted an agency that specializes in custom made gifts with the job of creating a Photobook. She was eagerly expecting a well-designed photo book as was promised to her.

But she was terribly disappointed to see what was delivered to her the day before the Birthday. They gave her a hard-bound book with a paper jacket cover with an impressive design; but when she opened the book, the inside pages were badly designed, the text and the pictures didn’t match and all the content was just dumped on a few pages, there was no coherence to the story she had envisioned and shared with them. As she shared this with me, she said:

I wish someone could guide me on how to make my own photo book!

That’s when I decided to help her. As a memory book designer, I hear such horror stories quite often. People promise to make a great photo book and when it is delivered – it turns out to be a huge disappointment! Quite often, the cover is great, the inside is a mess. Sometimes the printing is bad, sometimes the images are blown out and pixelated, the list goes on. Anyways, let’s learn how to:

Make your own photo book at home

Let me assure you, you can do this, it is quite easy. I have laid down the steps of how to create your own photo book or photo album at home.

1. Decide on a subject

We need to figure out the subject that we are going to use for the photo book. Is it for someone’s birthday, anniversary, or is it a travel book? I have written a separate post here that covers the top ten ideas for making photo books as gifts. You can have a look at that for inspiration.

2. Select pictures for digital photo album book

The first step in learning how to make a digital photo album is to collect pictures. Make a folder on your computer and name it the subject you’ve chosen earlier. Now go through all the image sources you have and copy those images inside a subfolder named “Pictures”. Your image sources could be a digital camera, phone camera, printed pictures from old albums, pictures sent by friends and relatives, etc.

The first step in learning how to make a digital photo album is to collect pictures. Save selected pictures in a new folder.
Image Credit: Pexels

Pictures taken from old printed albums need to be scanned. There are several methods to do this.

  1. Scan using a home-based printer cum scanner at 300 dpi
  2. Ask the local print shop to scan it for you at 300 dpi
  3. Use a phone-based app like “CamScanner” to scan the images at high resolution.

3. Print worthy image resolution is a key element in great looking photo books

Just know that if an image looks good on your phone or computer screen, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will look good after printing as well. For images to look good on a screen, 72 dpi is enough whereas for images to print well, we need 300 dpi. For a newbie this can be confusing, I will write a separate post for this later. Just know that if the file size is large – 1mb or more, the image is likely to print well, and if the file size is small like a 100kb it will not print well. A kilobyte (KB) is 1,000 bytes, and one megabyte (MB) is 1,000 kilobytes.

PhotoBook low resolution images don't print well.
Image Credit: Pexels

 There are some ways to check file size:

  1. Right-click on the image to get information about the file and it will tell you the pixel size, e.g. 900×600 pixels. Simply divide the number of pixels by 300. So let’s do the math- 900/300 = 3 and 600/300 = 2. This means that you can print that image at a maximum size of 3×2 inches. The image would look blurry if printed at a size larger than this.

2. If you find the method above a little cumbersome, you can use this website to check your image quality – Image Print Quality check.

4. Make Chapters to create a story line

Once you have an idea of the kind of images you have, you can plan a storyline and make a broad list of chapters. Using this list as a guideline, segregate these images into subfolders. E.g. for a wedding photo album book, it could be –

  • She before He found her
  • He before She found him
  • When they met
  • When he proposed
  • The story of the lost and found ring
  • The Wedding
  • The honeymoon…
Make a list of chapters for your Photo book depending on the theme and content you have collected.
Image Credit: Pexels

5. Paper size and orientation

Depending on your preferences, select a paper size for your photo book. If you good quality pictures, choose the large format. Large-format prints make the pictures come alive like nothing else. Here are some sizes to choose from-

Standard: 4×6, 5×7, 8×10. Square: 4×4, 8×8, and 12×12. Large Format Prints: 11×14, 16×20, and 20×30.

The next thing you need to decide is whether this is going to be a portrait or landscape style layout.

6. Design Software

Now that the basics have been chalked out, we need to figure out which platform to use for designing the photobook at home. There are photobook-making services online that one can use to create the book as well as print it. Shutterfly, Vistaprint, Mixbook, are some examples of these services. You can make an account with your chosen service and then use their book creation software to create your book, most of these services are very user friendly.  

Shutterfly makes it easy to design your own photobook online
Image Credit: Shutterfly, Unsplash

However, you can also make the photo book yourself at home, and for printing and binding, you can hire a local service. Making the book yourself gives you more freedom in terms of page size, layout, and adding design elements.

For a beginner, the easiest program would be PowerPoint on a PC or Keynote on Mac. You can also use Microsoft Word or Pages. The best way to make a high-quality photo book would be to use Adobe Indesign software. It takes a while to learn to use this, but this is what most professionals use. Another software called Affinity Publisher is gaining approval from many people for achieving results similar to Indesign at a fraction of the cost.

7. Design Style

Here’s where your personal sense of aesthetics comes in. You are going to look at this photo memory book for years to come, so make sure it’s design is pleasing to the eye and goes with your design sensibilities.

Shutterfly offers many beautiful layout options. It's easy to make your own photo book at home.
Image Credit: Shutterfly
  1. Classy simple white minimalist layout without clutter
  2. A riot of colours, lots of embellishments, total scrapbook style
  3. A mix of the two above
  4. Antique look

Select the style, and then stick to the same style through your book. Depending the content you have, there will be different layout pages – some will have full-blown pictures covering the entire page, while other pages will have 4 or more. Having a symmetry looks neat, but then if you prefer scrapbook style, you can place images in a random order.

8. Background

The white background is the easiest to work with, however, you can use a neutral color. Or if the theme demands it, bold color as well. Just make sure that the pictures stay the star on the page and are not overshadowed by too many bright colors in the background.

9. Embellishments

Learn how to make digital photo albums. Use decorative PNG elements to add embellishments to your baby book pages.
Image Credit: Unsplash, Freepik

To add beauty to your pages, you may want to add some embellishments. A little bow, a tiny flower, a ribbon added to a baby picture of your daughter enhances the layout beautifully. There are free images available that you can download and use. Look for png images – PNG format allows images to be without background, so they can be placed on top of your images easily. There are websites like Freepik where you can get free images – in the search add png and your chosen subject and you will get many options to choose from.

10. Add text to your Photo book pages

To make your wedding photo books memorable add text like picture titles and love notes within the layouts
Image credit: Unsplash, Envato

You may want to add details to the images – may be some dates/places/names or even stories behind those pictures. For a loved one, you may want to share a poem or a quote that expresses what you feel for them. Select the font and colors once and use the same throughout your book project. A font size of 10-12 is good enough for printing. On your computer, it may look small, but for regular text don’t go beyond 12 sizes. For titles and headings, you can, of course, increase the font size as required.

11. Save your project

The importance of saving your book project can never be emphasized enough. Please save it often and save it properly in the folder that we created in the beginning of the project. There are people who start creating a project and keep saving it with the default settings and then once the computer restarts they have difficulty figuring out where their file is gone. It’s a good idea to save often while working and to keep a backup on an external drive or on your dropbox folder.

12. Review

Once you have finished, please save the project and take your time reviewing it. There will be things that you don’t like and you may want to rearrange some. Go ahead and do all of that. Ask someone else to go over the text and look for typos. It is easy to miss your own typing mistakes. See if any pictures have been used twice, or you missed using an important one. Make sure the low resolution ones have been used in smaller sizes.

13. Print – paper quality, binding, price

Finally it is time to get the project printed. Most printers are happy to receive a PDF file saved in high-quality, but you can still check with them how they want the print file to be sent to them. The file size would be fairly large, you can use a website called WeTransfer to send your final file to the printer, it allows files as large as a few GBs to sent. Or you can carry the file to them in an external drive.

Select from among the paper choices available – the most common being Matte/glossy.

Book Binding: If the number of sheets in your book is more than 70, you don’t want too thick a paper else binding may become an issue. For books that have few pages like under 30, layflat books look the best. Layflat books open flat and full-bleed images placed across the left and right side look exceptionally nice. This effect is achieved by pasting papers back to back, so layflat books have thicker sheets.

Hardcover Photobook with layflat binding option looks great
Image Credit: Unsplash, Freepik

The other common binding option is perfect binding with softcover or hardcover.

Book Cover: There are various effects you can use on the cover of your book to create an eye-catching look. There’s UV printing, embossing, leather covers, etc to choose from. Or you can have a simple hardcover with a paper book jacket with a lovely cover design.

Price: Once your project is finalized, you can ask for price estimates from different vendors giving them details like paper quality, number of pages, quality of binding, and cover etc. Once you receive several estimates, choose the one where you get great quality for money. Since this book is going to be a keepsake for life, it’s alright to spend a little extra for good quality.

14. Go ahead design and share the Photo Book you made online at home

I am a professional book designer and would love to hear about your experiences with making your own photo books online using a commercial service or at home using your own computer. I would love to hear about your happy as well as frustrating experiences while making photo books. Please feel free to reach out if you have any queries that I can help with. Looking forward to hearing some of your Photo Album book stories.

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