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Friday, 22 November 2019


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I have wanted to do this. Thank you!

Thanks for this, I just marshaled all my forces to self publish a book of 100 copies. Have received glorious support from friends and sold about half in just a couple months. But next 50 might be tough sledding, very much want to do more, and a hand made effort looks very appealing. Bottom line on books, you need to go offset to keep the price per book down, and w/o distribution it can be very difficult to sell that many. Hand made!

I did that too. About 12 years ago or so. More or less same thing as Colin, only I taught myself from books and the internet.

Well worth trying out. It is very rewarding.


Wonderful post!

My main photographic output these days are simple chapbooks (also called zines by folks younger than I).

These are not nearly as involved as the books Colin has made and thus are, in my view, a good place to begin an exploration of handmade books.

My simplest books use 5.5 x 11 inch folios cut from letter-sized sheets. These result in 5.5 inch square pages in the finished book. Covers for this size book can be easily and cheaply made by cutting in half the 12 inch square card stock that is commonly used by scrapbookers. This card stock is easily available in many different colors, patterns and materials.

I also cut 13x19 inch sheets of paper into 6x13 inch folios yielding slightly larger pages. For this size chapbook (and larger) I use single weight mat board for the cover. Typically I glue some decorative paper to the board for the outside. (The paper pros call this duplexing.)

As for the paper to be directly printed upon, I too am partial to the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Book and album.

However, I also use the alpha-cellulose based (and somewhat cheaper) Harman Matt Fibre Duo regularly.

One pretty much needs to stick with mat papers as the coatings on glossy or even luster papers do not take well to folding.

If one is willing to glue photos into a book, the choice of papers for both the photos and the pages is greatly increased.

My books usually have between three and six folios (i.e. between 12 and 24 pages).

I construct each folio in PhotoShop using "guides" to make a template that allows easy and reproducible placement of images and text. I tend to stick with square pages as it makes laying out a mix of portrait, landscape and square images easier.

Typically, I sew the covers and folios together using a simple pamphlet stitch. However, one can also just staple the book together.

Making chapbooks is an easy way to get ones feet wet in physical whole process and to expand ones artistic horizons. To make a book, one needs to think in terms of a project (rather than single images) and thus editing and sequencing become important.

One can see some of my earliest experiments along these lines here: http://gorga.org/blog/?p=2796. I have, I think, made some progress in the four-year interval since I wrote that post.

Lastly, I need to give Brooks Jensen (LensWork Publishing) credit for sending me down the chapbook path, see: https://www.lensworkonline.com/resourcelibrary/editorscomments/comments/LW102%20Editor's%20Comments%20-%20Chapbooks.pdf

I am in-transit but wanted to jot a short note to say “Excellent topic!”. Thank you for taking time to share your experience, Colin. I’ve long wanted to take a swing at such a book but will likely rely on a pro for the actual binding. I’d love to see more of your resulting books.

I'm glad you're enjoying the process Colin!
I too have been hand making (and selling) limited edition books for over ten years now using a similar process, although I prefer Canson Photographique Rag Duo as my paper of choice as it contains no OBAs. I was an artist/graphic artist/craftsperson before I decided on photography as my favourite medium so making books was a natural extension for me. My first attempts were made using traditional book binding methods and layouts using signatures of pages bound in groups and then all bound together, which allows the pages to lay relatively flat but is not as strong or durable as the side bound method which I now use. I use hand made papers (usually Japanese) and other unique touches for the covers and find using A3+ sized paper cut in half (A4+?) giving a finished size approximately 250mm or 10" square, the ideal compromise for size and cost - I always use a square format so as not to favour landscape or portrait orientated images and have used square images exclusively for one project.
I generally use books for projects rather than collections of individual images, and am currently in the process of finalising my fourth such project which is now ready to print. I use Photoshop rather than Lightroom, particularly for its graphics and text capabilities and also because I always "finish" my images in PS. I taught myself as I went so others may have different methods again but the results are so much better than print on demand books with absolute control over the whole process from layout to printing to binding, if that's your thing of course.

Another way to make photobooks is Unibind steel binding.

This consists of a metal U shaped channel that forms the spine and separate back and front cover boards.

You place the cover boards and your photos into the spine channel (which is full of a hot melt glue), then pop the whole thing on the heater unit for a minute or two and your book is made.

There's a 30 sec video that shows how its done.


I got my older style machine along with hundreds of covers in different styles for £50 off ebay. Obviously, the fancy new models cost more.

Great post Colin! I've been wanting an entry point into this for sometime and your post and links are just the ticket.

Thank you for this post, I am very interested in making photo books. At the moment I have made a few of them using Pinchbooks ( http://pinchbooks.com/ ).

They are a much simpler alternative since they are easy to make, but the result can be surprisingly good. Still, I quickly learned that there is a lot of effort in designing a book, even before actually starting to build it.

Just choosing the images and sequencing them is a hard task.
After doing that I have learned to respect the effort that is hidden behind every good photo book, and now I look at them with different eyes.

I'm really glad my post has been of interest. My website is woefully out of date, but it does have a contact form if anyone has any questions, I'd be happy to help if I can: http://www.eleventhvolume.com.

The best place to make photo books in Canada is at Pikto, www.pikto.com

Thank you, wonderful post!

I too like to print books myself, but the biggest obstacle so far has been page design. I too have taught myself InDesign, but I cant seem to figure out a minimalistic page design with som text to each photo. I anybody know of some god simple clean InDesign book templates, I would love to hear about them.

I am doing the same right now with my "Stillgewässer" body of work. The books are about A4 size in landscape orientation. For the paper I use A2 sheets of Hahnemühle Photo Matt Fibre Duo (less expensive and lighter than Photo Book and Album). A single sheet makes for 8 book pages. Folding the sheet works better if it is grooved along the folding line using a thin knitting needle, by the way. The folded sheets are then cut along the short side to yield two spreads. These are sewn in folds of two on cotton ribbons. A generous amount of glue and a strip of gauze on the spine makes for a binding which is strong enough to hold about 100 pages easily (the paper is 210 gsm).

One word about the paper: Hahnemühle Photo Matt Fibre Duo is heavy but soft, has a nice texture and feels good in hand. On the other hand, I found the colour profile provided by Hahnemühle for the Epson 3880 to be unusable. Colours appear oversaturated and shadows turn into mush. A custom profile from a commercial profiling service solved this problem for me.

If you are like me and love books and especially photo books, the experience of hand-making your own book is priceless. Highly recommended!

Best, Thomas

For anyone interested in binding their own photo book, and want to use heavy paper that does not like to be folded, there are several interesting techniques. Just search for Book binding singel sheets, or something like that.

I have used the technique shown in this Youtube video with success (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04vt8YfT7XM). It's a very easy, you can even bind sheets of plywood if you want, and the cover is very easy to make. Two separate pieces of heave card stock that you decorate. It also has the advantage of looking very nice and professional and at the same time obviously being hand made.

Ooo, I need to bind some books again soon.


And I can also recommend a series of books on the topic by Keith A. Smith titled "Non adhesive binding".

This topic is very interesting to me, so thank you Colin! And thanks also for the comments from Frank. I, like many others have always wanted to do this, but have tended to get stuck in long online searches. Now I have some useful pointers. Sometimes we need those to get off high center!
(It would be good to see more about making photobooks from time to time.)

We're lucky here in Northern California to have an amazing resource, San Francisco Center for the Book. If you live nearby, check out their website. They offer a broad selection of classes involved in the art of bookmaking and printing.

I also use an online photo book printing service, Blurb, to make what I call mock-ups of book ideas. They offer several book types, from hardbound to simple magazines. I use their magazine form to look at collections of my photos out of which I might later make a more serious handmade book. The magazines are super inexpensive... much less than what I'd spend printing the images with my inkjet printer.

Zines aren't chapbooks—in fact they are sorta the opposite quality wise.

Zines are crude and inexpensive to make. They're made using mimeograph machines and copiers—whatever was available at school or workplace.

Chapbooks are works of art—quality should be preeminent.

In this modern world, PDF published art is better than bound chapbooks. People watch movies on their oversized phones, so perusing a book should be no big deal. Brooks Jensen said: This way, if a viewer wants to see and enjoy (but not own) a chapbook, they can just download a free PDF.

This is certainly an inspiring post - just what was needed to give me the necessary push to get going. Thanks to the author and the commenters!

Photographer Stephen Johnson (sjphoto dot com) has a couple of pages in his book "On Digital Photography" about making these (hardbound books of inkjet prints, all of which seem to have sold out), and there's another book I may order from his web site that I HAVEN'T seen, called "Making a Digital Book" - I don't know if it addresses this topic.

I DO know that Ctein himself has such books for sale at his site under "Monographs," and he wrote an article about making them in an old copy of no-longer-published "Photo Techniques"(?) magazine which I saved ... SOMEWHERE(!) Maybe he can write an article for this site on the topic that updates and even expands on that article.

"There are online printing services, but the couple of times I’ve tried them, I’ve been disappointed with the results. Your take may vary of course."

I can understand the joy of craft, the sheer pleasure of handling prints and materials.

I also very much enjoy the process of choosing and ordering the images; finding opposing page photos that complement each other.

As another data point, I have printed several photo books using online printing services, and the results have been excellent.

People who go through these books almost universally comment on the quality of paper, printing and binding.ac

A snapshot of most of the books I've made.

These were all made using My Publisher, which has been bought by Shutterfly. I did reprint one short one using Shutterfly. It was subtly less fine, but only upon close inspection.

As I've been impressed with the prints I've had made by Printique (nee Adoramapix), I'll use them for my next book.

Great post! Hits a few nerves. Like Colin I've been inspired to create hand-made photo books. I too was inspired by Brooks Jensen's challenge to attack the "pile of prints", something that you've also commented on last year, Mike. While portfolio boxes are part of the answer, I don't see them as the whole answer. Books are another part. I've seen a few handmade ones and really like them. I also like Brooks' chapbooks. Many years ago he promised one of his visual workshops, but I ain't seen it yet.

So four years ago, like Colin I enrolled in a short course sponsored by the local book binders guild. Good course, but a bit too generic for photo books. Then life intervened several times and I am embarrassed to admit that I still haven't made a photo book. Despite a few attempts to get going again, including buying my own box of tools and supplies and instructional books. Soon. I promise.

But the idea is catching on. Courses on hand-made photo books are popping up. I noticed that Jon Cone's InkjetMall are advertising courses as part of their 2020 course schedule (but which are not inexpensive). My local photo community organisation held one (while I was away!!). I think that this trend is good, because while general book guild training and general instructional material is useful, and there's no harm in jumping in the deep end and having a go, like Colin has, what would really help many of us is training and instructions specific to photo book making by hand.

Thank you for a very interesting description of your project. I feel tempted to just try it out. More please.

Zines are a great reminder that it's better to get something out there in physical form at all rather than have ideas die in the fire of perfection.

Magazines are great.

Dummies are great.

Chapbooks (artists' books?) are works of art in themselves, really special objects of craft and care (not that zines aren't). Rohan Hutchinson's hand made books are simply gorgeous: http://www.rohanhutchinson.com/artist-books

PDFs (and websites) are certainly better for reach and accessibility, but books are a thing and have the specialness that things have, particularly the specialness that only comes from sharing and exchanging the experience of a thing with other people who care about the kind of thing the things is ... if you know what I mean.

Having spent a little while working in the design department of a pictorial publisher, the single biggest lesson I can share with anyone is to make actual-size dummies. We were drilled again and again judge nothing on screen and everything from the dummy and a physical flat plan pinned to the wall.

Ours were just laser prints on regular ol' paper, spray glued and hand-trimmed with an Exact-O and a steel ruler. I was often astounded how a sequence that felt right on screen would be lifeless in my hands in the book and vice versa. Even covers, which are relatively simple by comparison need to be 'felt' this way.

All of this slows you down and makes you tired. Which is good. The book reveals itself to you over the days and weeks you work on it.

Thanks for Mike for publishing this essay, and thanks to Colin for the inspiration. Making a book by hand from scratch has long been an aspiration for me since first seeing Josef Kouldelka's accordion-fold maquettes on exhibition, and starts and stops in fits. Unfortunately, the stops have been more successful than the starts so far, but maybe things will change ...

For Americans, I just got an email from Inkjet Mall (the same people who sell the Piezography system) for a bookmaking class in January some time in case anyone's interested.

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