I’m excited to be making this post! I now have two years of designing these photo books under my belt, so I feel confident in sharing the things I’m doing and what I’ve learned. The process of designing is SO fun for me, and seeing the finished product brings me so much joy.

I’ve always been the type of person that loves having my memories saved. That’s part of the reason I enjoy blogging! But I especially love printing my photos, and collecting photo books. The books don’t bring Chris all that much joy, but he knows how much they mean to me 😄 Every couple months I love to sit down with our wedding album and our photo books and look at all our fun memories.

I knew that I wanted to start doing a yearly photo book, and that’d I’d begin with 2019 – our first full year married! I spent a lot of time researching different photo book companies, paper types, and design ideas. Finally I decided that I would use Blurb to print my books. I knew I didn’t want to use my typical wedding album company, because my costs would be in the thousands!! I needed a good, reliable company, with high quality printing, that wouldn’t cost me our first born child 😄 Blurb seemed to be the right choice, and so far I haven’t been disappointed!

One day, I came across a blog post by Kate L. Photography. This blog post laid the foundation for my photo book! She shared so much information, and I found it all very helpful. I loved so much about Kate’s photo book design. I ended up keeping a lot of the elements the same! I used the same font, the same “Table of Contents” page, and the same month marker spread. I had been looking for inspiration, and ended up finding Kate’s books that had exactly what I was looking for! It feels timeless to me, which I think is perfect since I hope to continue this as long as possible!

There were a few things I changed. I wanted to highlight one photo on the cover, whereas Kate used 14 photos on her covers. Definitely not right or wrong either way, just personal preference! I also added two pages at the very end to showcase my Instagram posts, but I’ll talk about that more later. And of course, all the spreads in between are completely different!

I’m going to share the photos first, and at the end of the post I’ll put all the information. If you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! Kate did a wonderful job with her FAQs, so I encourage you to read through her post as well.

I’m really happy with the cover design! It’s clean and simple. And I love that I can pick one photo I feel really highlights the year.

I choose one color per year, and 2019 was this bright and cheery orange! I use it for the numbers in the Table of Contents page, and the month marking spread.

These are the last two pages. I share every photo I posted on Instagram that year, in order of when I shared it. It’s fun to see my style throughout the year, and it ends up being a very fun and colorful spread!

I like to do a few spreads that have just one photo, to really showcase it!

At the end of every month, I have a spread that’s basically a conglomeration of the photos from that month that didn’t cleanly fit into another spread. It’s usually random Instagram story photos, or some other memory I don’t want to forget. I don’t worry about making this spread too pretty, it’s a dumping ground!

This was another idea from Kate – I love the simple spines!

Okay, now for all the details!

Where do you order your books from?
I use Blurb! I’ve been very happy with the quality of the books, and the printing of the photos (but more on that down below).

What are the Blurb book details?
I get the Hardcover ImageWrap photo book in size 13×11. I really went back and forth on the size! You can get it smaller (they offer 10×8 and 13×11), and I actually designed our first book as the smaller size! But right before ordering, I decided that I did want the big size, so I redesigned the entire thing. It was quite a headache!! But I am SO glad that I did. You won’t regret splurging for the bigger size!

For the paper, I chose Mohawk proPhoto Pearl (their premium photo paper). The first year it was called something different, but from my understanding it’s the same paper – just a different name. The paper choice wasn’t much of a debate for me… I knew that if I was spending a fair amount of money on a photo book, the quality of the paper was the most important! I’ve been extremely pleased with the quality of the paper, and how my photos look. Especially for my fellow photographers, you will notice some differences between the photo book paper and a regular photograph printed by a professional lab, but that’s to be expected. For the price, I could hardly ask for better quality photos!

**One thing to keep in mind is that certain papers are not available over a certain number of pages. Books with over 240 pages can only be printed on Standard paper! And Standard paper has a maximum of 440 pages. So for me, I knew that I wanted the Mohawk proPhoto Pearl paper, which means my photo books have to be under 240 pages. I am happy to have fewer pages if it means those pages have a better print quality!

Did you do a layflat photo book?
If you aren’t familiar with this term, here is a photo showing the difference between a layflat book and standard paper book. For my wedding clients, and my personal wedding album, I choose layflat books. They are clean, classy, and allow for a better view of the whole page. But for our personal family photo books, I decided to do a standard photo book. The starting cost of a layflat is $62 more, and though they’re beautiful to look at, that was just too much for me.

How much do the books cost?
The cost will vary depending on how many pages your book has. My 2019 book was 216 pages, and my 2020 book was 222 pages. With my 40% off discount (explained below), my 2020 book cost me $190.87. My 2019 book cost $174.32. I budget for this book, saving $15 a month.

I highly recommend waiting until Blurb has their 40% off sales! In my experience, it happens 2-3 times a year. In 2020, I purchased our 2019 photo book in May. But in 2021, I was able to purchase our 2020 photo book in February! So sign up for their emails, and just wait until a 40% off sale starts. Make sure your book is completely designed and ready to go! You can upload it to Blurb just to double check everything, but they only keep uploads for 15 days, so you’ll have to upload it again once the sale starts.

How did you design your spreads?
Since I was a wedding photographer for several years, I had the advantage of already owning album design software. The good news is that you don’t have to be a photographer to purchase the software! I use SmartAlbums, and I may be biased, but I think it’s the greatest album design software available 😄 I was incredibly pleased with it when I used it for weddings, and it’s equally as great for my photo books! Some may think it’s overkill for a family photo book, but I’m just using what I have 😄 I was able to purchase SmartAlbums for a flat price way back when, but they have since moved to a subscription model.

For the casual photo book maker, AlbumStomp may be the right choice for you! I have used BlogStomp for years to resize/collage my blog photos, and I’ve been nothing but pleased with them. I can’t specifically speak to AlbumStomp, but overall the company has been great to work with. Definitely much cheaper than SmartAlbums too!

How did you add your page numbers and the Table of Contents?
At the end of the year, I export the finished SmartAlbums spreads, and import it into Adobe InDesign. The great thing about SmartAlbums is that I have the ability to export as an “InDesign Markup”, as opposed to a PDF (though you can save as a PDF if you want to!). Then I can open it directly in InDesign, and all of the photos remain editable! I can move them around, replace them, and resize them. A PDF would not have those options available.

I won’t go into detail about how to add the page numbers (I’m not proficient in InDesign, so it confused me at first!), but here is a link to a tutorial! For the Table of Contents page, I just wrote with text on the first blank page, and made sure to match up the correct page numbers.

InDesign is available as a free trial, as a yearly subscription, or you can purchase it monthly for about $30. And if you cancel within 30 days you get a full refund 😬

What was your process?
I have a very good system down, and it works so well for me! I design our photo book a month at a time, and it typically takes me about 30 minutes to 1 hour a month. It’s not a huge time commitment, and at the end of the year I have a beautiful book ready to be ordered. Much easier than trying to design the entire year all at once!!

At the beginning of the month, I’ll design the previous months spreads. So for example, here are the things I will do June 1st (sometimes it’s a few days later 😉) to design the spread for May:

  • First I gather all my photos. My photo organization system already included me separating my edited “big camera photos” by month (on my external hard drive I have a “2020” folder with “January” “February” “March” etc folders inside), so I just go through that months folder and pick which photos I think I might want in my book. My tip here is to choose extra photos (when in doubt, choose them all!), and narrow it down while you’re designing. I copy those photos to a NEW folder (keep them in their original folder location too! You can never have too many backups).
  • Then I gather the photos from my phone. I scroll through my camera roll and select photos I took that month that I’d like to include in the book. Then I airdrop them to my computer, and add them to the folder.
  • I upload all the photos in that folder to SmartAlbums. In SmartAlbums I can create folders for images. I have a folder for each month, and upload the photos to their specific month folder.
  • I like my photos to be shown in basically the same order they where taken. And when I say photos, I really mean “events”. If I took pictures of some cookies I baked at the end of May, I’m not going to put the photos at the beginning of May. I do stray from this from time to time if I need to from a design standpoint, but generally I like keeping it true to our real life timeline!
  • I add photos to the pages/spreads, keeping in mind the overall “look” I want for each spread (Spread = the two pages you see when the book is open). I want my colors cohesive, and for the spread to make sense together. If I have enough photos, each “event” goes on a spread. But if I don’t have enough photos, I will try to find another small “event” that has a similar feel (see below for an example). In general, you don’t want to overwhelm the spread with too many photos, but sometimes it’s necessary! Vacation photos can take up a lot of space if you only put 3-4 photos per page. Another bonus with choosing a large photo book size – you can have more photos per spread without it appearing crowded.
  • Once I get to the end of the months “events”, I will take any extra photos that I wanted to include but didn’t have a good place for them and put them all together in a spread. Scroll up to see an example of this! I like to make it look as nice as possible, but it’s really just a hodgepodge of memories ☺️
  • Once that month looks how I want it to, I save it and I’m done until next month!

Then at the beginning of a new year, I export all my spreads and import to InDesign (if you don’t want to add page numbers, you can just export as a PDF!). From there, I make my Table of Contents page + page numbers, then export as a PDF. I upload it to Blurb to ensure everything looks correct! I upload the cover PDF and the book PDF as separate files.

Here is an example of the spreads making sense together. In the first spread, it is one “event”, and all the photos match. In the second spread, I took the photo on my porch a few days before I took the photos of the pumpkin cookies. But the colors are very similar, and the fall vibe of the photos makes it feel cohesive!

What font did you use?
I used Brandon Grotesque. You can purchase this font, or it is available for free on Adobe Fonts if you have a Creative Cloud subscription.

How did you design your cover?
I designed the cover in InDesign. One of the limitations of SmartAlbums (and probably AlbumStomp too) is that it’s strictly for designing the pages/spreads. There aren’t any options available for designing a cover. But you can design your own in lots of different ways, or purchase covers from Etsy or Creative Market!

I hope you all enjoyed this post! I know it’s a lot of information, but hopefully it helps someone ❤️ If you have questions about anything I said, or an entirely different question, leave it in the comments!

How I Make Our Yearly Photo Book with Blurb

March 10, 2021

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