This review is by no means scientific: I just express my own point of view and impressions. However, to avoid getting disappointed, I made sure I chose pictures where printing problems would be more likely to show up.
In fact, to conduct this test, I used good quality and sharp pictures with the following characteristics:
- Pictures with well saturated primary RGB colors (such as deep blue skies or almost pure greens).
- Pictures with several degrees of details in deep shadow areas.
- Pictures with large and soft color gradients (such as big skies printed on a two page layout).
- High key pictures with almost evanescent skin tones.
The characteristics of the books I ordered are the following:
- Format: Standard Landscape (10x8 inches, 25x20 centimeters).
- Cover: softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.
- Paper: Premium Lustre (148 g/m2).
- Number of pages: 40 (softcover), 80 (hardcover with dust jacket).
- Price: €28.69 (40 pages, softcover) and €36.74 (80 pages, hardcover with dust jacket).
If you're wondering, I ordered the book from Spain and it looks like they have been printed in The Netherlands: the origin, according to UPS tracking information, is Eindhoven. Take this into account if your experience is different than mine.
Overall QualityThe overall quality of the book is very good. Both covers are as good as expected and both seem very resistant. The softcover is somewhat thin, but not much thinner than the cover of any paperback you can get from any major publishing company.
Bindings are very good and both have survived the "stress test" they were subjected to, including opening wide each and every page and applying a reasonable tension on the binding itself.
The only thing I'd really like, although I understand it's something impossible to ask for this price, is a sewn binding booklet. I've never seen a cheap paperback with one, however, let alone a unique copy of a book made exclusively for you.
In the next picture you can see the binding of the softcover book (the binding of the hardcover book is essentially the same):
The Premium Lustre paper has been a good surprise: this pretty heavy (148 g/m2) paper is very pleasant to touch and I'm satisfied with the print characteristics (more on this on the following sections). For most books I wouldn't buy the cheaper Standard paper nor the more expensive ProLine papers (although I'm curious to try it, too).
Color FidelityRendering colors on devices with different gamuts inevitably causes problems. Blurb uses the CMYK process on HP Indigo presses (set at a resolution of 175 lpi) and I wanted to test how good (almost) pure RGB colors would render.
When you're concerned about the color fidelity of a device output, you should always work with a color managed workflow. In my case, I'm working on a calibrated monitor and tried to soft-proof my images before sending them to Blurb in order to have an idea about what to expect.
Blurb provides only a generic ICC profile, which cannot be considered by any means reliable. To be so, they should provide a profile for every printer settings possibly used (to take into account parameters such as the paper you've chosen). However, out of curiosity, I decided to try the profile anyway and I did it both in Photoshop and in Aperture. (A warning for Lightroom users: Blurb's profile is a CMYK one and cannot be used in Lightroom. Don't even lose time trying).
As expected, according to the profile, the rendition of many colors would be much duller than the image on the monitor.
With my great surprise, the colors in the books I received are much better than what the profile had anticipated. In fact, at first sight, the perception I had deceived me into thinking that there was no shift at all. A closer inspection, however, revealed some loss in saturation in both blues and greens, but it was much smaller than expected.
Incidentally, the printed images and the out of gamut zones (as far as I can tell) correspond more with a soft proof made in Lightroom using the sRGB profile than with the soft proof made with the Blurb ICC profile.
As stated earlier, I haven't tried any paper other than the Premium Lustre. I suppose that the result using ProLine papers would be even better.
This is a photo of the book cover and the original picture sent to blurb (cropped):
|Book Cover - Photo|
|Original Picture (Cropped)|
Colors are satisfactorily rendered both in the shadows and in the highlights range. In the following picture you can see a close-up of a printed high-key image where the color texture is nowhere near to fading away:
|Close-up (approx. 5x) of a Printed High Key Image|
The original colors in the model forehead are close to Adobe RGB (240, 230, 230) and the printed version is pretty faithful.
Print QualityThe print quality of the book is very good. After careful review, I haven't spotted any problem whatsoever. Soft color gradients, even in problematic color zones, show no banding nor posterization. Here's a 100% crop of the previous picture so that you can appreciate how the blue smoothly transitions from darker to lighter:
|Smooth Color Gradient|
To be honest, if you inspect an image very closely, you can recognize a characteristic banding of the printing process (not very dissimilar to the texture of classical offset printing), but it's really, really hard to notice with naked eye. Here's an extremely magnified picture:
ConclusionI'm very pleased with Blurb photo books and I'm likely to order more in the near future. The quality-price ratio is very good: according to my experience, it even exceeds expectations, especially if you consider the cost of a page. Here you can see Blurb pricing policy, summing it all up:
- You pay a base €19.49 for a Standard Landscape book (10x8 in, 25x20 cm) with 20 Premium Lustre pages.
- You pay additional €5 difference to get a book in the 20-40 pages range.
- You pay additional €10 difference to get a book in the 40-80 pages range, and so on.
20 more pages cost a maximum of €5, or €0.25/page.
Let's consider a direct Blurb's competitor I had the masochistic pleasure to try: Apple (with its iPhoto books). A book of the same characteristics (L-size, 20 pages, softcover), without even the possibility of choosing a paper quality, is offered here in Spain for an initial price of €20.05. The maximum number of pages per book is 100 for an additional fee of €0.70 a page.
A ridiculously high price, especially when comparing the quality of the two products. In my opinion, Blurb books have an overall better quality, especially as far as printing is concerned. Maybe, some users choose to print an iPhoto book because of the supposed user-friendliness of their tools. Being honest and trying to step back, I consider this a myth easy to debunk. Just try one of the several applications that Blurb offers to publish a photo book. I tried all of them, including the Bookify web application, and they're perfectly usable for users of any proficiency.
As a plus, if you're an amateur or a pro who owns Adobe Lightroom or InDesign, you can now design and publish a book directly from your favorite application, without any disruption of your workflow. If you're curious, in another post in the Lightroom Tutorial series I described the new Book module that appeared with Lightroom 4.