Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Review of My First Blurb Photo Books

Today my first two Blurb books were delivered to me. I bought them as a kind of test to evaluate their quality, before entrusting Blurb more important and expensive orders.

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 Quality

The 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 Binding

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 Fidelity

Rendering 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 Quality

The 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:

Close Detail


I'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.


Alister Benn said...

Very useful review, I am looking to Blurb as the solution to a fine art landscape book I am designing. The inDesign plugin is excellent...


Anonymous said...

Great review

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...

Thank you very much.

Jason Myers said...

I don't agree. Just printed pics with snow. Way too dark, blue shadows became grey shadows. Heavy sunlight became poor sunlight. Also the colors are not very brilliant. Strange thing the book preview on the site was quite good. I do not reccomend Blurb.
Will search for a better service.
Bye, Jason

Tried with: Lr4 + Blurb, premium lustre, 20 pages, smallest book.

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...

Hi Jason,

I'm sorry to hear that. However, have you used a color managed workflow? Looking at the web preview is not sufficient as a proofing test alone. If, for example, your monitor is overly bright, you may easily end up with dark printed images, that's one of the commonest cause for this problem. And if your monitor is not calibrated, chances are this may be happening to you. Apple monitors, just to make an example, are overly too bright by default. And if you calibrate them, let's say, at even 120 cd/m2 (which is pretty high for some photographers' standard, you'll realize how dark a calibrated monitor may seem at the first glance.

That may even explain the color cast problem you're talking about.

Of course, Blurb's print may be incorrect, I cannot know. I've already printed (literally) tens of books with them, using a color managed workflow, and haven't experienced any problems whatsoever.

My 2 cents.

-- Enrico

KittyGirl727 said...

Thank you so much for an awesome review. It's encouraged me to try ordering my first blurb photobook. However, I'm pretty new to my Macbook for photo edition (I just got it a couple months ago) and don't quite know yet all the little details. Would you mind giving me some instructions on how to calibrate my monitor? I'd really, really appreciate it.

Also, beautiful picture of Salamanca. It's an amazing town. I miss it so much.
Thank you!

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...


I'm glad this post helped you. It's difficult to provide a concise answer to this question but let's try. Anyway, if you need further assistance, you're just curious about it or whatever, please feel free to contact me at the email address you can find in the "About Me" page of this blog ( I'll be glad to provide as much help as I can.

To make a long story short, let's put it this way. When you look at your laptop screen, you're trusting it's providing a faithful representation of the image, both in terms of colours (white is white, red is red and so on) and luminance (every pixel is "correctly bright"). That's why, if your monitor is overly bright, you may see an image which doesn't correspond to a print, which will appear darker. The same reasoning apply to incorrect representations of colours.

Unfortunately, most monitors are not calibrated and even if they were when leaving the manufacturing facilities, they probably won't be any longer when you got them into your house. In fact, a monitor calibration should be performed periodically (at least, but not only) because the characteristics of its output changes throughout its life for the effect of many factors, including the monitor's ageing. Apple monitors, such as your laptop's, in my experience have a good color fidelity (although sometimes a bit cold) but are overly bright by default.

Having said that, how are you going to calibrate your monitor? If you want to do it, I strongly recommend that you acquire a monitor calibration device. There are lots of them, with different features and prices. I've had good experience (as well as good feedbacks from other people) with the X-Rite ColorMunki Display ( It's an entry level color calibration tool which is reasonably cheap. very easy to use and gives very nice results. You basically plug it into your laptop, start its software, hang it over your monitor, push a button and wait 5 minutes. So easy as that.

Many people argue they don't need their monitor to be calibrated. I personally think that even if you're just an amateur photographer, you should get your monitor calibrated. In fact I'll go a step further. If you've spent a great deal of money on a laptop such as yours, I'd certainly want its monitor to be calibrated. You'll appreciate the difference not only while working on your photos, but always.

Hope this helped,
-- Enrico

Jason Myers said...

Ciao Enrico, grazie per le dritte (sono italiano pure io). sì, sì, conosco le solite palle... il monitor non è calibrato, la stampa è scura di suo, non ho i profili per la stampa, etc. etc...
Però considera questo: mettiamo che lavoro con Lightroom IN TERMINI MATEMATICI, senza considerare l'immagine. Cioè, schiarisco le luci finché non si brucino, e scurisco i neri fino al limite. Fino a prova contraria, se SO che il sole è, poniamo, a 255 di bianco, lo sarà SEMPRE, monitor calibrato o no, giusto?
Ecco, dove SO di per certo che il bianco dovrebbe essere quasi puro (tutte quelle sulla neve, hehe) nelle stampe non lo è. E' scuro, non ho bisogno di "avere il monitor calibrato" visto che SO il valore RGB in quel punto, no?
Altro punto da considerare: la preview on line. COME MAI la preview è MOLTO SIMILE alle foto inviate (su monitor DIVERSI di vari amici: tutti calibrati male? Mah...) e la stampa no? Non prendiamoci in giro: Blurb è decente ma il contrasto e i colori "non escono fuori dalla pagina". Io lo sconsiglio. Will try Adorama. Se vuoi tradurre mi fai un piacere che a inglese so' una schiappa. Ciao, Jason

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...


Jason's reply above is questioning the calibration theory. Jason states that many of the images were high key, and he knows the RGB coordinates of the almost-burned out shades of whites that are present on the snow. Nevertheless, the print is overly dark and Jason argues it's clearly Blurb's fault.

Well, at first I cannot but agree that it's pretty strange. Although the monitor is not calibrated, a near-pure white (according to its RGB components) should not become a dark shade of grey in a correct print.

But Jason also says that the web preview is very similar to the printed result. Well, that indicates that the picture is "really" so dark, at least as Blurb's point of view is concerned. Why? I don't know. Have you tried proofing some test image with Blurb's colour profile? I'm really curious to see what happens.

I suggest that you contact Blurb's Customer Support anyway. I've contacted them a couple of times in the past and they've been very attentive and helpful.

-- Enrico

Jason Myers said...

Let me punctualizeone thing.
Apart from the RGB whites that-are-not-whites, the problem is that the web preview is NOT similar to the printed result at ALL!
BUT instead is VERY close to the original pics I sent.
So all the friends who saw the web preview (on their different monitors) saw the "correct" images that sadly became very different upon printing.
So the problem for me is Blurb printing: there's too little dynamic range, pics are flat, contrast is ok (may be) but not saturation, expecially if you consider that half of the shoots I sent were.... HDR shoots! The "strong blue" is just.. well... blue.
I don't think contacting Blurb will resolve this issue, because googling on the Net I found a LOT of people complaining about that (poor quality of the print).
And finally consider this: the Blurb Book Module is INTEGRATED in LR4 so I was expecting GREAT results, i.e. compensating IN ADVANCE any kind of issue: this is not the case, and I'm suspecting they (Blurb) worked just like "sponsors" and no more....
Ciao, Jason (aka Bruno)
PS: yet Blurb is better than many others on line labs expecially here in Italy, but... well... not as I expected

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...

Hi Jason.

Ok, I misunderstood your statement. If the preview looks fine, we're back at the beginning. I strongly suggest you get in touch with them and look for a solution.

The module in Lightroom doesn't do anything, such as Blurb's standalone client. In fact, in a colour managed workflow, it's up to you to proof images correctly. Furthermore, the software cannot possibly know where the out-of-gamut areas of the photo are acceptable to you or they aren't.

Furthermore, Lightroom has got an RGB engine and cannot make soft-proofs using CMYK colour profiles (such as the one you can download from Blurb's website).

Genrally, I'd personally check the image with Blurb profile on a calibrated monitor. In this case, since you state that the result differs too much from the RGB coordinates you read in Lightroom, I strongly suggest contacting Blurb and asking them for support. Very often, if there's a problem with a book, they offer a free re-print.

-- Enrico

Jason Myers said...

Ho contattato Blurb... vediamo che dicono.... ;-)

Salve, vi avevo contattato per il problema delle stampe sul mio fotolibro. La gamma dinamica è bassa (e sono per metà foto HDR!), i colori non sono molto saturi, la luminosità è ALMENO 1/3 di stop più bassa. Allego scansioni di due pagine a mo' di esempio (300 dpi, scanner Epson 10000XL). A parte i difetti introdotti dal JPEG, si nota chiaramente come i colori siano SCURI, il bianco della neve non lo sia per niente, eccetera. Questo nonostante abbia ordinato carta Premium Lustre... non oso pensare come si veda con quella "normale". Mi chiedo: Perché nella preview le foto sono perfette? Perché in stampa le foto sono tagliate in alto rispetto alla suddetta preview? Mi chiedo infine (e più importante di tutti): le vostre stampe sono tutte così? Perché se così fosse, è ovvio che i miei e i vostri standard di qualità non coincidono. Qui non è questione di carta, presumo ci sia qualcosa proprio nel tipo di stampa utilizzata.
Cordiali saluti.

Ciao, ti farò sapere

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...

Hi Jason,

I'm very curious to know about Blurb's feedback on this issue.

One thing: when a book is made (most of them), the pages is cut so that it's normal to lose part of a full-page image. If you used Lightroom, you should see some kind of "border" (yellow, if I'm not wrong), which tells you were the "bleed" is. Check your book in Lightroom and see whether the missing part of image is simply gone because of the bleed.

Could you post (here or privately, you can find my mail in the About Me page) an example of the dark images? I'm just very curious to see it.

-- Enrico

Jason Myers said...

I found the real REASON... they print in offset... VERY far from photographic quality:
Also here:
I will try (because I live in Italy), otherwise may be I would have tried Adorama
(check this:
My thoughts: Blurb is great for QUICK samples and previews of what you would eventually print in decent quality.
FOR ME, as I spend some time taking pics and post-processing them, I can't permit a bad printing to ruin my shoots. But I WILL use Blurb for friends, etc. who have lesser quality standards, because is fast and flexible. If Blurb would, someday, add a photographic option to their products, I will jump on it. Byez. Jason

PS: I will send you the pics I sent to Blurb

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...

Hi Jason,

Yes, it's a CMYK offset printing, I thought you knew it. It's also implied in the blog post: "[...] 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."

There are two competing problems: CMYK cannot faithfully represent RGB colours (hence the importance of using a colour-managed workflow) and the printing technique. Offset printing for me it's not an issue: in fact, I kind of like it. Unless you're looking at the book with a loupe, you usually don't see much difference. I suppose you should blame CMYK in this case, at least as far as the colour shifts you're noticing are concerned.

If you're looking for other kind of printing processes, Blurb's not for you and you'll have to look elsewhere. And be willing to pay the (usually huge) pricing difference. Here's a quick comparison:
- Blurb's 8x10, hardcover, lustre paper, 61-80 pages: $48-$51 (depending on the cover finish) (approx. Eur 41).
- Adorama's 8x10, hardcover, lustre paper, 76 pages: $134.95.
- A4, hardcover, 76 pages: Eur 69.95 (approx. $94 dollars).

Ask yourself whether your book is worth the price. In my case, Blurb's books are fine, but I realise that sometimes you may ask for something more.

Ciao and thanks for the feedback,
-- Enrico

Jason Myers said...

About the cuts: I obviously took care of the safe area in Lightroom.
Problems is: the final book cuts it EVEN MORE.
This is another annoying issue: the "Book preview" that you see on Blurb's site ("My Books") is not corresponding to the printed book. Not in the quality, nor in format (it crops twice, it seems).
The obvious solution is to pre-frame the pics... but this implies to reduce them. Ciao, Jason

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...

Yes Jason. Here's an excerpts of one of the many pages over this subject (

"Additional Trim and Bleed Information
Page trim: These measurements show final trimmed page sizes. The printer takes approximately 1/8" (.3175 cm) off the top, bottom, and outside edge (face) of an untrimmed page to produce the trimmed page size. Variations of up to 1/8" can occur from printer to printer to aid in binding, so please keep critical content at least 1/4" (.635 cm) away from final trim sizes.

Bleed: Images can bleed off the page, but please be mindful that trim is not always exact (as this is a custom manufacturing process). If you're designing your own pages in InDesign or Photoshop, please be sure to keep critical content — images and text — at least 1/4" (.635 cm) away from final trim sizes and at least one inch (2.5 cm) from your book's edges for ImageWrap covers."

If you've got so many issues, I think the best course of action is talking with them, as you already did. On the other hand, you may want to consider your first Blurb's book experience as a "lesson learned", in order to improve your own workflow. I'd certainly agree users shouldn't worry about fixing someone else's limitations. In this case, I just assume the trimming is not exact. As it's not in many books you buy in a library: more often than I wanted I noticed some trimming problem on bookstore books, even photographic one: those errors are part of mass production processes, let alone custom processes as in the case of a Blurb's book.

Keep us up to date!

-- Enrico

Virginia Galente said...

I just used Blurb to print my 12 by 12 wedding album. I used Burb because the quality seemed better than other sites. I am a graphic designer and used the book smart option to lay out my design. I found the helpful information difficult to find. I don't like how the booksmart application is separate from the site. I couldn't figure out how to preview my album online before purchasing. But I laid out everything in booksmart to make sure it would look right and hoped for the best. I could only edit the book from one computer which was annoying because I like to do stuff on my work computer, my laptop and my desktop. I felt limited this way. When I received the book which was very expensive I thought the quality was good but noticed right away that there was a half inch white border on the front cover of my wedding album on one side only. I also noticed that 2 pages were omitted from my design. I contacted customer service right away and dealt with a rude woman named Katja through email. She did not offer to help and said it was my fault. I checked my files at least 20 times before sending because my wedding album is the most important book I'll ever print in my life. Now I'm stuck with $400 dollars worth of albums that aren't right. I will never use Blurb again just due to the customer service. I do not recommend this site to anyone. I will be looking for another site to reprint my wedding album.

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...

Hi Virginia,

I guess an unsatisfactory experience with such an important book as a wedding album is an unpleasant one. I hope you'll finally get it right. For the record, however, I want to leave some suggestions.

First of all, you actually can use a web application to build your book, and it's called Blurb Bookify Online ( Of course, there are other tools such as BookSmart which are probably more powerful, but have the "inconvenience" of being a desktop application. In my case, I prefer using desktop applications (Lightroom 4) because I don't need any permanent connexion, nor uploading pictures while laying out the book. You can actually synchronise their data across different computers (I do using rsync) but it's not a straightforward procedure.

You should be able to view a book's preview from the dashboard ( which is the place where you ordered the book from. Just look for the book you want to inspect and use the "Bookstore Preview" link. In fact, you are *still* able to see your book's preview (once you order one copy, the book will be stored forever, unless you explicitly delete it) and check whether the preview is OK or the missing pages are missing from the preview too. That would be interesting to know.

As far as Blurb's support is concerned, I guess you can have bad experiences and you were unlucky. My experience, as I said, has been completely different, but that certainly doesn't help you.

If I were you, I'd check the preview in Blurb's Dashboard. If the pages are really missing, I'll contact Blurb again. Should they be missing from the preview as well, I guess you're really out of luck.

-- Enrico

Ludwig said...

Customer service is essential. No matter how good or bad the product is, a bad customer service will ruin all efforts the rest of the company is trying to make.
In my case I printed a small book using Blurbs proline quality finishes. The book is great but I had one pagination problem. I took a photo of the book sent it to Blurb and in a couple of hours got an apology and a coupon to reprint again and enough money to get the fastest delivery. Needles to say after this experience I would fully recommend Blurb, although maybe I was just lucky?
I am sorry Virginia ran into trouble with such an emotionally charged purchase but I must add why a graphic designer would use Booksmart? Make your book using your graphic design application and upload a PDF to Blurb, that is the professional way to do it. The book will be printed exactly like the PDF file.

Sam said...

Thanks for the nice review. I recently printed my first 2 books via Blurb and I am quite satisfied. I first printed a wedding book 30x30cm, on Premium Matte paper. The overall quality of the book is very good, and given the relatively low prices, the quality/price ratio is just excellent. I was just a bit disappointed with the printing quality, in particular because of printing banding (horizontal lines) that was quite visible when you closely look at the pictures (more than on your example Enrico). This is not a huge deal if you don't stick your nose to the pictures, but it gives a kind of slightly blurry aspect to the pictures, even from reading distance. I thought this might have been because I didn't choose for the best quality paper. So I ordered the same book again, but this time I chose the ProLine Pearl Photo paper (the most expensive one). Paper is thicker, which gives a nice feeling in hands, but the horizontal banding is still there, and the overall printing quality worse than in the first book. All picture zones that are slightly dark are now less-well printed, with some color deviance. So the banding was not a paper issue, but more likely a printer issue. Once again, it's not huge and my customers were very happy with the book, but when you're picky and have spent many many hours setting up your pictures and book project right, you are allowed to be picky I think.
The other frustration I have comes from Lightroom 5. There is just no good customizable page settings, very frustrating. I started my book in LR5, using the book module, but quickly gave up, I just couldn't place the pictures where I wanted them to be. I finally downloaded the BookSmart plugin for Lightroom, which lets you set your pages the way you want. The drawback is that it's a plugin and therefore much slower with additional steps involved for sharing pictures between LR and Booksmart, but so far that the best way I found.

Werner Gansz said...

I realize that this review has been around for a while but I thought I would add my own Blurb experience. I received my first Blurb book this week, 30 pages. I have printed most of the images in the book using a good modern home desktop printer but wanted a bound table-top book.

At first glance the image quality looked fine. Good color, sharpness shadow detail, etc. But at second glance I noticed that areas of the image that were featureless, like blue skies, snow in shadows, painted surfaces, all showed a blotchy false texture. I checked my similar size prints of the same images and they are clean.

I just searched for information on Blurb image quality and found this review. I don't understand why our experience is so different. My homemade prints look much better than images in the Blurb book.

Cheap price = Cheap Quality

Enrico Maria Crisostomo said...

Hi Werner, I really don't know. I suggest you get in touch with Blurb support and complain with them. In my experience, they've always been quick and helpful.

bil paul said...

Our family's first two books printed by Blurb were fine. I found their software easy to use. However the third book had half the photos printed too dark. I'm a photographer and I'd prepped the photos in Photoshop. I asked for a partial refund or a reprinting, but they refused, claiming the books were within "printing tolerances." I even wrote the CEO but heard nothing back. Now I'm pursuing a remedy with my credit card company. I think part of their problem is that they use various printers around the country, so the results are inconsistent. Still, these books are expensive and I expect quality results. I think Blurb sometimes hopes that uncritical customers will accept sub-standard printing. Blurb can do better in terms of printing quality and guaranteeing customer satisfaction. I am warning the rest of my family and others to avoid using Blurb.