On printing via Blurb’s PDF to Book: Part 4

Chickens, Anyone (Blurb book: LaTeX version)

As I mentioned previously, I redid my SoFoBoMo 2009 book, Chickens, Anyone? in LaTeX (it was originally done using Scribus for the layout).  From this I generated a PDF using pdftex and uploaded it to Blurb for their PDF to Book process. The book arrived a couple of days ago and of course I immediately compared it to the earlier version I’d done in Scribus (and also had printed by Blurb)

The book itself is of the same size and type as the one I’d ordered previously. That is to say that the images looked good, a little less dynamic than the monitor (to be expected, natch) and identical to the other book. Again, the binding was fair.  Like the other book, the image alignment wasn’t perfectly registered between the two images on the two sides: the right side images were all a hair higher.  This is interesting because I wanted to confirm that it was not some mistake I had made in the guides on the master pages of Scribus; LaTeX uses a completely different mechanism to layout the book, and it would not show any such manual positioning errors. So this is a byproduct of Blurb’s cutting or binding process. Not too annoying, but it looks a bit unprofessional.

I was curious to see how the text came out. In the past I’ve not been a big fan of the Computer Modern font (the default in TeX), but it was actually much more readable at the same point size than the Garamond I had used in the other version. I know that it is possible to use other fonts in TeX, but most of the information that I have found on this suggests that its a bit of a pain to prepare the fonts for use.  If this is any experience however, I won’t feel too bad if I have to use CM again–it looked pretty good.  One thing that I flubbed a bit in this version was getting the page numbers just a touch too low on the page; easily fixed with a simple change to the top of the LaTeX file.

Which brings me to my final thoughts about this exercise: namely, that LaTeX was a great way to go for the photo book and I will definitely be considering it strongly for the next book before I revert to using Scribus or any other GUI-based DTP program (and yes, I have experience with some commercial ones as well, including Adobe Pagemaker and MS Publisher).  I know LaTeX pretty well, having written a number of papers in it, and even a previous book (my dissertation, way back when), but it didn’t occur to me at first to use it for a photography book.  I think a lot of people who are leery of using a markup language would pull their hair out trying to get the book done this way, but the overwhelming ease of being able to simply edit text in a good text editor and simply set a few parameters in markup and have a PDF generated a second later made fine tuning the book a snap, and without a whole lot of time-consuming GUI work to lay out guides, drop in images, make adjustments and so forth. I was only half serious when I first suggested that I should try redoing the book in LaTex, but one night the curiosity got the better of me and I started in on it, expecting it to take a long time. I was astounded by how little time it took to get the same looking PDF out!

If you know LaTeX, or are the adventurous sort that doesn’t blanch when presented with an unfamiliar markup language, I would strongly recommend taking a look at my .tex files for this book. This one will make the 10×8 landscape Blurb book. Just tweak the parameters to get a different size. I’ve tried to comment the file liberally to show what parameters affect what, but I do admit that TeX is somewhat arcane, and the parameters and layout algorithm are not always clear.  Hopefully I (or someone more versed in LaTeX), will be able to take this (or something similar) and make style (template) files for LaTeX to do Blurb books in the other offered sizes.  I would certainly appreciate hearing about that!

5 thoughts on “On printing via Blurb’s PDF to Book: Part 4

  1. Interesting idea. I’m curious how LaTeX’s pdf output handled colour management, bleed & trim, font embedding etc to make it PDF/X-3 compliant, or was that a series of options in the software?

    • Martin,

      The image files all have ICC profiles embedded. There is a python script in the tarball that I use to downsample the images for either the web version or the print version which embeds the profiles. Fonts I believe are embedded by pdftex; I know that I had to check a box in scribus to make that happen but pdftex seems to have taken care of it by default. Blurb gives exact dimensions to account for bleed and trim, so I just targeted those with a custom paper size and appropriate margins. There is a small section which embeds some specific PDF headers for PDF/X-3 compliance.

      As a few other bloggers have noted recently, PDF/X-3 generation is a somewhat uncertain process. So for me the proof was in the pudding. I generated the PDF, uploaded it to Blurb and it passed the “preflight test”. The resulting book looks great and basically identical to the one I had done in Scribus, except with a different font (I chose to go with Computer Modern for the LaTeX version since that was the default option).

  2. Does that mean that you didn’t add an output destination colourspace to the PDF? Strictly, that’s required for PDF/X-3.
    I presume otherwise that the printer is reading the embedded profile or assuming sRGB like they do from the Booksmart created books.

    • Martin,

      I did not add an ICC profile to the PDF. There were some custom PDF headers added in the LaTeX file, and pdftex may have added others. I just prepared the images with embedded sRGB profiles It would be an interesting exercise, perhaps, to save the image files to Adobe RGB and repeat the process, but I’m not sure it’s worth the $35 to me. When shooting for the first book from a new company and a new process, I figured I’d stick to the straight and narrow to eliminate most pitfalls. Their notes on the PDF to Book process said the images would be acceptable in either sRGB or CMYK, and between the two I chose sRGB.

      –Eric

  3. Pingback: Blurb book arrived « Red Skies at Night

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