From the README:
This a latex implementation of a photo book or photo folio. It has been used to create a PDF photo book that has low-res images suitable for web display, and also will generate a hi-res version that is compatible with the Blurb.com “PDF to Book” publish on demand process (link). It will also make a “folio” PDF–a stack of prints with some front and back material, both hi-res print and lo-res web versions.
This particular example was for the 10×8 softcover book, although it should be straightforward to tweak this to other sizes, compared to GUI desktop publishing systems. The folios are targeted to 8.5×11 letter size paper, a common inkjet paper size, although the photos are in the same size/resolution as the book.
To use this, you will need a decent implementation of xelatex or pdflatex. I use the excellent version of xelatex that is bundled with the “texlive” TeX distribution–just google for “texlive” and your platform (MacOS, Windows, Linux, etc.)…
This is the LaTeX version of my book Chickens, Anyone? It was successfully used to make a 10×8 Blurb.com photo book. I made this as a test, after initially designing the book using a GUI-based desktop publishing tool, Scribus. I found that while it did a good job, the GUI tool required a lot of laborious GUI interaction just to make even minor changes to the book’s size, as is often required for POD publishing. With LaTeX you can simply tweak a few parameters in a text file, run make and have another version of the book in a different size. This will be no surprise to anyone that is familiar with the productivity of working in a text markup language, but may not be obvious to newcomers to desktop publishing, who are familiar only with GUI based tools. If you are frustrated by how much time it takes you to tweak your book for a different size or POD process, you should check this out!
Here are the main features:
I think I can finally close this thread (I can hear the collective sigh of relief!). I received my Blurb copy of the Chickens book today (third version; this is the one made with xelatex). It’s the best one yet. I think I hit the sweet spot with the templates on the footer positioning, borders are nicely spaced, the images look good, type looks great.
The templates will rest for a while and I’ll think about the next book project.
To recap briefly, the templates:
I’ve updated the web version of the PDF that was made by it if you are interested in taking a look. You can see I used the Garamond truetype font, the same one I used in my Scribus version. I’ve heard that with v9 of Adobe reader (on some platforms) the PDF cannot be viewed. I’ve not seen this yet, and Blurb happily accepts the PDFs and makes books, but I would appreciate any other reports of problems viewing the PDF.
I’ve put the templates under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.
“Troy”, who blipped in, made a comment and then disappeared, mentioned something called “xelatex” and how “lots of great fonts should be easy to use”. I’d never heard of XeLaTeX before, but I looked into it and it looked like a pretty nifty piece of software: “a typesetting system based on a merger of Donald Knuth’s TeX system with Unicode and modern font technologies”. Basically, it’s a version of LaTeX that can produce a PDF directly, and together with the fontspec package can use and embed any TrueType and OpenType fonts you have lying around. Well, the difficulty of using a variety of fonts was my only real complaint about using LaTeX to produce the book; otherwise I was thrilled with it–so much easier than all the manual layout I’d done in Scribus. So this weekend I thought I’d better take a look at xelatex and see if there was anything to it.
I’m a huge open-source fan, but I acknowledge that sometimes the path using open source tools can have significant hurdles. In any case I was prepared to make a modicum of effort at trying to get my Chickens, Anyone? book done with a TrueType font (I have a huge selection lying around) and published via the xelatex tool chain. The first part, getting xelatex installed, turned out to be remarkably easy. I’m running Ubuntu Linux, and a quick search via synaptic revealed that it was in the repositories. A couple clicks later, a quick change in the Makefile from pdflatex to xelatex and I was processing the book into a PDF with xelatex.
The second hurdle was figuring out how to use the TT font in the document. The examples using fontspec looked simple, it was basically a one liner to name the font you want to use, but you need to know the name first. A quick search revealed the otfinfo tool (part of the lcdf-typetools package, also in the Ubuntu repositories), which, when run on a bunch of .ttf files will tell you their names. It turns out that the names are just the common ones, such as “Garamond”, “Times New Roman”, etc. Simple. A quick edit to add the fontspec line, another make and boom, I’m cranking out PDFs now with great looking fonts and the fonts embedded.
The third hurdle was the first and only real roadblock, and it was a doozy, but I figured it out in the end. Blurb requires a kind of PDF called a PDF/X-3. It’s basically a PDF 1.3 version with some restrictions on the content and requiring certain tags and profiles to be present. When I was using pdflatex, I found a nice example with google that showed how to embed the proper strings in the latex file using special directives to make the resulting PDF smell like a PDF/X-3. Well, with xelatex I needed to get those same strings into the file, but the directives that I had used with pdflatex weren’t defined. It turns out that it can be done, and quite simply, but there is just not a whole lot of documentation out there right now on xelatex. I searched every nook and cranny of the web for that info, using clue after clue to get me closer and closer, but the info remained elusive. I was beginning to think that it could not be done without writing some kind of script to postprocess the PDF, when I finally stumbled upon a reference to a different piece of software, one that was probably an ancestor of xdvipdfmx (the piece of the xelatex tool chain that actually produces the PDF). It was a manual, and it was gold. It had lots of PDF directives defined and they seemed to be identical to those used in xelatex. I tried the two that looked right for the job–Bingo–Bob was now my uncle.
The final proof was getting the Blurb PDF to Book site to accept the PDFs all the way through the preflight check and then ordering the book. And now yet again another version of the book is ordered and I will report on it when it arrives. I took the opportunity to use some additional knowledge I had gained about the latex geometry package to tweak things a bit so it should even look a bit nicer.
All in all, I’m very tickled. I now have a way to crank out photo books with extremely precise specifications, using any TrueType or OpenType fonts I want, and using text markup instead of painful hours behind a GUI. In the next couple of days I’ll drop a new release of the latex templates onto the download area, incorporating these changes. I’ll make a brief post about it that at that time, so if you are interested in the updated templates, stay tuned.
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!
My first impression is favorable: the pictures look crisp, color is more or less correct (modulo the more muted palette of printed reproduction). Binding and alignment are a little on the poor side, but then this is one of the least expensive of their offerings (softcover, “regular” paper).
Upon examination with the loupe, and comparing closely with the Viovio book I had done last year, I can see that the halftoning pattern is more noticeable on the Blurb book, and yet the pictures to the naked eye look more clean and less “muddy” than on the former. It’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, because last year was black and white, however, the same camera in each case was used. I’m tempted to get this year’s book printed at Viovio to compare.
Text is nicely rendered, and without any traces of smudging. The 10 point font, which looks miserably small on an online PDF next to the huge images, shows up fine in the high 300 dpi resolution of the book. The cover has a nice glossy finish, but my copy was marred by a few small scratches. I think I’d recommend the hardcover for this reason.
Overall, a positive impression. I’m expecting another version any day now that was done in LaTeX. I’ve been meaning to blog about that, and maybe I’ll wait until that version arrives to comment further. Overall, I’m pleased with the PDF to book process at Blurb and the Blurb product. Recommended.
High-quality prints of my photographs are available for sale in various sizes on archival media. More information.