Alright, we are now going to talk about how to make your professional photography portfolio book. It doesn’t matter what subject matter you shoot, if you want to get clients, you will eventually need a printed book. Warning, this is a mega post.
Please check out my last post about what images you need in your food photography portfolio. I share with you a list to give you several ideas, and reminders of what images you will need to create for your food book.
There are two ways to make your book. #1 – Buy the actual book presentation and print it yourself. #2 – Have it printed, mounted, and bound for you (also called Print On Demand). In this post, we will cover the first option, printing your book yourself. I will cover the Print On Demand option for you in another post.
I thoroughly researched this info a while back, and was surprised at how hard it was to find information on printing your own portfolio, so this is why I am making this post for you.
I did make a course in the Food Photography Club that shows you how I make my food photography portfolio from start to finish. So make sure to get on the wait list for the Club to get access to that course.
Why would you want to print your own book? Besides the obvious of being able to totally control how your book looks, and that you can edit the prints anytime you want, you are showing your clients that you are a professional photographer that can take your images to print.
Taking your images to print is the most difficult part of our commercial photography world, and if you are making images that your clients have to print – this is what sets a pro shooter apart from a junior shooter who doesn’t know how to print their own images.
As soon as you print your images, you will understand what your clients will go through when they need to print your images. So when an ad agency knows that you can print your own work, they know they will be able to print your images as well.
Trust me, it’s a thing I get told all the time by agency clients when they work with new shooters, how much of a problem this is.
Here is an excellent video showing you how a fellow pro shooter, Caleb Kerr put his book together. He chose to get portfolio paper that he had to cut down, score, and hole punch, which is awesome and a true sign of how he works, in a great way. A lot of photographers choose this option.
I was in a time crunch when I reprinted my book, and I chose to use paper that was already cut, scored, and hole punched. Either way is totally fine. It really comes down to your paper choice. I had only one choice. If you cut, score, and hole punch your own, you can choose any paper you want.
As Caleb says, “Printing. You’ll waste paper and ink, get over it”. This is so true. This is a process to make each image an awesome print. You will make lots of test prints as you print your book.
Making Your Photography Portfolio Book Yourself
If you are just starting out, I’ll be totally honest, this is an advanced project that can be quite challenging. Here’s why. Printing any images, whether they be illustrations, graphics, or photographs heavily involves understanding color management (defined below).
The type of printing we are talking about here is fine art, digital printing. We will be using ink jet printers. Many years ago, a term was created for these prints made from ink jet printer – Giclee, but most folks just call them digital inkjet prints, or fine art digital prints now.
Materials And Tools Needed For Making Your Own Photography Portfolio Book:
There are some Amazon affiliate links below. Should you purchase any of those items, I will make a small commission at no cost to you.
- Screw Post Portfolio Book (see below)
- Portfolio paper – I use paper that was pre drilled with holes, and pre-scored
- Same paper as your portfolio paper, but in smaller size for testing – I use 8.5 x 11 inch paper for testing
- Flat head screw driver to open your portfolio
- White cotton gloves (seriously, you will need these)
- Micro fiber cleaning cloth and plexiglass cleaner, if you are using a plexiglass book
- Regular office paper for a dummy book (see below)
- 3 ring binder and whole punch for dummy book
- Professional paper trimmer, if needed (see the paper section below)
- As Caleb mentioned in the video above, and I totally agree – do NOT use the stick on, whole punched strips to make your print mount in your book. Whatever side the sticky part goes on will get in the way of your image that is printed on that side.
- Photoshop or Lightroom to print from
What Type Of Book Should I Put My Prints Into?
The most common type of book that is being used now, for those of us printing our own images is called a Screw Post portfolio book. With this type of book, your prints are directly held in the book with the screw posts, no sleeves.
The previous portfolio I used had very smooth plastic sleeves. No one is using those these days, hence why I completely re-did my books.
Here is a list I put together for you on many options for finding your portfolio book. You can get all kinds of fancy here with laser cut designs, bright colorful graphics printed on the covers, or go super simple like I did.
I chose a portfolio cover that is a translucent plexiglass. This way, I can actually use any image I want as a title page that will show through the cover.
There are known standard sizes for portfolios. The most common sizes now are 11×14 inches, in either vertical or horizontal format, and also 11×17 horizontal format. My book is 11×14 vertical format.
Now, there are some non-standard sizes I’m seeing these days that I think have come from the wedding book market. These can be an issue because, as commercial photographers we have to put our books into some sort of carrying case.
We might have to drop them off at an ad agency for a few days, so we have to put our books into some sort of carry case. These non-standard wedding size books (like 12×12 inches for example), will cost us extra money to make a custom case for our presentation.
Here is a list of several places to get your screw post portfolio:
This is where I got my portfolio book from Easy – Sleek Portfolios https://www.etsy.com/shop/SleekPortfolios
Beautiful custom made books: https://www.mullenbergdesigns.com/
For a custom portfolio book and carry case: http://www.houseofportfolios.com/carrying-cases
Laser Cut Screw Post Portfolios
For Our EU Friends
Germany – https://hhportfolios.com/
What Is Color Management?
Ok, now that we covered what will be holding your prints, we need to talk about how to make your prints. So I’m gonna get a wee bit tech here, but just enough so that you know what’s happening under the hood.
If you have been using Photoshop and/or Lightroom for making our images beautiful, you can totally do this.
Color management is using systems to make sure that the digital files you are working with, look the same on multiple devices. We want our images that we are looking at on screen to look the same when we print them, and look the same on our phones and tablets.
The way we make our images look the same on these different devices is with what I call a conversion, or interpretation of the color information.
We have devices that use light to create an image on screens, and we have devices that use inks to create our images on prints. When we are taking an image from Photoshop or Lightroom, and turning that image made from light into a print, you can imagine we will now have an interpretation of that image from colors of light, to colors of ink.
It’s this interpretation, or translation that needs to be managed with our software. The goal is to make a print that looks as close as possible to what the image looks like on our monitors. Our printed images will NEVER look exactly like they do on our monitors, because those are two completely different mediums.
If you are making images for your clients that need to be printed – you MUST understand color management, so that you can create images that are easy for your clients to print.
What Is An ICC Profile?
The way we mange this color translation from one device to another, is with small files called ICC Profiles that we install in our computers. There’s a lot more to this, but simply put, we tell our editing software what ICC profile it needs to use when we print an image from it to get the most accurate colors we can, in that print.
If you have taken one of your images that looks awesome on screen, tried to print it, just to have it look awful, too dark, too light, and/or bizarre colors, you have an ICC profile mismatch. Your software told the printer to blend the printer inks a certain way that didn’t match what your paper needed to make a nice image.
Where Do You Get Your ICC Profiles?
I’ll be sharing with you a list of several popular fine art digital printing papers. We get our ICC profiles from the manufacturers of these inkjet papers.
In theory, each paper has an ICC profile that is made just for the specific paper, printer, and inks you are using. I say in theory, because I learned from a good friend of mine, John Bilotta, who works at Nash Editions in Torrance CA that you can actually use another paper’s ICC profile on the paper you are using, if that original ICC profile isn’t working as nicely as you want.
Anyway, if you are new to printing – just stick with the ICC profile that is made for your paper. You simply go to the manufacturer’s website who made the paper, and do a quick search on their site for “ICC Profiles”.
Here is a great tutorial video from the company I use for my portfolio paper, on how to install your ICC profiles:
Can I Just Use Any Printer For Making My Portfolio Prints?
Nope! ‘Fraid not. If you are thinking you can use your $87 ink jet printer from Staples for your portfolio images, you will be struggling to get a good print, and will want to throw the printer out the window.
Here are the two printers that are the most common for making fine art digital prints.
Epson P600 or P800 printers: The difference between the two is the size of print you can make, and the size of the actual ink droplet. The P600 is $800 and the P800 is $1300 full retail price.
Now, just a heads up here – I did an enormous amount of research before I printed my newest portfolio. I discovered many people complaining that the P600 black ink heads would clog so badly that they couldn’t use the printer after only a few months, and had to fight Epson to get it fixed or replaced.
I do not have these printers, but many photographers use both the P600 and the P800. Apparently, the P800 doesn’t have the black ink clogging issues as badly as the P600. Please do your research before buying.
Canon Pro 1000 $1300: This printer has really become the favorite of a lot of photographers, and the prints look stunning. This would be a great option.
What printer do I use? No joke, I use a 17 year old Epson P2200 printer. I’ve had it serviced twice, and the prints look great. When I show my book, my prospects always ask me who printed my book because they really like the prints. They are always shocked when I tell them I print with a 17 year old printer.
If I were to buy a new one today – I think I would try the Canon Pro 1000.
Tips on buying these – many folks on Amazon are selling these printers for what looks like a bargain, BUT THEY ARE SELLING THEM WITHOUT INKS! The inks for these printers are very expensive. So, double check that your printers actually come with a full set of inks.
Also, check your local camera store – many times they can get you rebates on your printers. Always make sure that you get the full manufacturer warranty on any printer you buy.
What Kind Of Inks Should I Use?
Unless you are very familiar with printing, and how ink jet printers work, just stick with the Epson or Canon Inks made for the printer you buy. Back in the day (1997-ish), I totally Frankensteined several Epson printers with non Epson inks because they didn’t make archival inks at that time (I’ll explain that term next). So I had to buy off brand inks, and totally rig them with tubes and bottles.
If you are up to that challenge, you can save a ton of money on archival inks, if you need to make a lot of prints. You will most likely be replacing some parts (computer chips sometimes), and you will void any warranties. Here are a few places to help you use archival, non Canon, or non Epson inks.
Ink Supply (AKA MIS inks) I used these in 90’s. I think they were the first company to make archival ink jet ink.
Then, there is also ConeColor Ink. They also make an archival ink replacement for a lot less money.
You can also check out Ink Jet Mall – another company that’s been around for decades.
What Does Archival mean for Inks And Paper?
Prints with archival museum standards are supposed to last for a minimum of 70 years, but these days, many paper and ink combinations can last beyond 100 years. In our photography print world, we achieve this by creating an image that is free of chemicals, and contaminants that would hurt the image.
If you see products labeled “acid free”, they are products that are being made for archival artwork. In the fine art printing world, we need to use archival papers, and also archival inks.
The papers I am going to list for you are all labeled as archival papers.
Now, here’s the thing though – for our commercial portfolio books, I’m not concerned about archival prints. I’m updating my book so much, it doesn’t matter that the prints won’t last 70 years.
For my fine art prints that are matted however, those are archival prints, because I want them to last, and I need them to be archival, as I am selling those. If you are selling any prints, you must use archival paper and inks, so that they will last as long as possible.
I am not selling my commercial photography portfolio prints. They are just to show my commercial services. These prints have an entirely different, temporary use. That’s just my opinion about that, so that’s why I’m still using my old Epson printer because the inks for that printer are not labeled archival.
What Kind Of Paper Should I Use For My Portfolio?
When you start looking at your paper options, it can be very overwhelming. I made my decision based on time. I had to make a book in a few days, so I wanted paper that was the size I needed, pre-scored, and already hole punched.
Luckily, I loved the paper that had what I needed, because there were no other options. I used a fine art ink jet paper made by Moab. The paper I used was the Lasal Photo Double Sided. Thing is, only one place sells it – Pina Zangaro. The image to the left is their Amazon listing for it.
Here is a list of several other paper options for you. Do not use any semi gloss, or glossy papers if you are scoring them. The coatings will crack, and look awful. They are not meant to be scored.
This is the company who made my paper: https://www.moabpaper.com/
Hannemule papers https://www.hahnemuehle.com/en/hahnemuehle.html
Red River papers https://www.redrivercatalog.com/
Canson papers http://www.canson-infinity.com/en
Ilford papers https://ilford.com/
If you just don’t know where to start – get some sampler packs of fine art ink jet paper from a few of the paper companies. Get each of their ICC profiles (see above), and just make some test prints to see what you like the best.
I do need to mention here, a paper specification called paper weight. This is how thick the paper is, and usually measured in grams. Some photogs want really thick paper, others like it a little bit thinner. My paper is on the thinner side at 235 GSM.
To Trim Your Own Paper, If Needed:
If you need to cut down your portfolio paper to size, you will need a rotary trimmer. It is very common for photographers to buy larger paper than the finished book size, then they will cut it down.
Many photographers buy 13×19 paper in order to print a full bleed print that is 11 x 14, or 11 x 17 inches. They print the image on the large paper, then trim it down to be a full bleed image on the page. You must get a high end paper cutter for doing this! To the left is the brand Rotorimmer. I’ve had mine for 30 years, and it still cuts perfect cuts.
Notice that there are two metal rails to guide the cutter. This is why this cutter is so straight. If your cutter only has one rail for the guide, over time it could get out of alignment.
To Score Your Own Paper:
If you use portfolio paper that is not already scored, you will have to score your own. I have the scoring bone, and the Scor Pal product shown below, but the paper I printed on, didn’t need scoring. I do not have the scoring machine – if you buy one, make sure it is big enough for your paper, and that you can return it if there is a problem.
Make A Dummy Book First To Figure Out Your Layout
A dummy book is a test run of the images you want to use in your portfolio. The prints are just quick, easy prints that you make with your regular office printer – these are NOT portfolio prints. Number each page so you know which image is being printed on the back of another.
For horizontal images, I will print those on two page in my actual portfolio but for the test book, I just make a note on those pages.
I always plan my portfolios this way. I print out all the images I am thinking of using on 8.5 x 11 inch office paper. If you have a lot, be open to the idea that not all the images will make the cut and have someone help you with your edit.
Your book should be printed double sided. So aim for 50-60 images – that will make 25-30 prints total, with images on both sides.
I don’t get fancy with my layouts. I have one image on one side of each page. Some photographers get very creative, and have layouts with 3 or 4 images on some pages. That’s great too. It’s totally up to you how you want to create your book.
If you are doing this for the first time, then just put one image on each side of the page. Easy.
I create the flow of my book by combining similar foods, or complementary colors, or similar concepts with the two page spread. There isn’t just one way to create a book layout.
Once the dummy book is done, I now know what image I need to print back to back, and in which order they will go in the book. Do NOT skip this step. You have to make a dummy book first.
How To Make The Actual Prints For Your Book
This topic alone can be several blog posts so instead I’m going to share with you some good resources to help you with this.
If you are using the Canon Pro 1000 printer, Canon suggests you use their Print Studio Pro software, which is a plugin for Photoshop and also Lightroom.
Here Canon’s Youtube channel that talks about their plugin:
If you don’t want to use their plugin, here is a great blog post detailing screen shots of printing from Photoshop just using the print dialog menus. This post also clearly shows how to print with any printer – not just the Canon.
The most important part of printing is to tell the printer that Photoshop or Lightroom is controlling the color management – not the printer.
Another video explaining how to print from Photoshop with Epson and Canon printers.
Ok, that was a lot, but hopefully will help you in creating your printed photography portfolio book. Let me know if you have any question, or additional resources I should add in the comments below.
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