Musings on Photography

Blurb PDF upload

Posted in book design, books, digital printing, Solo Photo Book Month by Paul Butzi on August 16, 2009


Today’s goal was to take one of my two SoFoBoMo 2009 books and do the work needed to generate a PDF I could upload to Blurb, to get an actual printed copy using Blurb’s recently announced/introduced PDF to Book service.

Blurb provides InDesign templates that you can download, and I did indeed download them. There’s not really much to the templates (in my current understanding) than the right page size, bleed settings, and margins, along with some simple instructions created on a separate non-printing layer in the template.

I took the path of setting the page size and bleed to match the Blurb template for the book content. I’ve discovered InDesign’s Layout Adjustment controls, which make it much simpler to adjust page size and still have all your photos, text frames, and so on stay aligned horizontally and vertically on the new pages. I was making just small tweaks to the page size, so I didn’t resize the content of the book, just let the page size change adjust the white border on each page.

The Blurb PDF->book service requires you to upload one PDF for the book content, and one PDF for the cover. So one of my first acts was to take the cover out of the ‘content’ pdf version, and create a new ‘cover’ InDesign file. I started the cover from the Blurb provided soft-cover cover template. It took me a bit of puzzling to figure out how to get stuff aligned properly on the cover – my InDesign skills could use some improvement.

But, after a couple of hours of fiddling, I had PDF’s for the cover and content that I was ready to upload to Blurb. I went to the website and used the ‘make a book from your PDF’ process they have there to upload the two files. It worked fine – nice and slick. You upload the files, they run some pre-flight checks, and you can either watch the pre-flight process run, or you can go away. Either way, you get an email telling you the files uploaded ok, and then another email with the results of the preflight check.

First time through, BOTH my files failed the preflight. The feedback they give on why your files failed seemed pretty detailed – mine both failed because the page size was wrong, and the feedback tells you what size your page is in the PDF you uploaded, and what size they expected.

I solved the content problem pretty quickly – somehow I’d managed to mangle the bleed settings when I did my last check before I generated the PDF to upload – I realized you needed the ‘inside’ bleed set to zero, but when I set it to zero, I didn’t ‘unlock’ the settings, so I set the bleed to zero for all edges. Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense – if you get to this stage with your own file, and look at the dialog, it will all make sense. Anyway, once I’d found that, I generated a new PDF and figured I’d upload it and see if that fixed the problem.

Here’s the one hitch I found in the otherwise excellent website upload process Blurb has put together – I wanted to upload just the one PDF file and have it pre-flighted again, but to replace one of the two PDF files you need to go through the whole process again, typing in the title, author, specifying the size and paper and cover type, and uploading both files. That’s a bit of a hassle, and it doesn’t seem like it should be too hard for Blurb to fix, so I expect that to change in the future as they get feedback.

My new ‘content’ PDF passed the preflight, but of course I’d just uploaded the same old cover PDF again, so that failed.

The softcover PDF generation is a bit tricky, because the width of the page is dependent on how many pages you have in the book (because that tells you the width of the spine). I spent a disgusting amount of time banging around on the Blurb website before I stumbled upon the ‘book calculator’ that tells you what size the cover should be, but eventually, I found it, calculated the new size, and adjusted my cover in InDesign. Uploaded the new PDF and it still failed the preflight. I still had the width wrong.

This time around, I adjusted the size of the design in InDesign based on what the preflight said it wanted. Again, it turned out I’d somehow screwed up the bleed settings. After adjusting the page width, I had to go and adjust the columns on the cover layout, and then adjust the alignment of the stuff on the cover. Fortunately, I have a really simple cover design and was a bit more clever about centering things this time.

The PDF I got from that go ’round passed the preflight check with flying colors.

I went and ordered a copy. We’ll see how it turns out when the book arrives. I was amazed that 2nd day deliver was some piddling amount (like 30 cents) more than regular delivery, so I paid extra for second day delivery. Now I remember that the last time I ordered from Blurb it was shipped from a spot less than 15 miles away from my home, so perhaps I’ve wasted 30 cents. Oh, well.


One thing I forgot to mention is that in addition to the InDesign templates for both the content and cover, Blurb provides a really super useful thing – an EXPORT preset file. You fire up InDesign, go to the PDF preset stuff, import this file, and it adds a PDF preset which makes InDesign emit exactly the variety of PDF that Blurb expects. I downloaded this preset file along with the templates, read the instructions, realized I needed to use this preset thingie, and Voila! I had an easy way to generate the PDFs in exactly the right flavor, color, charm, spin, charge, format, PDF variant, sub-variant, options, and religious denomination that Blurb wants and expects.

This preset file is the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas, the dog’s bark, and the full nine yards, all rolled into one. I did not spend more than 30 seconds messing about with the PDF export dialog and its many rooms, crevices, buttons, check boxes, drop-downs, etc. and apparently I got the right variety of PDF right out of the gate. Yowza.

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  1. Nadine Priestley said, on October 19, 2009 at 11:25 am

    My InDesign skills are at the very beginning stages. I’m trying to place a jpg image onto the Indesign image wrap template cover, and don’t know how to get the image to scale. It sits there as a tiny thing when I place it. Any suggestions? I’m looking for it to be a front full-bleed image. Thanks!

  2. Paul Butzi said, on October 19, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Nadine, the key is to scale the jpg appropriately before you drop it into InDesign.

    Starting from the highest resolution copy of the image, open in in your image editor, and scale the image, setting the physical size properly so that the image will be just right to be full bleed.

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