My Photobook from Scribus to Blurb via The Gimp

I have just printed my first photobook[i] entirely made with Open Source software, that is, without easy off-the-shelf templates and long-established work-flow (e.g. Adobe/Mac duopoly). The software I have used are Scribus, for the pagination and the final PDF conversion, and The Gimp, for the picture editing (a little bit of Open Office to bring the text together, too). I have been using The Gimp for a while now (moving from 10 years and more of Photoshop addiction) and, apart for the limitation of not providing 16bit editing as yet (hopefully the new version will address this once and for all), it is absolutely fine, highly customizable as you might expect, and relatively easy to use with loads of plug-ins and tips available on line. Scribus is a really stable (I have used the 1.3.3 version which is provided in the Ubuntu repository, but things move fast there too), user friendly, professional software, and it comes with a very handy manual written in human terms (no jargon and endless explanation with 20 different ways on how to do the same thing).

So, how do you make your Blurb-ready pdf? Well, as you might already know there is a possibility to upload your own pfd to blurb website and there are plenty of FAQ, guides, tips, forums, etc. there already. Above all, when you know what you want to make, there is a very useful calculator which will tell you the exact measures of your template, both for the cover and for the main pages of your book. When you have created in Scribus your two templates according to those specifications, you are almost done! Insert all the measurements in the Doc Properties, and start making bit by bit your book, almost like an artisan: it is your book, after all, the thing you care of most, at that moment! Soon, after the first few pages, you will get much better at it, and use all the handy keyboard short cuts and appreciate the full Gimp integration. For more technical guys, there is also a full integrated colour management, preflight and PDF/X-3 conversion for soft-proofing.

Who needs heavy, expensive, and hard-to-use proprietary software, any more?

A low resolution full preview of my ‘home-brewed’ photobook can be seen below or you might want to download it from here (it is 14.3 mb pdf file, but it is a 80 pp photobook!). Obviously, it is distributed under Creative Commons 3.0 Unported License.

Last minute update:

  • review of the book in this article by Luigi Manzione on Archphoto, online magazine of architecture and visual culture (ISSN 1971-0739), in Italian.
  • the book arrived on Christmas Eve, before I expected it, and it is above my expectations. The issue of a green and cyan hue, which seriously worried me as it was all too evident in the Adobe Reader preview with PDF/X-3 proofreading enabled, did not materialized: this must be a bug in Adobe Reader, as it did not appear in any other PDF readers (e.g. XPDF or Firefox own plugin). The book, as I said, is wonderful and made me really proud for the overall achievement. Big thanks to Blurb people for their excellent work: a truly amazing Xmas present!

Important: My photobook is dedicated to 31-year-old Adrianna Skrzypiec, from Rotherhithe. “A supervisor for fashion website Net-A-Porter, she moved to London from Szczecin, northern Poland, six years ago, and was planning to buy a house and start a family with her boyfriend…”[ii] .
The yellow police board went long ago, and nobody has yet been arrested in connection with Adrianna’s death.
The ghost bike memorial, placed there by members of Greenwich Cyclists has (incredibly!) been moved only a few meters away as a second ghost bike was unfortunately needed this year (December 2009)….

  1. Cardullo, P. 2010 Walking on the Rim: a Tale of Abjection, London: Blurb. []
  2. The Evening Standard, May 2009 []

About Paolo Cardullo

I am @kiddingthecity # I am That Kind of Doctor #
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  1. Pingback: My Photo-book from Scribus to Blurb | kiddingthecity [dot] org Ubuntu Netbook

  2. Hello,
    could you share your scribus template ?
    I’d like to do myself a blurb photobook, with linux, but I don’t really handle all scribus specificities…

  3. Hi, it is a pleasure to share my work since its all under CC 3.0 license, but my specifications are for a 80 pp hardback in standard landscape format. Just tell me if this suits you. You might want to try it yourself, starting from this very handy tutorial, and change the documents measures in section ‘Step One: Creating a Document and a Page Background’ with the Blurb standard you have chosen for your book here. Remember that you need two files or templates, one for the cover and one for the body. Once you have done your master pages with all the accurate measurements you are almost there! For a much more detailed tutorial on Scribus see this. I hope this is helpful, it is a learning process you have to go through in order to make your own books. Anything, please ask and I will do my best to help you. Good luck.

  4. Hi

    This is great and very well written. Could you provide a link to the scribus template itself. You never added it to the previous comment.


  5. that’s true, sorry. but i have replied by email and sent my scribus masterpages. the problem is that it would not allow me to save them as template, for some reason. but i have no issue of sending them over and share them as i work in creative commons. only thing is that they are for a landscape 80pp book. mutatis mutandis, it could work well.

  6. Can you then please forward it to me via email. The fact that it is landscape is the reason as to why I am interested in the layout.

  7. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing this post. I have already published one book blurb. But I was looking at alternatives to book-smart software of blurb for two reasons.
    1. complete creative control over book design.
    2. An option of using multiple printers apart blurb. Booksmart allows us to only use blurb printers.

    Questions for you…
    1. how do you handle double spread photographs? Do you use separate master pages for them?
    2. Also, can you share your master pages with me too?
    3. Are you on non-linux platform? if yes, how did you handle color management on it?

    Your reply would be greatly appreciated.


  8. Hi,

    I am trying to redesign my original book through scribus. Can you please share you templates/master page specifications. I am not clear on what values you set for guides with respect to trim, bleed and margins.


  9. hi, i am on linux and i will send links or share my masterpages when back from holidays. thanks for your post

  10. Hi Nishant, there is a calculator on Blurb website for your exact measurements:

    I will share on the download page my masterpages soon. However, they are for my exact specs with black background. Also I use a couple of fonts which I downloaded for free on the net, you can change them easily though.

    Re: full-bleed, I used some tips posted on Blurb forum. Intuitively, you should create two picture frames, one for each page and upload the same photo twice, then adjust the slide of the boxes accordingly. A good tip I can give you is to maintain a few millimetres each side in order to take into account the spine which also depends on number of pages and type of cover. Please feel free to ask if this is not clear. I will post a tutorial if needed when back from holidays.


  11. I have been pulling my hair out for two days now. I’ve created a wedding book using Scribus (1.4.0). Everything seems as it should be. I’ve set up the document, pages, ICC profiles, etc., all as Blurb recommends. But, when I upload files, the blurb verifier says “The PDF you selected is not PDF X-3/2002”. Well, Scribus sure thinks it is. It passes the Scribus pre-flight. I’ve been trying every permutation of settings I can find for two days.

    Would you please share some of the important document setup and pdf export settings that enabled your success?


  12. Hi I will look into it, but haven’t done stuff for a while. Maybe it ihas something to do with the way you export the file? is the pdf-x tab selected in your export window? best paolo

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