Finishing Options for Photobooks
The ability to create a professional-quality photobook at a reasonable cost came about fairly recently. Photographic-quality, high-speed digital printers were not around in the 90’s, and the HP Indigo press was really the first technology that enabled a consumer market for personalized photobooks.
Then came finishing, and there are many finishing challenges unique to photobooks. The first being the panorama view. When you open a photobook, you want to see the “spread” or the panorama of a landscape-oriented photo laid out seamlessly on two pages. No gaps please! This means the book must lay totally flat. This dictates a different binding approach than your normal perfect-bound book, and it can be achieved in a number of ways. Then there is the longevity factor. Consumers expect high-quality photobooks to last. The best example being the wedding album. This is perhaps the most personal photobook, which captures a major life event, and is expected to last a lifetime (or more).
There are two basic methods for making high-quality, archival photobooks. The two methods are lay flat, and flush mount. Lay flat uses archival album paper, which is typically UV-coated. This paper is quite heavy, typically 100-lb. weight. The page is printed as a two-page spread and creased in the middle. In effect, it becomes a signature. These are then edge-glued together to form a book block. The result is a true lay-flat book. Another variation on lay flat is the insertion of cardboard between the photo sheets. The board and sheets are glued together using hotmelt.
Flush mounting takes it a step further by gluing the photo (which may be printed on a silver halide photo paper) to an archival-quality board. PVC has been used as a board material, but some firms are moving away from this because it releases plasticizers over time. The combined photo-board is then glued together to create a book block. Flush mounting yields a heavy, durable photobook, and was originally developed for wedding albums. Both types of book blocks still need a high-quality case, and “high-quality” typically means leather in many cases.
One could picture a roomful of craftspeople gluing and mounting these albums, but in fact, the process has become highly automated. At the “high end” are two Swiss firms, Photobook Technology, and Imaging Solutions. Both specialize in the photo finishing and photobook industry. Both turn out a full line of some unique systems. Photobook Technology’s Mitabook is a horizontal casing-in system for photobooks. The conventional method for hard-cover casing-in uses a “wing” which is a vertical metal blade upon which the book block is placed. The wing transports the block though a cold-glue adhesive system and the case is then applied and pressed onto the block.
Mitabook transports the block and case horizontally, applying hot-melt to the case, then marrying block-to-case and closing and pressing the case onto the block. A unique and clever design.
Imaging Solutions FastBook Professional can produce either lay-flat or flush mounted book blocks in spreads of up to 36” and at 1,000 finished sheets per hour. IS also makes its FastBooklet system for small-format books (Instagram format) which can produce 160, 24-page softcover books per hour.
There is a wide range of finishing automation for photobooks of all quality levels. But larger machines are not inexpensive and a photo book printer needs adequate volume to justify the capital expense. And this leads to the question of demand. Is the market growing, stagnant, or declining? In today’s environment where there’s a decent camera in every mobile phone, will consumers choose to spend more on high-quality printed records of life’s memorable moments?