Books for Photographers

“What the heck is the difference between a coffee table book, press printed book, or layflat book? There’s so much terminology tossed around the industry it’s hard to know what is what and what should be used when.”

If you’ve ever asked this question, you’re not the only one! There’s so much jargon and terminology to know in both the Photography and Print industries, so we thought we’d take a moment to help.

Coffee Table Book

This is a general term for any hard bound book with thin, flexible pages (like any normal book) that is intended to be on display in the home. It tends to be large, it is not designed to be portable like a novel. I generally think of these as being high quality press printed books.

Press Printed Book

press printed books

A press printed book is printed on a traditional offset printing press. These printing presses are large, expensive pieces of equipment that take time to set up for each print job. Set up costs can easily run into the thousands of dollars, so they only make sense for high volume jobs. In recent years digital offset presses have been developed and are now common. Digital presses allow each page to be unique, which was the enabling technology for the print-on-demand custom book industry.

Be aware that the press printed books you’ll get from companies like SharedInk and other companies that cater to professionals are a much different product than what is supplied by the high volume consumer books (Blurb, Costco, etc.). The printing, quality control, customer service, material options, and binding quality are all much better. It is really a different product.

Flush Mount Album

This is an album that evolved from the traditional matted album of the past. In a matted album each print is hand mounted to the hard page. With the advent of digital (ink jet and then offset press) printing, it became possible to design the album page or two page spread together on a computer. The pages are then printed and mounted to a thick, hard board. Some people like to use the “baby book” analogy.

Flush mount albums are more expensive to produce than coffee table books, since ink jet printing costs more than digital press printing, and mounting the prints to the boards is a slower and more labor intensive process.

Traditionally flush mount albums are printed on high quality ink jet paper, but with the improvement in digital press printing in recent years some companies are offering press printed flush mount albums.

Layflat Book

layflat pages

Layflat books are generally considered to be a press printed book where the pages have a hinge at the binding so that the image flows across the spread similar to a flush mount album.

As only a few paper suppliers offer layflat pages, hinged paper and layflat books are more expensive than traditional press books. Layflat books also require a greater attention to printing and binding process control and quality assurance, since there is a higher expectation that the left page aligns with the right page on a spread. Be aware that some companies do a much better job of this than others. The ability to use two page spreads and panoramic images is considered a great improvement in on-demand book printing.

Be aware.. some people use the term “layflat” when they are discussing the flat characteristics of a flush mount album.

What’s an album, and what’s a book?

This is very subjective, but if you need a one sentence explanation then you can say “Albums are photographic quality ink jet prints mounted on thick pages, and books are press printed.” We have a lot of customers, however, that deliver our 6 color, high resolution press printed books as wedding albums. That’s what the photographer calls it, that’s what the bride calls it. So it’s kind of a fuzzy line.

Common uses for each of these products:

Flush mount albums

These are typically provided in higher end, $3,000 and higher, wedding packages. Higher end portrait session clients may order flush mount albums. Be aware that some clients (and some photographers) prefer the coffee style book for there albums.

Layflat press printed books

guest book

These are commonly used for wedding albums, parent albums and portrait albums where images are designed across the gutter in a two page spread. They also work great for guest (signature) books, as guests can sign right up to the gutter of the page. No more writing on the page as it curves into the binding!

“Magazine style” press printed books

These are typically used for proof books and portrait books that don’t have images that go across the book binding.  They’re also popular for making small boudoir books, fashion look-books, and commercial projects by advertising agencies?