How to Make a Chapbook – Guest Post by NE Explorer Mark Pemberton

Posted May. 3rd, 2014 by Daniel J. Cox

Awhile back NE Explorer Mark Pemberton sent me a gorgeous, hand made book containing photos from our recent Invitational Photo Tour to Japan. I had never seen such a beautiful presentation and I asked Mark if he would like to share the creative process with our readers. He agreed and the following text is a very detailed and well presented How To Make a Chapbook by NE Explorer Mark Pemberton.

Daniel J. Cox

My wife Cathy and I recently had the privilege of visiting Japan with Natural Exposures Winter Wildlife Photography Tour. Our goal was to photograph a variety of wildlife, including the red-crowned cranes. The Japanese red-crowned crane, also known as Tancho-tsuru, is an animal with deep historical and cultural meaning to not only the Japanese but most other Asian cultures as well. In Japan the red-crowned crane is viewed as a symbol of good luck and longevity. Cranes mate for life and are well know for their elaborate mating dances and vocalizations. Cathy had been looking forward to seeing them for years.

A pair of Crowned Cranes in courtship display, Hokaido, Japan.

A pair of Crowned Cranes in courtship display, Hokaido, Japan.

We were fortunate and captured many great images on the trip. We were especially delighted with the beautiful images of the cranes and wanted to present them in an elegant and unique way. We decided to create a hand-made, fine art chapbook. Cathy and I had taken a workshop from publisher Brooks Jensen ( a couple of years ago in which he demonstrated his method for producing chapbooks. We thought that this would be a perfect way to present our crane images. In this article I will show how to produce your own high quality chapbook.
chapbookChapbooks have been around since the 16th century and came into popularity shortly after the advent of the printing press. They are called chapbooks because they were sold by “chap” men. The word chap comes from an old English word for trade. Thus chap men were peddlers and they sold cheap, small size books, sometimes of dubious merit. Today, chapbooks have made a return as a venue for poets to publish their work.

Our procedure for producing chapbooks does not rely on using expensive page layout software or costly custom components. In this article I will demonstrate a method for producing high quality chapbooks with only the tools most photographers have access to.

To create your own chapbook you will need the following:

• 13 inch capacity ink jet printer
• Computer with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements
• 13×19 inch, two sided photo paper, 250 gsm, 13.5 mil
• 17×25 inch two sided photo paper, 250 gsm (optional – for gatefold)
• 13×19 inch photo paper, 340 gsm (for cover)
• Paper cutter or X-acto knife
• Bone folding tool ($5.95 at: Dick Blick Art Supplies, Photographers Edge)
• Embroidery thread (Michaels, JoAnn’s, Dick Blick)
• Darning needle (JoAnn’s or other sewing supply store)
• Binder or Bulldog clips

The printer should be able to use 13 inch wide paper. A 17 inch printer is better but not necessary. Since you will be printing on both sides of the paper a source of two-sided photo paper is required. I have been using Red River’s Aurora Art Matte paper with good results. For the cover of the chapbook you will want to use a very heavy photo paper. For our book I used Epson Cold Press Bright paper. I do not recommend using roll paper as it is difficult to get the paper to lay flat.

The first thing you must do is decide what size your book will be. I choose a page size of 9 inches high by 8 inches wide. The chapbook is created by nesting together a series of two page layouts, as shown below.
Template 7You will create your chapbook using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. To assist you in this process I have created several Photoshop templates for an 8×9 inch book that you may download by clicking here.  If you want to make your own custom templates clickhere  to view a short video that describes the method.

The basic two page layout looks like the following.
Template 4The yellow area represents the full page size of 9” tall x 16” wide for a two page spread. The green area is the print area for each page. This leaves a ¾ inch white border on the page. In some cases you may wish to print an image to fill the entire page. This is known as full bleed printing. In that case you should extend the image all the way to the full bleed guide.

The following is an illustration of normal vs full bleed printing. The example on the left surrounds the photo with ¾ inch of white space. The example on the right extends the edges of the photo past the page edge to the full bleed guide. After printing the paper will be cut at the trim lines giving a photo that fills 100% of the page. However, be careful that no important part of the photo extends past the page edge, as it will be subsequently trimmed off.
Template 5This is how the page will look after trimming.
Template 6

The zip file that you downloaded contains two other templates. The first is a 3 page spread that can be incorporated as a center gatefold in the book. Panels A and B are 8 in. wide x 9 in. tall. Panel C is 7.875 in. wide x 9 in. tall. The width is 1/8 in. shorter to permit it to fold into the center without interfering with the spine fold. For this template I use 17×25 inch paper. However, this template assumes that you will cut the paper down to 13 inches high so that it can be used with a 13 inch printer.

Figure 6 - gatefoldThe final template required for the chapbook is the cover template. We created the cover to be just a bit wider than the other pages to protect the edges of the pages and to make the book easier to open.

Figure 7 - CoverBecause of the nested layout of the chapbook the pages will not be in numeric order. The best way to visualize this is to create a small model of the chapbook, assemble it, number the pages and then disassemble it. Here is an example that uses 3 sheets of paper and a cover sheet.
Page Layout

Now comes the fun part, adding the content. You can include anything you want. Photos, text, poems, quotations, etc. Spend some time looking at other art and photography books to get ideas. It is also a good idea to do some research on book-making to learn how professionals design books.

To add a photo to a page open up the appropriate template and rename it to something original…like Page 1. Then open your photo in Photoshop and resize it as necessary to fit in the desired printable area. Using the Move tool drag the photo onto the template, position it and then proceed to the next page. You can have one or more photos per page. However, it is best to keep your designs simple and clean. The following is an example of one of our finished 2 page layouts..
FigureXI prefer to use B&W photos printed on matte paper. I feel that it gives a very professonal appearance.

Due to the wide variety of printer manufacturers and models it is not possible for me to provide detailed printing instructions for your printer. However, I can offer a few guidelines.

• Do not attempt to do borderless printing. Your printer may slightly expand your finished template and ruin the careful precision that is built in to it.
• Do not scale your print or use the “fit” option. You want your finished template to print at exactly 100%.
• If your printer offers a “center” option, use it.
• Pay attention to how your print emerges from the printer. When you reverse the paper to print on the back side make sure that you position the top of the print correctly.
• Check the width of your paper. I have found examples where the width is 2 or 3 mm shorter than the specified width. If that occurs the two sides of your page will be out of register and you will either have to create a custom template for that paper size or cut the blank paper size down to an exact size that matches your template.

Assembling Your Chapbook
Once you have composed your pages in Photoshop using the templates, and printed them out, it is time to assemble your book. It is very important to do everything in the correct sequence or you may have to print some pages again.

Inspection – Inspect your print carefully. It is much better to find flaws early on rather than after the book is assembled.
Scoring – The first thing you will want to do is score the folds with a bone folding tool. Lay a straight edge on the print, aligning it with the folding guides on the top and bottom. Run the boning tool across the print 2 or 3 times to score the paper. Score all the pages before proceeding.
Figure 11
Trimming – Trim your pages in the following sequence.
1. Using a paper cutter trim off the bottom at the bottom trim lines.
2. Trim off the two sides using the side trim lines.
3. Position the paper on the paper cutter to match the page height, 9 inches in our case. Place the paper cutter stop in place and then trim the paper to the correct height.
Fold – Fold each page along the score that you previously made.

Binding – To bind the pages together we will use a type of Saddle Stitch. To do so you will need to carefully align the pages of the chapbook and pierce the spine with an awl of small nail in 3 places. To determine the location of the holes I use a piece of stiff paper, 9 inches high, folded down the middle. Mark one hole an inch from the top, one in the center and one an inch from the bottom with a pen. Place the hole guide into the center of the chapbook. To facilitate the piercing process I built a cradle out of wood as shown in the photo below. With the cover, pages and hole guide aligned, clamp them into the cradle as shown.
To punch the holes I used a small nail that I pushed through the spine using needle nose pliers. Thread about 18 inches of the embroidery thread through a darning needle leaving about 3 inches on one side of the needle and 15 inches on the other side. Starting from the outside of the book insert the needle in through the center hole leaving about 3 – 6 inches of thread protruding outside. Push the needle through the top hole and pull the thread snug. Push the needle in through the bottom hole, up to the center hole and then back out. Pull the thread snug and tie a knot to secure it. Trim the excess thread to the desired length and your chapbook is finished.

Saddle Stitch + Thread

If you follow these instructions you will have created your first chapbook. They make excellent gifts, promotional items as well as fine art products. Happy publishing!

To obtain a free electronic copy of our chapbook “Tancho-tsuru: Red-Crowned Crane” click here.


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There are 2 comments on this post…
  1. Portrait of Christine Crosby

    Christine CrosbyOn May. 4th, 2014

    WOW!! Mark and Cathy, what an absolutely beautiful means of presentation!! Thanks so much for sharing this!! VERY cool!!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 4th, 2014

      I knew this would be a hit. Thanks Mark and Cathy.

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