Author Archive | Mark Wilson

Enhancing Your Book with Backgrounds


Backgrounds are often a simple addition that can have quite an impact on the feel of your finished book. In this article we will provide some guidance on when and how to use backgrounds for maximum impact.

When to use backgrounds

Once you have laid out your pages, you can consider any additional design features you may wish to add to your book. Many photobooks stand up well with plain black, white, or neutral coloured backgrounds. Wedding and portfolio books often fall into this category. The quality of the images, and the chosen subject matter are enough. Fancy backgrounds are simply not required, and if used, can often detract from the key subject matter on the page.

At the other end of the spectrum are books compiled from images taken some decades earlier. They might be out of focus, faded, or poorly composed. But they represent important memories, and so demand to be included in the book. These types of projects can benefit enormously from judiciously chosen backgrounds. If they are well chosen, they can act to tie the pages of the book together, and make it visually more appealing, as well as coherent.

How to choose the right backgrounds for your project

Choice of backgrounds is often a very personal issue. Nevertheless, here are some tips that may improve the look of your books:

  • Backgrounds should compliment your images, not compete with them. Try to avoid overly bright/busy/contrasting digital papers. Look for subtle textures, and patterns with low to medium contrast.
  • Cue your colour choice (whether plain, textured or patterned) from the colour palette of the page (or opposing page).
  • Your book will be more coherent, and flow better, if you restrict yourself to no more than 5 or so different colours. Avoid using every colour under the rainbow. A good approach is to run through a preview of your book and note any pages that don’t seem to “belong” with the rest of the book, and try changing the page background for a better “whole book” experience.
  • As a general rule, avoid dark backgrounds behind dark photos, or light backgrounds behind light photos. Images tend to disappear, rather than stand out.
  • It’s OK to have white backgrounds! In many cases the best background for the page could be white. In particular, this can work well for colourful beach shots, good quality black and white photos, as well as professional images (such as wedding photos).
  • A spread may have 2 different backgrounds (one each for left and right hand pages). But you should always make sure they don’t clash.
  • Particular projects may benefit from certain types of backgrounds. For example, books with numerous historical images may lend themselves to a vintage and/or grunge feel. Asian travel books may work well with sparingly applied vividly coloured fabric backgrounds. Wedding books might work well with subtle cream or black damask backgrounds.
  • For a truly “one-off” background, a watermarked photo may provide the perfect backdrop to a number of suitably placed foreground images.

Adding your own backgrounds

Using Cahoots photobook design software, it is quite easy to apply backgrounds to your pages and experiment until you are happy with the overall result. A number of different colours and graphical backgrounds are supplied with the software. However, there will likely come a time when you wish to apply a particular background you have sourced or created yourself, or you may simply want to create a wider choice than is built into the existing tools. [Should you wish to add more plain colours to the fixed range in our Easy Editor for Windows, simply create a solid colour JPG file in any graphics program, and use the technique in the link below to add the swatches to the existing background colours. Note that resolution is not important for these plain coloured backgrounds, since all dots/pixels are the same colour.]

Fortunately, our Windows and Mac OSX photobook design software both allow you to add your own backgrounds and save them in the software for future use. We’ve created short screen clips that demonstrate how to do this.

But perhaps your first step will be to source some suitable backgrounds to add to your collection. You can search the web using terms such as “digital scrapbook backgrounds”, “free digital scrapbook papers” etc. For best results, please ensure you choose high resolution files that are designed for 12″ x 12″ pages, at 300 dots per inch (DPI). If you don’t mind paying US$5 for a set of digital papers that you can use in your own projects as much as you want, Etsy is a good place to start your search. Equally there are many free backgrounds available on the wider internet, but quality varies widely, and you will normally have to give up your email address to get access.

So now you are armed with some great advice on backgrounds, it is now over to you to choose what you want to take on board and put into practice. As always, we look forward to seeing your work roll out in a finished book.

What book format is the right format?


Apart from choosing the images for a photobook, perhaps the next most critical decision is what book format to choose. If you change your mind after you have started designing your book, you will typically find that the software will not allow a change of book dimension. At Cahoots we offer 2 square formats and 2 landscape formats, and in this article we offer some suggestions for the most suitable book format for particular topics, and some considerations that might help you narrow down your choices.

21cm Square Small Fun

Being our smallest offering, this format may be the preferred option if price/budget are paramount above all else. However, it is certainly the case that larger sizes do normally offer better value in terms of cost per square cm. If considering a Small Fun, we would recommend keeping it relatively thin. The Cahoots software will allow 100 pages for standard paper in this format, but we would recommend going no more than half this, preferably much less. The reason for this preference is that the pages have a tendency to want to close up, so one must always hold the book and pages firmly as the book is being viewed. The lower the page count, the less of an issue this is. An A4 Classic Landscape is worth considering as an alternative, as the weight of the extra page width partially mitigates the tendency of pages wanting to stay closed.

Some people simply have a strong preference for the small compact format, in which case we would suggest considering upgrading to the layflat option (for up to 60 pages), as it negates the issue of “gutter bulge” and also removes the issue of the pages tending to spring up vertically.

The Small Fun format lends itself well to recipe books, farewell books, short trips, Instagram portfolios and gift books. 

A4 Classic Landscape

Being one of our most popular formats, the A4 Classic Landscape is the perfect choice if you expect the book to be stored in a bookcase, as the height of the book should fit in standard shelving (however, if important, you may want to check the depth of the shelf).

Being rectangular in shape, it is well suited to landscape images in full bleed (i.e. no page margins). However there are plenty of layout possibilities for portrait and/or landscape combinations. Being rectangular in format, unless you have panoramas, there is less opportunity for dragging images across the binding (as this will normally result in cropping from top and/or bottom of the image).

In this book format, the Cahoots software will allow up to 200 pages of standard paper (60 for layflat). However, as with the Small Fun, unless you are a fan of thick books, we would normally recommend a 72 page maximum for best “usability”.

The A4 Classic Landscape is a very versatile format, and lends itself to virtually any photobook topic, whether it be a travel book, event book, personal history, school project, baby book or just a simple portfolio.

30cm Square Large Luxurious

The Large Luxurious is a format that can serve a dual purpose as both coffee table book, as well as still allowing for bookcase storage – typically in the bottom or top shelves with other tall books. 

In terms of “page real estate” it offers 50% more space than its smaller sibling, the A4 Classic Landscape. There are both pros and cons of the square format. On the plus side, the square format offers many possible combinations for tesellating multiple portrait and/or landscape images.  However, if choosing to have full bleed images on a single page, some cropping will necessarily occur. (But this isn’t a problem if you opt for layflat paper, because images can span left and right pages with virtually no image loss, although the binding seam will still be visible.)

Maximum page count for this format is 200 pages (60 in layflat). The same comments on page count apply here, as for the A4 Classic Landscape.

The size of the Large Luxurious book implies a topic of special significance. Consequently this format is frequently chosen for weddings, travel books, family histories, family yearbooks and milestone birthdays.

A3 Large Landscape

The Large Landscape is way to big for any bookcase, so this format is usually chosen when one wants to make a real statement, since this book will normally find a home on a coffee table, or stored carefully away in a custom made presentation box (available in matt black finish from Cahoots).

Due to the heavier standard paper (200gsm) used for this format, the maximum page count in the software is 140 (60 for layflat). But once again, for reasons explained previously, we’d recommend a page count of no more than 60, if possible.

All the layout advantages/considerations for the A4 Classic Landscape, apply to this big brother version. Keep in mind though, that your images will be much bigger in this larger format, so your source images will need to be of sufficient resolution (if you want to make any of them full bleed). Similarly, if any of them are not quite in perfect focus, seeing them in a larger size may make that more obvious. It is worth taking extra care to properly inspect your chosen images in detail to ensure you will be happy with the resulting printed images in the book.

Large Landscape is well suited to portfolios, family portraits, travel books, in fact any topic where the book designer wants to create a photobook that simply demands attention by virtue of its size.

Now I want to change my format – what now?

Most photobook software will not let you change format mid-stream. The reason being that it is not easy to change from square to rectangular, or vice versa. Assuming you did not want your images cropped, or stretched or squeezed, you would not end up with a useful conversion. Some software will let you move to bigger or smaller versions in the same relative dimensions, but that comes with some potential issues concerning optimal image print resolution.

Nevertheless, there may be occasions where having started with a particular format, one realises that a better choice would have been something different. The immediate response is to count the number of hours you have spent on the book to date, and the thought of repeating all that effort may be just too daunting. BUT, most of that time has probably been spent thinking about what photos go on what page and other design considerations such as backgrounds and borders, and possibly some text.

While there is no denying that restarting project will consume some additional effort, you may be surprised how quickly you can re-create the book in your new format. For Cahoots software, we would recommend making a proof version of the existing book that can be displayed in a different window (web browser on Windows or Preview on the Mac). Start a new book with Cahoots software, and simply go page by page, choose the same photos, backgrounds etc. It may not be such a huge task as you had envisaged, and you may come to the conclusion that it was worth it in the end.

If you need to downsize from Large landscape to A4 Classic Landscape, or from Large Luxurious to Small Fun, Cahoots may be able to assist in these circumstances, for a nominal processing fee. Contact us if this service is of interest.


Hopefully this article has provided some useful information to help you decide which format to select for your next book. If we’ve confused you, or you have more questions than answers, you may find it beneficial, if feasible, to visit our Subiaco store, where you can see for yourself some of the practical issues we have touched upon. You’ll find a range of sample books on various topics that may help in you in your decision making process as well as giving you some design inspiration. If you can’t make it to the store, feel free to reach out to us via our contact form and we’ll do our best to answer your queries.

4 Common Photobook Design Mistakes


Making a photobook is a really enjoyable activity. But there is nothing worse than receiving your first photobook and discovering that it doesn’t quite live up to what you imagined, or match the design quality of books you have been inspired by. Here is a list of the four most common mistakes that we see here at Cahoots:

1. Not allowing for bleed

Avoid unwanted slithers of background by properly utilising bleed.

2. Not allowing for the gutter

Avoid content disappearing into the binding, or having to flatten the pages to read the text

3. Overestimating text size

Avoid setting text size based on what is readable on the screen – it will be bigger in print!

4. Mis-alignment of images

Similarly, if placing images freehand, any slight mis-alignment will be more obvious in the printed product, compared to the screen.

 . . . . and here is how to fix them

OK – now you know what they are, here is what you can do about them. We’ve prepared a cheats guide to avoiding all these issues. If you wish can download a PDF version for reference. This document has been prepared with our previous Cahoots Easy Editor software in mind, but similar principles apply for our new Easy Designer software. Whichever software you are using, allowing for the gutter is not required if you are opting for a layflat book – just be mindful of the seam placement.