Reprinting lost books…

NOTE: This a reposting of something I wrote a while back, but as the website it is hosted on will soon be closing, I wished (aptly enough) to preserve it here. I’m afraid that the pictures will only last until the host website goes down, since I haven’t been able to extract them easily.

Of late, I’ve had to study many books that have been out of print for a hundred years of more. Some I can find in the reserves of libraries close to me, others have been digitised. However, in neither case is it really possible, I feel, to get to grips with the volume: scribble on it, mark its pages, leave it on your bookshelf until you have a revelation…all this is only possible with a printed edition of your own. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, the personal, bespoke republication of an out-of-copyright book is now very easy, This guide will show you how.

For this example, I intend to republish Volume One of Charles Collé’s memoirs on the reign of Louis XV. Any book no longer bound by the copyright laws of your country can be used for this process. To check the copyright status of a book, I recommend asking a librarian or using the Public Domain Calculators.


I – Preliminaries
II – Obtaining a PDF
III – Preparing the PDF
IV – Publishing on
V – Examples

I – Preliminaries

1 – Go to and click on the ‘My Lulu’ tab to create an account.

2 – Click ‘Start a New Project’ on the left, under the ‘My Projects’ headline, then select ‘Hardcover Book’ from the options that appear.

3 – On the next screen, fill in the form using the title and author of your chosen work, then select how visible you wish the final product to be.

4 – Select your preferred Paper Type, Size, Binding and Colour. I recommend ‘Black and White Printing’ for both cost and visibility reasons. Click ‘Save and Continue’.

5 – We now need to obtain an electronic version of the chosen text. Before leaving, note down the page-size of your chosen book type. This will be essential later.

II – Obtaining a PDF

1a – Check to see if the text you wish to publish is online, either after being scanned (which allows a facsimile to be reproduced) or after being treated with an OCR program. I can recommend the following sites for this:

1b – Download it either as a PDF or as a format you can convert to PDF here:

2a – If your chosen text is not online, find a library that has it:

  • Some libraries will be able to produce PDFs for you for a charge
  • Others will only photocopy the work for you

2b – If you have a photocopy of the work, you can convert it to PDF as follows:

  • Either use another photocopier that photocopies to PDF
  • Or, much more laboriously, scan each page, setting the output format to PDF

III – Preparing the PDF

In order for the PDF to be used as the proofs for a book, the page size must be altered to match the format required by at step I.4. In my case, this is 15.24cm x 22.86cm.

1 – Download the free program Primo PDF and install it.

2 – Download Acrobat Reader, if you do not have it already.

3 – Open the PDF of your chosen work in Acrobat Reader, and select File > Print…

4 – Change the Printer to PrimoPDF, then click Properties.

5 – In the ‘Document Properties’ window, go to the Paper/Quality tab and change Color to ‘Black & White’, then click ‘Advanced…’

6 – In the ‘Advanced Options’ window, select ‘PostScript Custom Page Size’, a new window will appear.

7 – In the ‘PostScript Custom Page Size Definition’ window, change the width and the height values to those you noted down from earlier (I.5), then close the window by clicking OK.

(7b – Optional: Back in the ‘Advanced Options’ window, change the ‘Print Quality’ to 96dpi. This prevents the finished PDF from becoming too large.)

8 – Click ‘OK to close ‘Advanced Options’ and click OK to close ‘Document Properties’.

(8b – Optional: If you wish to remove certain pages from the PDF, like the scan of the book cover, use the ‘Pages to Print’ option to create a selection once you’re back in the ‘Print’ window. Note that Adobe Reader’s page-numbering can be confusing: use the preview function and the page numbers inside brackets as a way of guiding you.)

9 – Click Print. This may take some time, and may ask too much of your computer. If the latter is the case, try closing all other programs, and, if the problem persists, consider altering the print quality of the PDF as outlined in step 7b.

10 – When Adobe Reader finishes, Primo PDF appears. Click on the Custom icon.

11 – In the ‘Custom PDF Setting’ window, select ‘Average’ in the Downsampling drop-down menu, and then make sure all images above 70PPI are downsampled to 50PPI (the higher this last number is, the larger the final file).

12 – Click on the ‘Grayscale’ icon and repeat step 11 here. Click OK to close the window.

13 – Click ‘Create PDF’ and choose a suitable filename and location. The conversion process may, again, take some time: ignore Windows’ declarations that Primo PDF is not responding.

14 – Make sure to check how readable your new PDF is: if the text is too blurred, you may have to increase the resolution by reversing steps III.7b and III.11.

15 – Once you have a legible, properly-sized PDF, you’re now ready to republish…

IV Publishing on

There are numerous print-on-demand services available online, and this guide has been using simply because the service is extremely simple and familiar to me. It also has frequent sales, during which time printing costs can drop by 15% or more.

1 – Return to, log in and navigate to the ‘Upload’ screen of your project.

2 – Click on choose file and navigate to your prepared PDF. Then click upload. Once again, this may take a moment. If your file is too big, consider following lulu’s instructions about using FTP.

3 – The rest of the lulu process is fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll finish with a few tips:

  • Make sure you use high-resolution images for your covers. If you need to edit the dimensions of an existing image, consider the freely-available GIMP editor.
  • When publishing the work give as many keywords as possible; if you can, use a CC BY 3.0 Creative Commons licence too.

And that’s everything! If you follow this guide and publish something, do let me know about it. Either by commenting or by telling me on twitter.


Here are a few of my efforts:

The Complete Works of Jean-François Ducis (1827)

Antoine de la Place, Théâtre Anglois (1749)

4 thoughts on “Reprinting lost books…”

  1. Several years ago I sent PDFs from Google Books directly to Lulu and I ended up with a grey background to the part of the page which was the scanned image of the text. I also sent my own scanned book to Lulu at some point, with the same result. Lightning Source will convert the same book (which was produced in Open Office) automatically without me doing any preparation, and produce a very creditable result which one reader described as a “very well-produced and readable reprint”.

    What I want to know is, if I use your Primo PDF method on PDFs from Google Books,, etc, will I get a PDF that I can send to Lulu which will not result in a grey background to the scanned images of text?

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