- Good quality printing
- Simple to use design software
- Fast delivery
- Great customer service
- Paper was thicker than I expected
(ok, I’m clutching at straws here to find something bad to say!)
I’ve been planning to review Saal Digital’s photobook service for some time now, but of course, as usual, I’ve been busy with other projects. Thankfully, I’ve managed to make some time to get on with it.
As full disclosure, Saal Digital provided me with a £40 voucher to use with the proviso that I’d write an honest, unbiased review — their offer hasn’t influenced my opinion, they have no veto on anything I write/say, and what follows are my honest opinions on their photobook service.
I’ve used Saal Digital for large photo printing previously, and I love the quality of their prints, so when I was offered the chance to try out their photobook service, I jumped at the opportunity. I’d been thinking of creating a photobook as a kind of collection of images that I’d want to show off, almost like a physical portfolio, but something akin to a collection that I’d be happy to exhibit. I was still vague in what I wanted to achieve, but I knew I wanted to create a photobook.
Like I said, I had already used Saal Digital, so I already had their design software on my computer, but downloading their all-in-one design/offline shop application is quick and easy anyway. It’s an Adobe Air Application, which does mean there’s no support for Linux (you have to use Saal Digital’s direct upload facility instead), but Windows and Mac users will be fine.
I decided on a 19cm x 19cm square photobook, glossy hard cover, glossy photo paper, 36 pages.
Their photobook designs have a lay-flat style, meaning that when opened, there isn’t a bulging curve down the centre of the book. Thinking about this, I chose the square layout with a plan to have some landscape images spanning over two pages.
In the end I didn’t. Not because their design software doesn’t support it, just that in the end I laid them out differently, that’s all.
The design software is very simple to use, very much a drag-and-drop, click, edit, preview, save. There are several layout designs pre-built into the software, so you can quickly include a directory of images and they are automatically laid out for you. You can increase or decrease the number of pages, insert, replace, move images and pages around. There’s nothing to it, and you don’t need any knowledge of image editing to get things done. It tells you if an image is too low a quality to be used for printing, there are indicators for when an image is centred on a page, it’s quick and easy to change alignment settings.
Almost too simple.
And here’s where it all fell down. Not with Saal Digital or their software you understand, but with my own curating abilities.
I thought I had everything ready, I was convinced I had a cool collection of images, but when I brought them together, they just didn’t gel. I guess you could say that the Saal Digital design software helped me realise how disjointed my collection of images was; it made me realise there was a barely tenuous theme.
Not to worry, I still forged ahead, grabbing images from my varied, eclectic choice of subject matter, and moved them around until it kind of fell into place — I had three sections, “Abandoned” (abstract photographs of items people have thrown out on the street), “Treason” (a collection of various tree photos, mostly in winter), and “Portraits” (posed people shots, both in and out of a studio).
The application handles the billing and ordering processing as well as design, and so it’s just a matter of waiting for your photobook to get printed and arrive through the letterbox. I think I had to wait 4 working days, which considering Saal Digital are based in Germany and I’m in UK, I was quite impressed.
I really enjoy black and white photography, particularly high contrast B&W, so I was hoping to get some good deep blacks from the printing. I wasn’t disappointed. To be honest, the few colour photos I included (mostly portraits) came out just perfect too; the skin tones were as I wanted (i.e. they may not be exactly to other people’s taste, but what I saw on my screen matched the resulting prints. Of course, I have a colour calibrated monitor on which I do all my edits, so I wouldn’t have expected anything less), and all graduated tones came out smooth without any hint of banding.
The one thing that quite shocked me (ok, maybe shock is too strong a word, but it was definitely a surprise) was the thickness of the paper used in the photobook. For some reason I was expecting something really thin, but instead each page was a wonderful thickness, much thicker than the average photo paper, kind of like a thick cereal-box cardboard thickness. Saal Digital have an extra thick version of their photobooks — I can’t even imagine why this would be needed, going by the thickness of their standard offering.
The finish on the book is very professional, not just the printing on each page, but the binding, the covering etc. makes it look like the book will last many years of handling. One thing to make note of, is that there is no fly leaf, so your design starts from the inside front and back cover. If you want a fly leaf, you simply have to leave a blank page at the start and end. And although I left the requisite empty page at the start of my book, my final page was printed on the inside back cover … I have no idea why I overlooked that, but hey ho, it’s not Saal Digital’s fault, it was all my own doing 🙂
Overall I was really impressed with the photobook; the quality of print, the ease of design, the fast delivery. All in all, a great experience. The only misgiving I have is my own ability to collate a suitably consistent collection of photos. I’ve heard that curation is an art; it’s a skill I obviously lack!
Are there cheaper options on the market? Probably.
Are there better quality products available from other suppliers? Probably not.
Would I use them again to print a photobook? Most definitely … but next time I’ll make sure I collate, review, and curate my images before I start the design process …