Saal Digital Photobook
I was very generously given a £100 voucher by Saal Digital to use towards a photobook in their professional line, and took the opportunity to publish some of my butterfly photos and some of my ramblings. I've never done a book of my own images before, and was really keen to try it out.
Am I obsessed with butterfly photography?
First things first, I downloaded the book designer software to my PC - all very straightforward, and the layout of the software is similar to others like Blurb or Bob Books, which I have used for calendars before. There are a number of size, cover material and paper options. You can also get a fancy box to keep the book in, but they seem excessive unless the book is a gift, or perhaps to mark an occasion like a wedding, where keeping it pristine is important.
I went with the matte photo paper - there's a gloss and a high end print matte - not sure what that means, but it describes it as no reflections and no fingerprints. The matte photo paper is terrific - but it isn't matte, it's more like an oyster/lustre finish, but wonderfully heavy and quality feeling. I really don't think you'd want a photo book with anything glossier though.
I chose a 30cm x 21cm landscape book, and went with the fancy looking acrylic cover. I don't think I would have chosen this cover if I was paying for a book myself, but since this was a trial I decided to give it a go, and it is absolutely stunning. Pictures don't do it justice, but it makes the book immediately stick out as a quality product. I was afraid it would look a bit gimmicky, but i'm delighted I went for it!
The acrylic cover option makes the book stand out from everything else.
Now a couple of small negatives - I don't like using templates to design things like this, and it's great that the software has an option to start from a blank canvas and do all the layout yourself. However, this meant I had to add page numbers manually, page by page. I think for a high end product like this a lot of users will design it from scratch, and to be able to add page numbers in one go would be helpful. My second gripe is the lack of a blank paper sheet at the start and finish of the book. The inside covers are photo paper, but I don't think anyone would want to start the book immediately on the inside cover. Most photobooks have a non-photo paper sheet first, and then the photo paper starts from I guess page 4, and the same at the back - a spare leaf and the inside back cover wouldn't be used. I started on page 2, and ended on the 2nd last page, so only the inside covers are blank, but it's not ideal. You can just leave a blank page, but it costs extra per page at this stage - for blank pages that seems like a waste of money.
As an additional concern, I have now re-read my book and found several typos - this is obviously my own fault. I reloaded the book in the software, and noted that the spellcheck has highlighted adjacent words as miss-spelled, and as a result draws your attention to a word that is correct, and makes it REALLY easy to miss the fact the adjacent word is wrong.
One thing I have learned in photography over the last few years is how to prepare my images for print. Home printing is a rewarding process, but a steep learning curve. I would say that the printing in the photobook reflects what I have learned myself - what looks good on screen can often be very heavy and dull on paper. The images from 2020 in the book are noticeably brighter than the older images I used - which suggests to me that the print quality is quite accurate and I've improved in my editing skills. I do feel that yellows and oranges in particular feel a fraction dull and muddy. As with all photo printing though, the images look substantially better in natural light than they do under artificial light. I would perhaps say that it is worth bumping up the exposure and the vibrance of images a fraction before putting them into your book - as you would typically do before printing them for an exhibition or to put on the wall.
I feel that oranges and yellows are slightly muddy - that is most likely my editing - having seen the book I would approach my final edits slightly differently next time.
Many printing companies add an automatic processing to images to make them print better, and only some actively offer the ability to turn it off. I rather like the fact that Saal print what you give them, and pretty accurately too. I might pay more attention to the individual images in future therefore, and ensure that they are all prepared for print with similar luminosity and vibrance throughout.
The software offers a decent range of fonts, and quality of text printing is outstanding.
Using the manual design process, page numbers have to be added manually too.
I did email Saal during preparation of my book to ask if there was an easy way to do this, and they responded very quickly to say that I could import what I had done into one of the templates - it seemed a faff, and easier to add them manually, but I note that they did reply with positive advice very promptly.
Even in manual mode though, resizing images is a doddle, and the logical snap-to feature makes aligning them very easy to do - something that is far from easy in rival software like Blurb.
The book is 'lay flat', and feels very well put together. I didn't put any full page spreads in it, but if I did another book I would have no hesitation to do so.
This is almost certainly the best quality photobook I have ever seen, and I suppose I would describe it as a beautifully bound set of photographs rather than a photobook - the print and paper quality is that good. Expensive - yes - my book has 78 pages and the acrylic cover, and came to £132 plus postage - fine with £100 off, but not something you would buy very often. A book would be an amazing way to produce something special like a wedding album or a memory of a holiday, or a portfolio piece to show to clients if you are a professional photographer. They do offer less expensive products for more everyday projects.
I ordered my book on Friday the 24th July, and it arrived on Tuesday the 28th - despite their estimate of the 3rd August! Frankly I cannot believe they did it that quickly, since it was printed in Germany! Postage came with full tracking information too, down to the hour of delivery.
In summary therefore, this is 100% a five star product, and a five star process. If you are looking for a really special photobook, I really struggle to see how it could be much better - the software is excellent, the print quality and construction sublime and the process excellent. The only downside is the price, but it's not the kind of thing you would order every day, and as a way to keep treasured memories, or show off your portfolio, it is absolutely top of the tree.
They do seem to regularly offer deals and incentives on social media - if you see an advert, follow it up, you might get £100 voucher too! It seems that their advertising is based very much around positive customer reviews, hence the voucher campaigns, but to me that just indicates that they are confident that the product is better than their competitors, and I wouldn't disagree with that at all!