In June 2020 I was given the opportunity to receive one of Saal Digital’s Professional Line Photobooks in exchange for some feedback on the product. I have no affiliation with Saal Digital and will be completely unbiased in my review but in the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that Saal Digital covered all the costs.
Saal offers a range of methods to go about creating your book. You can use your preferred design software (templates for Photoshop CC and InDesign CC are provided) and upload as a PDF, you can download apps for iOS or Android devices or you can install Saal’s software on Mac or Windows. I chose to install their software (Windows 10), which also happens to be their recommended method.
Getting started with the software was straightforward enough. A series of option screens guide you through the initial steps. The software caters for a whole range of Saal’s different products so the first thing was to choose the Professional Line Photobook. The next choice is the size (I chose 30 x 21cm). Five sizes are available – 1 portrait, 2 landscape and 2 square. Each size choice also has a different aspect ratio which is something to consider when choosing. Most of my photos are in a 3:2 aspect ratio so the 30 x 21cm book was the best match for me and is a nice size for a ‘coffee table book’. For the cover style I chose acrylic and black leather and for the pages I chose ‘HighEnd print matte’.
Obviously the most time consuming part of the process is laying out the pages and flow of your book design. The software makes this all pretty intuitive and easy though. You can drag photos straight from Windows Explorer on to your page. The photos don’t all have to be from one place – I pulled them in from multiple directories across a number of hard drives. An AutoLayout function will do its best to optimise the layout of each page according to the number of photos on the page, but this can be disabled on a per page basis, so that you can tweak sizes and positions exactly how you’d like them. The AutoLayout function actually does a nice job, and adjusts the layout on the fly as you add extra images. Saal’s invitation to create a book came with a time limit, which meant that I didn’t get to spend as long designing it as I might perhaps have liked – I had plenty of time but I left designing the book until the last minute! Even without the benefit of time for me to be a little more creative, at least the Saal software made it easy for me to ensure that at least everything was in the right place and everything lined up. New pages can be inserted or unwanted pages deleted and pages can be dragged in to a different order. As the number of pages change, so does the price, and the software keeps a running total of the cost of your project, making it easy to see what it would cost to choose a different paper type, gift box, etc.
After a final check that everything is in place, there are no spelling mistakes, etc, the order is ready to be placed. The software gives you a final preview of your design, the opportunity to make changes, then you’re taken to the checkout. Once payment is made the software begins the process of uploading all your files. In my case this was nearly 400mb of data. I’m on a very fast connection so this was quick, but regardless of your connection speed, you should be using the highest quality images you can. I’m in the UK and Saal-digital are based in Germany. My predicted delivery date was 8 days later…
6 days later (2 days early) the book arrived. Protected by a removable film to avoid scratching, then placed in a foam protective wallet, the book survived the delivery process in perfect condition. First impressions were very good – the acrylic cover is really thick and solid, and really makes your cover image pop. Where the acrylic meets the leather everything is very clean – no lumpy seams, no sign of gluing or stitching. The binding has been cleverly done so that no matter where you open the book, the pages will lie flat. This means that designing your book so that images stretch beyond the confines of one page is not only possible; it actually looks really good. The pages are particularly thick with a matte texture which cuts reflection completely. I can’t fault Saal on the book’s construction or level of finish.
Perhaps most importantly of all, image reproduction is superb. Saal provides a whole list of ICC profiles but I must admit that I didn’t apply them to my images, instead submitting them as they were (SRGB). Despite that, the colour accuracy is excellent. If I were to offer one word of caution it would be to avoid using the ‘image enhancement’ option. It’s a single tick-box which can be applied on a per image basis, but the software doesn’t seem to offer a live preview of the resulting changes. The software does also offer some handy controls to adjust contrast, brightness, saturation, etc with what to me seemed far more predictable and verifiable results than the enhancement option provides.
To conclude, the entire process was slick and easy, thanks largely to Saal’s excellent bespoke software. Production of the book and delivery were both super quick and the end product is of a very high quality. The cost of my book was around £110. On the strength of my experience and the standard of the final book I’d happily recommend the service.