Photobooks

First of all, an apology. Sorry that I’ve been very quiet of late. For the past few months my life as been a bit crazy, there’s been a lot of time spent at work, and at home I’ve been renovating a house that I’ve recently bought.

Anyway, with that dealt with, I want to talk a bit more about my photography. I think that we are all a bit (lot?) guilty of not printing our photos any more. I think that photo albums have a real tangible value that we’ve lost now that digital photography has taken over. I have access to all of my digital photos at the touch of a button, or a swipe of a screen, but I rarely, if ever, go and look back at images I took even a year ago.

There is also the danger that if you don’t back up your pictures, a single faulty hard drive, or stolen computer, phone etc. is all it would take to lose every picture you have! If you aren’t backing up your pictures then you really should.

A few weeks ago, I was approached by Saal Digital to review their photobook offering. Never one to turn down an opportunity for free stuff and frustrated by my lack of printed photos, I couldn’t wait to take them up on the offer. In exchange for my (impartial) review, they gave me the book for free.

The first thing that you need to do in this case is find some pictures that you want to print out. Of course, depending on how you store your pictures this will either be very easy, or very hard. Luckily, I am pretty good at this sort of thing and have catalogued my images fairly well, with star ratings and key words. I chose to do a mini portfolio book, showing my favourite images from the past couple of years.

Saal Digital have a variety of ways to design your photobook; you can use Adobe InDesign or Photoshop, if you are so inclined, and Saal provide suitable templates to help you with this. If you are not an InDesign or Photoshop wiz, you can use any program you like, as long as it conforms to the specifications posted on the Saal website. Or, if you can’t be bothered with any of that, Saal have created their own software for laying out photobooks, or any of their other products (wall art, post cards etc.).

I chose the easy route and used Saal’s own software, and for the most part, I have to say that I’m impressed. It allows a clean, uninterrupted workflow from importing your images to sending the resulting, formatted book to Saal’s servers. The whole experience was refreshingly stress free. The software is a free download from the Saal website and uses Adobe’s Air plugin, which makes the software easily multi-platform between Windows and Mac. It is worth noting that the Air platform is likely to be phased out eventually, as it is based on Flash, which has now been officially put out to pasture.

The software starts with a fairly simple splash screen, asking what type of product it is that you want to create. Saal’s impressive offering is showcased here, along with prices and advice on what each of the products are and the options that are available. In my case, I chose to create a photobook.

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Straight off, you are asked what sort of book you would like to create, and given various options. I have to say, I was very impressed at the range of sizes and cover options. You can choose from the standard hardback book style (which I went with), as well as leather bound covers and padded covers. This service would be excellent for phonebooks of special occasions and I would go as far as weddings. I chose to go with a 19cm square design with “Premium Matte” pages and a standard gloss cover.

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Once you have decided on a type of book, you are given a range of templates to choose from, many of which look very professional. In each template, there are a range of page styles. It is worth noting here that Saal claim that their books have a lie flat design, meaning that your images can flow across the spine with impunity. I made sure to test this while creating my design.

The set designs can be customised easily with new fonts and colours, although I did note that the range of fonts available was very limited. My branding tends to lean towards the Helvetica Neue font group but this was absent, sadly, from the selection. Luckily, it is fairly easy to create a caption in Photoshop with a transparent background (saved as .png) and import this into the Saal software. Frustrating, but not a deal breaker. The software gives great tips about dealing with the bleed, which if you are not a print expert will not be an obvious thing to watch out for. For those of you that don’t understand what the bleed is, in terms of printing, it is the area outside the finished page. Your image should extend past the edge of the page so that, when the page is cut you get a picture that extends all the way to the edge. If you line your picture up to the edge exactly, it is likely that, when the page is cut, you will end up with a white edge to the page.

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If I was nit picking, I would say that the interface has a lot of chrome, that is, a lot of the screen space is taken up with buttons and controls. On a large, 1080p screen this is less noticeable but on a smaller 13″ screen, like a lot of notebooks out there have, it becomes quite cramped on screen.

One you have finished your design, you can save it as a pdf file, save it inside Saal’s own software as a project and/or submit it directly to the Saal serves for printing. Once you have done this and payment has been taken (all directly within the app) all you need to do is wait. Turnaround times are impressively fast; I received my book in around 3 days after submitting the order.

What do I think of the finished results? I have to say, once again, that I’m very impressed. Print quality and colour accuracy are excellent. The flat spine really does work, the page spreads do fold perfectly flat, especially good if you want to showcase a panoramic image. The packaging was very good and the book arrived in perfect condition.

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Overall, I was impressed with my experience of Saal Digital and will definitely be using them again in the future. I’m thinking of getting some wall art printed next, the range of finishes looks very interesting…