Obscured

gravestones at Undecliffe Cemetery hidden by long grass
Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford
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Saal Digital Photobook Review

Saal are a German company who are branching out into the UK and in order to promote their offerings, have started to offer free photobooks in exchange for unbiased reviews. Keep a look out in your facebook feed if you fancy trying out their photobooks. (They can be found at @saal.digital.uk).

I’ve produced cheap, small paperback photobooks from a company I can’t even remember. Nothing to shout home about, but they made nice family gifts. I’ve tried Blurb, but could never get past their software, so this is the first ‘proper’ photobook I’ve created.

The Software

At first glance, the software looks very utilitarian, but once I started using it I found I could do everything I wanted without much hassle. There were a few glitches, for example, when resizing image – if I typed in a value after the decimal point the software decided to make the image giant sized. Avoiding decimal points was the only way to go, but using whole number values worked well. The same went for placement values, adding a decimal point sent the image off the page.

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Saal Design Software is simple and straightforward with some useful image controls.

Dragging and resizing images can be done with the mouse on the image and images snap to align with other images or the centre of the page. One little touch I really grew to appreciate was the ability to align images using a single page or double page, making laying objects out on the page a doddle. Saal also offer controls to auto align objects which made laying images out quick and simple. The most frustrating thing about the software was the locking of aspect ratio was unlocked by default, so resizing images was frustrating to begin with. Didn’t take long to get into the habit of locking it.

Text tools are very similar to what Blurb offer in BookWright and offer a variety of fonts, sizing, colours, etc. I would say Blurb have the slight edge when it comes to text tools, but only a very slight edge. There was nothing I felt was missing in the software in order to do what I wanted to do.

A good measure of software is whether it gets out of the way and lets you do what you need to do and Saal’s Design Software measures up favourably in that respect. (As opposed to BookWright which still annoys me more than software has a right to!)

Inserting images is easy, dragging them from a folder and onto the page in the software. If I wanted to fill the background with an image I could drop it onto the page index pane under the main layout pane and it would fill the spread. The software highlights the image quality, so it was easy to know if my images would print well or not. Another little niggle was one I find in any photobook software I’ve tried and that is if you try to place an image over another image, it will replace the one underneath. This was easy to work around though. Saal Design offers a layers panel so it was easy to arrange layers.

It offers a variety of templates, each of which can be adjusted to your needs. I played around with a template and was impressed, but chose to go with a blank layout when compiling the book.

Saal offer a variety of sizes and formats. Paperback, hardback, glossy or matte. The hardback covers can be padded and they offer a presentation box. You can select a set number of pages, but you can always choose the number of pages if the set offerings are either too few or too many. I chose an A4 landscape option – which I prefer to the 10×8 option offered by others – with a matte cover and matte inserts. No paper types are on offer other than glossy or matter photo papers.

 

The Book

The book took less than a week to arrive, which considering it came from Germany, was a fast turnaround. They state a week for delivery so I was very impressed.

The book came in a cardboard pack, much like Amazon use, and was protected with a padded sleeve and wrapped in plastic. I must confess to being awestruck at seeing the cover. The quality of the print is fantastic. No discernible bleed at the edges. The images stopped at the spine exactly as they did in the software and the whole thing looked fantastic. It has the same quality feel as any hardback photobook I’ve purchased.

The pages are heavy weight photo paper and so lay flat, (great for printing over two pages), but I would have preferred a thinner paper so the book was more like the coffee table books in my collection. Some of the images printed a little darker than on the monitor – ironically, the images captured on film came out perfectly. Text is crisp, and while the digital images a look a little lifeless, the analogue images looked stunning. Black and white images have a slight cyan tint to them – not a deal breaker, but I’d prefer something more neutral.

Overall, the quality of the book is high. As a portfolio to carry around with me, this is fantastic. If I was shooting weddings I would certainly have no issue with using Saal to compile wedding albums.

As a blogger, would this be something I would offer to interested readers? Maybe not. It doesn’t offer multiple print discounts like some publishers, or the selling options that Blurb does. Saal hold a digital copy of the project that you can share with others, but it’s not clear if the photographer takes a cut of any further sales of the project. They do offer discount prices for what they call ‘re-sellers’, but they need to consider more options if they want more photographers using their services for sales.

As someone who just wants to print their photos in a book format for themselves or as a gift for someone, I can heartily recommend Saal. Their prices are slightly cheaper than Blurb for the equivalent format/number of pages and the print quality is certainly good enough for what you pay for. Definitely worth considering.