I recently shot a series of photos during the West Coast wildfires that I wanted to present cohesively instead of the usual Instagram post or gallery on my site. I decided to checkout out Saal Digital's photo books after seeing they were offering vouchers to individuals wanting to test their Professional Line photo books. I filled out the application and was granted the $150 voucher to test the Professional Line product. The following is a review of the process to build the book and the book itself.
If you're unfamiliar with Saal Digital, they are a German printing company that offers a range of photo products from prints to wall art to photo booklets and photo books. I've seen their ads on Instagram and actually bookmarked one some time ago when I was wanting to create a coffee table book of my own. So I guess I was already drawn to their products and IG's algorithm (yikes!) must have pushed them to me after looking at other photo books. Nevertheless, the timing was perfect (double yikes!) because I had a series I wanted to see printed as a whole. After looking at their Professional Line photo books online, I was even more excited to give their books a try. I decided I would go extra large by opting for the 16x12 inch book with the linen cover and matte photo paper. This decision would cost me more than the $150 voucher, but I wanted to go big!
Building the book
I downloaded Saal's software to my Mac (they also support Windows) and grabbed their ICC profile so I could test my photos in Lightroom. After installing the software, I had the option to choose from pre-built layouts or to customize and make the pages my own. I decided to start with the Basic template and then make some slight adjustments along the way.
What I liked about the software was how easy it was to drop photos into the pages. Removing a photo would cause any remaining photos to snap into full size positions or shift around slightly. It was mildly frustrating at times, but the purpose is to put the book into a format that would still be printable if you somehow missed the change. That being said, if the image aspect ratio doesn't match the template there is some cropping that may require adjustment based on personal preference. As I edited, I appreciated the auto-save feature, preview mode, and the ability to save versions of my book. It should go without saying, that even with all these features you must check and re-check work. I went through many rounds of checking and would still find something I missed. For instance, a photo completely out of order.
There are two areas where I wish the software was a little easier to use: Zooming and scrolling. I did most of the work on a laptop in front of the TV, so using a small screen required heavy use of these tools to see what I was doing. Perhaps if I had been using my external monitor I wouldn't be including this feedback?
First, zooming doesn't work with the pinch gesture on my touchpad so I had to use the built in zoom scrubber. I found zooming to be really sensitive so hitting a specific size was really difficult. Additionally, the lack of increments on the scrubber and its small size made zooming unpredictable and difficult to get exact. I often had to use the zoom-to-fit button (on the very right of the inset screen) to return to the size appropriate for my screen width.
Second, when scrolling through the pages of the book I wished the scrollbars worked with my trackpad versus me having to tap and drag the scrollbar.
Overall, I found the software easy to use and after many rounds of editing, I was ready to purchase the book.
Holding the book
Eight days after placing my order the book arrived at my doorstep! I excitedly took it to the kitchen counter to open it up. The book was well-protected in thick cardboard and a foam sleeve. Upon removing the book from the sleeve, I was wowed by the quality of the linen cover, the printed book title, and lack of any logos. It felt high quality and I hadn't even opened it yet.
As I lifted the cover, I heard and felt the satisfying crackling of fresh pages and binding being opened for the first time. The thick matte photo paper has a nice thickness and weight in-hand, and the quality of the prints are exceptional.
Opening the book flat on a surface is where the quality of the build really shines. You can see how there are no gutters thanks to their Layflat binding. This makes each turn of the page an absolute delight, especially when it comes to the panoramas. Combine this with the 16x12 book size and high quality prints and the experience is completely immersive. I definitely felt the extra spend to get the larger format was well worth it.
I now have my very own coffee table book that I'm proud of. In fact, I want to create one of these books for each of my series to showcase, but will need to be mindful of getting too carried away. This 26 page book was $194.49 before taxes. I would love to have this level of quality as an option for my customers to order if I could get the cost significantly down.
Overall, I couldn't be happier with it! If you're looking to have your photos professionally captured in a book or want to represent your work as a portfolio, you won't be let down by Saal's Professional Line.
Cover to cover
Below, is the full book experience. Apologies for the dark lighting. It was overcast and I didn't have strong natural light when I took these. Also, check out the gallery for this series.