Review: Saal Professional Photobook

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A few weeks ago I came across an opportunity on instagram to try a photobook from Saal Digital. I had never heard of them, but their product galley looked very impressive. In the past I have made photobooks at home using a unibind machine, but I was intrigued by Saal Digital's lay flat pages and acrylic covers. So I filled out an application and was quickly granted a voucher to create a Professional Line Photobook

Design Options

There are several options to make your photobook.

 - Design it in software such as Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, or Lightroom then upload the PDF. 

 - Use the software provided by Saal Digital.

Saal Design Software

For my DIY photobooks I have used the Lightroom book module, but I have found it to be inflexible and finicky. For the Saal Professional Photobook I decided to use the Saal Design Software. By using their software I also hoped I would get the best reproduction of my design.

Like any new piece of software there was a learning curve, but Saal provides some basic tutorials to help you get started. After setting up the software and getting acclimated I was ready to begin. In my experience, creating a photobook is quite a bit of work; you get out of a photobook what you put into it. The software does offer some basic templates and auto layout features, making it simple to create a crisp, professional portfolio. But depending on the look you are going for, you may want to design your own. I opted to turn off auto layout and design each page more like a scrap book.

The Saal Design software is extremely flexible. Simply drag photos in from the left and it allows you to move, tilt, crop, and resize them as well as change their aspect ratio and opacity. The software has a grid overlay, a snap feature, and adjustable clearances to facilitate moving photos. It also warns you when you are too close to bleed lines to ensure that your printed product looks the same as you designed it.

Once you place your photos there are a number of different photo borders and shadows you can apply.

Photos, textures, gradients, and solid colors can all be used for the background. Color can be selected from a color picker, keyed in using hex codes, or selected using an eye dropper. 

Fonts are preloaded, but in the software settings you enable system fonts as well. 

My one gripe about the software is that one you place a photo in the book, it copies the photo over to a hidden project folder. That means that if you need to edit the photo in Photoshop or Lightroom and export the updated photo to your source folder, the photo will not update in the Saal Design Software. You will need to swap the photo as if you are placing a new photo in the photobook.

In my case I exported about 500 photos from Lightroom to maybe use in this photobook. These photos only had basic edits. As I created the photobook I  decided which of those photos I wanted to use. After designing the photobook I went back to Lightroom to edit the ~200 photos I decided to use. I then had to manually swap out all the photos in the photobook with the new exports.

Ordering Experience and Quality

Making a photobook can be a time consuming activity, it took me about two weeks,  but ordering one from Saal Digital was not. Despite being produced in Austria, my photobook arrived just 6 days after ordering. The photobook was very securely packaged.

My first impression of the photobook was the how profession and amazing the book looked. The book also has a very quality feel and a noticeable heft; this is likely due to the large acrylic sheet covering the cover photo. I imagine if you opted for one of their leather covers it would feel a little lighter. The spine feels a little soft, but this is likely due to the way the bound pages float in the spine so that the pages can lay flat. I am also slightly concerned that the acrylic cover will scratch, so I take care when moving it, or placing it on surfaces.

The print quality was on par with that of any of the the half dozen professional photo labs that I have used. The photos are crisp, the color rendition is spot on, and the paper is high quality.

Below you can see the difference between a book I made at home with a unibind machine and unibind photobooks and the Saal Digital Professional Photobook. The at home photobook has a much simpler layout and does not let itself well to multipage spread since the pages do not lay flat. In the Saal Photobook I used a more creative, scrapbook type layout which was executed perfectly by Saal. 

Final Impression

Overall I am extremely impressed with the Saal Professional Photobook. The print quality and build quality of the book are top notch. The book was produced just as I designed it in their easy to use software. I am extremely satisfied with my photobook.