As a professional photographer I create thousands of images but only a small number ever get a physical print and then mostly it is in magazines or marketing materials from my clients rather than anything I have printed.
I more recently I have been making photo books for weddings. The look on their face when they see a quality photo book, instead of the plastic sheets with loose photos slotted in, they may have been expecting is priceless. I have also printed a couple of portfolio books for myself.
I have used several companies for prints with varying results so when Saal Digital asked me to review their service I thought it was a good opportunity to see what they had to offer.
Overall I highly recommend Saal Digital. Although the software takes a bit of getting used to the end result is fantastic and the pricing is fair.
The first step in the process of creating a photobook is choosing the images. I always do this in Lightroom. Some companies have a plugin for lightroom so you can author your book directly in there, others require you to upload them to a web app. Saal have their own standalone software you need to download and install.
I prefer the installed software option as having to upload hundreds of megabytes of photos and then navigate through them in your browser is a slow process. Also the standalone software allows more flexibility/features than can be achieved in a lightroom plugin so overall off to a good start.
The software itself seems to be geared towards consumers making family photo albums rather than professional photographers with the default layouts being a bit cheesy for my tastes. Fortunately, you can easily create your own layouts or just hand place everything. The speed at accessing the photos was not as quick as I’d expect considering they were on my local machine so navigation was initially slow. Note that although I am using a powerful PC I have over 100,000 images which is probably more than most so your experience may vary.
The drag and drop interface was fairly intuitive and I had my first pages set up quickly. Adding text overlays is simple enough but you cannot access the fonts on your computer which I think is a missed opportunity for a desktop app. Thankfully, Saal’s selection of fonts should cover most needs with a mix of formal to hand writing style scripts – just avoid comic sans 🙂 .
UPDATE: I have since found that they offer a pro service where you can upload pre-laid out work you create in your own software such as InDesign or Photoshop. They even provide a plugin for those apps to help with making the layout. See Pro Zone
Once my masterpiece was complete the ordering process was straightforward. Right within the app you choose your print options including what kind of finish you want (glossy/matte) and if the cover is padded etc. The options will vary depending on what product you are making. There is also extras available like gift boxes. Throughout the process it is very clear what you are ordering, how much it will cost and what the next step is. The final step is uploading the designed photobook and images.
A nice touch is the app lets you either create a PDF or once you have ordered the book can be shared an online for a limited time which you can extend for free when it gets close to expiry. You can view the online version of my photobook here. This is a great option if you have ordered it as a gift but it won’t be delivered on time – you can at least give them a digital copy and let them know it’s on it’s way.
Once complete delivery was quick, shipped within 2 days and received a few days after that.
The print quality is the single most important category for me. If the software service and price is amazing but the print quality is poor then I have no use for it. There is nothing worse than agonising over shooting an editing an image to be sharp and have accurate colours for the printers to return fuzzy off colour images in print. Happily this is where Saal Digital excelled.
Sharpness and detail
The first thing that stands out is how sharp and detailed the images are. Nice crisp images with fine detail in both the shadows and highlights. I went for a glossy finish so in lower lights the images has stronger contrast as the blacks become deeper and have less detail I imagine a matte finish would have less of an issue with this but for the images I was creating they look really good like this anyway. In normal or bright lighting fine detail can be seen throughout. The glossy finish does mean some reflections/shine appears if you have strong uneven lighting around but not enough to disturb you from enjoying the images.
The colours are exactly what I wanted. Accurate skin tones, dresses even lighting with colour gels. The colours are vivid or subdued when they should be with accurate saturation even in the reds which has been a problem for some printers. The blacks and whites are clean and there is no muddying or bleeding of colours I can detect. In fact as a test I used white test which can leads to them being hard to read as the colours bleed into the white area but text was sharp and clear. Very impressed.
Paper, texture and grain
The paper was a medium thickness card – this feels much more solid than some of the paper print books that some cheap photo books use. It isn’t the thickest I’ve seen but it is enough to keep the pages rigid and looks like it will last. Saal Digital do offer a XT version of their book with thicker pages. On the gloss finish there is no texture – it is smooth and slick. The images as mention are crisp and sharp with no pixellation or grain. Printing accross the center fold causes no loss or misalignment in image – the book can lay flat on any page and there is only the slight crease noticable in the center.
Value for money
Saal Digital offer good value for money. The only places I have seen that offer cheaper or larger sizes for one off prints like this at a lower price are no where near the quality of finish. They also have introductory offers for new customers so definitely take advantage of those and get a real bargain.
Saal Digital have impressed me with the quality of of their photobooks. I would trust them with my client work due to the accuracy and sharpness of the print and the quality of the materials used. I am happy to recommend them.
UPDATE: Since writing this review I have revisited the software and see that they offer more layouts depending on the options you choose initially with more available for download.