Recently I spotted an advert asking for photographers to complete a product review in exchange for a free photobook. Since I have been putting together a book of my favourite prints, almost yearly, I figured it would be an appropriate test. This would, as you’ll read on, come from Saal Digital and actually cost me around £10 (as I chose to order a slightly better book than the basic photobook and I had to add postage). Keep reading and you’ll see my review below. First however, I think it is appropriate to explain my past record of printing photobooks.
I have been printing photobooks since 2011 and have used a variety of different photo labs online. Starting with Photobox, I would always wait to get one of their special offers of a 100page photobook for approximately £30. For me at that point I could put together a catalogue of photos from a year in the life of my children. Quality wise? They were the first books I had printed and I was very pleased with them… but over time as my photos have improved, my need for something better quality has also increased.
So when I needed a photobook for my Brother-in-Law’s wedding photos I turned to Photobox again and produced a lay-flat book. It was 16inch square and cost me nearly £60 (approximately 30 pages in total). So, these books were double the price, for a third of the pages (but they were larger…) so not horrendous cost all in all. This was the first time I had produced something that needed to be good enough to sell, after all it was a wedding gift. It arrived within a couple of weeks but sadly the glue holding the pages to the cover was poor and came loose almost immediately. I ordered it with a case and that was bashed too. Now full credit to Photobox for replacing it without any major issues. I do wonder though, if quality control is pretty poor with these large-scale labs. I’ve had similar problems with Max Speilmann (Tesco) with canvases and likewise they’d just send me another canvas and say sorry. The question is, should it be expected that they’ll arrive like this? I don’t think so.
Following those experiences with Photobox I decided my next photobook would come from a Groupon offer I found which allowed me to produce books from PrinterPix… seemingly out of this world pricing - 30 pages for £9, or even better still, £6 got me a ring bound book. That was until they arrived. Both had to be reproduced because of lines on the print, even the print was pixelated when my originals were not. . They owned up to their error and apologised and explained that my book was printed towards the end of the maintenance cycle of the printer, and they had since changed their processes, but still… if you worked there, you would surely just flick through the pages and see lines all over the photos and reject it, so either quality control was poor OR there was none! Either way I’ll never be using PrinterPix again. Great if you’ve not got high expectations but the books were much worse quality than I’d had before. So how exactly were they worse? Well the pages were thinner, the print was grainier, the covers were not as neat and you could tell that you were buying a cheaper product. It wasn’t just on offer at a low price, it really was not a comparable product to that we’d seen previously from Photobox for example.
On to the next lab. I’ve been getting prints from Simlab for the last year and really love the quality of just their basic prints on Lustre or Gloss, and if I wanted to spend more I could have metallic paper etc for a little more. So, with that in mind… and about 100 prints under my belt it was time for the next photobook.
So I’ve now welcomed to the world, Saal Digital. As I’ve said before this book was a ‘freebie’ but actually cost me £9 (extras + postage). All in, it should have cost £29 so I basically got a £20 voucher to review their photobook. So, what’s it like and how does it compare…
Software / Creation .
SaalDesignSoftware interface is well designed and easy to use.
The first thing with Saal I noticed is that you had to download the software to use with Saal. Immediately I thought, cool no more spending days uploading my photos (imagine how long it took me to upload enough photos for a 100 page book and find them in the right order etc… I had to date them all so they appeared online in an order I could sort them by!). I installed the software and I had a play. It was instantly much nicer to use than both Photobox and PrinterPix’s website. I could just find my photos and insert them. Moving the photos around on the page was easy too. Not quite as easy as something like microsoft publisher, but i was happy and it didn’t take long to figure out the quirks. I didn’t have a great deal of time so I used a feature which made the book and guessed how I would want it laid out, based on what I had uploaded. It seemed to group shots well, into date order, so shots taken on the same day seemed to be together. I had to move a few around as it didn’t pay much attention to the original file orientation… in fact some portrait shots ended up cropped to landscape orientation missing important detail. It didn’t take too long to rectify this though. So I finished my book and I had not noticed that the software complained about the quality of any of the photos.. but when it arrived I saw the error of my ways … I uploaded by mistake a 1400x1050 px photo I submitted to my camera club as a digital projected image, rather than a normal 16 Mpixel file. It’s fine, but notable since the photo covered a whole page … so perhaps you might want to pay closer attention to yours if you use them.
The software worked well otherwise… I placed the order through it and the sign up was simple.
Now I’m going to say I ordered my book just before Christmas, so I was not expecting an immediate delivery… however it was not sent out until between Christmas and New Year and that is when I realised it was coming from Germany. Compare that with Simlab who I’d been using for prints and received next day, I was shocked to find it took a few more days and I was anxious to see my photobook. I got a message saying it was on it’s way but when checking the website tracking it knew nothing of my parcel. When I queried the courier they took so long to get back to me, that my parcel was delivered when I finally received information with the correct tracking ID! I put all this down to Christmas period…
So the book I ordered was an A4 Book, portrait orientation, with lay-flat glossy pages. When it arrived I was shocked (in a good way!) by it’s quality. The pages were nice and thick. There was no paper first page… the photos started from the back of the front cover. Totally flat gloss finish and printed on both sides of the paper. Each page was better than any print I have had printed so far. I realised quickly that it would get finger prints on, but where I’m worried I might ruin a photopaper print, I could happily wipe finger print marks off with my sleeve. Colours were spot on, vibrant reds and on darker images, the details were not lost.
I chose to have a photo front cover. It too was of equal quality to the inside. It was printed to the edges. Closed, the book feels very well made and better than most hardback books of that size. This may have a lot to do with the fact that the pages are thicker as they provide a lot of additional stability.
The only marking on it was a QR Code on the back page.. otherwise nothing else to say where it had come from, great if you are producing it for a client. Both PrinterPix and Photobox wanted £5 extra to remove that.
Would I buy another product from Saal Digital? Absolutely! I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt on the shipping (as it was over Christmas).
Would I get this photobook again? Definitely! £30 doesn’t break the bank. While A4 isn’t a large book, double page makes an A3 print which is nice to look at.
All in all, a very pleasing ‘purchase’!
For us photographers, Saal offer a discount scheme also which will also help provide a good value to the customer.
If i were to score each lab out of 10 … from what i’ve learned and written about here. I would score them as follows.
Saal Digital 9/10
I’m yet to test Simlab’s Photobook offering but that will be on my radar next.
If you have any questions please drop me an email.
If you want a link to the saal digital website go here http://www.saal-digital.co.uk/photobook/
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