I’ve long desired to make a coffee-table quality book of my own landscape and nature photography but hadn’t put any effort into doing so until recent months when I started seeing Saal Digital Corporation’s ads on Facebook. Saal Digital was running a $150 off promotion on photo books for eligible photographers so I started to give this project some serious thought. My research actually led me to creating a book layout through another publishing company called Milk Books. I had an entire book laid out with photos in a 11x11 inch square format when I remembered the Saal Digital ads and decided to try replicating the same layout on Saal’s publishing software to see how the software compared. I ended up doing the same exact layout more or less in 12x12 and 12x16 formats on Saal’s software for comparison. In the end, I went with the 12x16 inch landscape format book with Saal Digital because that’s the size where you can start to appreciate fine details so that’s what I’ll be reviewing here.
Saal Digital Review – Professional Line Photo Books
Book Layout Software
The software was initially a bit confusing to use and not as intuitive as Milk Books which was super easy to use because the layout templates were not flexible for the most part. Saal Digital on the other hand did offer layout templates as well but came with the option of making manual adjustments if desired. I ended up making significant layout adjustments from the base templates because if I’m going to spend time and money on a premium product then I’m going to be a perfectionist. Once I spent a day or two fumbling around making mistakes I was able to get the hang of the software and actually grew to enjoy using it. What I found most convenient about the software was that it told me exactly which dimensions the image files had to be for the layout. I didn’t see that sort of information available on Milk Books’ templates so doing final processing and sizing images on Milk Books would have required me to do some guesswork. Saal Digital’s software is definitely geared more toward the professional photographer as opposed to casual users.
When it came down to selecting photos for the book, I wanted my images to have a flow as the reader turns the page. The objective is to take the reader on a visual journey. You can't just throw a bunch of pretty pictures together and call it a book. If you really want to evaluate where you are a photographer then try putting together a book. If your scope of work is too limited or not visually diverse enough to hold the reader’s attention for more than a few pages then you probably don’t have enough material to put a coffee-table book together. I’ve created one small book in the past with Artifact Uprising and have done slideshows and videos which all require a similar sort of image selection process so I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted this book to flow. Images were grouped together by themes and transitions were grouped by compositional style and/or colors.
Aside from deciding which words to fill in the blank spaces with, I had the most difficult time with deciding on the book cover and box. To be honest, Saal Digital was heavily marketing their acrylic book covers on Facebook but I was not all enthralled by having an acrylic book cover. If you have ever handled non-museum-grade acrylic then you know that it basically scratches with even a sneeze or a sharp finger nail. Having a semi-full-bleed acrylic cover also felt a bit less than “fine art” to me so I opted for a wood look taupe cover and linen box. Simple and classy felt more appropriate for the high-price point.
Shipping & Handling
I believe the book was printed and shipped out of Nuernberg, Germany. Shipping arrived via DHL a day after leaving the facility so I was impressed by how quickly it arrived. The packaging provided was a tightly sealed cardboard box with protective wrap around the box. The total weight came out to around 8.5 lbs.
I was immediately impressed as soon as I opened the package. The white and black linen box was elegant though I wish there was an option to put a title or design on the box because there’s no indication on the outside what it is that you’re opening. The book cover was beautiful and solid. Once I turned the page I was pleased with how thick the pages felt. Unlike the lower-end book publishers, these photo books are printed on Fuji Crystal Archive silver halide papers which is the same as the fine art paper prints I sell. Having a book printed on photo-quality paper and inks is a big upgrade over CMYK press printing but it also means that the price tag is much higher as well. This is not for everyone but if you’re going to make a portfolio piece or a high-end product this is the way to go. I wanted to spare no expense when it came to making this book.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I chose the 12x16 inch landscape format book because I wanted reveal the fine details of each image. My book has a number of double-page photo spreads which span more than 31 inches wide! To put this book’s size into perspective. This book is larger than the two smallest fine art photography print sizes on my website and almost as large as my 24x36 inch prints. For two of the spreads, I chose Grand Canyon landscapes because if I’m not going to show the Grand Canyon at a large size then it’s not worth including in the book. Certain types of images work well as a thumbnail while others need to be large in order to fully appreciate. The Grand Canyon is one of those subjects.
The Professional Line photo book uses layflat binding but there’s no such thing as 100% flat when it comes to book binding. The double-page spreads are beautiful nonetheless.
With a large format book like this I utilized all of the same digital darkroom techniques from fine art printing to produce the image files. From noise reduction, up or downsizing when needed to advanced sharpening techniques I used it. If this were a low-cost, small book I probably wouldn’t have taken the time on each image but at the large size all of flaws from the image files are right there in your face so I had to take the time to produce a quality product. Even as is, there are at least two photos here that I would like to re-work if I do a future printing. I had a month to redeem this voucher so I had to work as efficiently as I could while balancing a lot of other responsibilities at home.
Ok, here’s the big question. Had I paid full price for this book it would have been more than $400. That price point is not practical to be commercially-viable so I intend for this to a portfolio piece to show at art consultations once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. I may also print more to give as a gift at some point. Aside from that, at what point do you decide to sacrifice some quality in exchange for affordability? One option is to order in bulk quantities but that’s a big financial risk if you can’t sell them all. The other options are to make much smaller format books on lesser quality paper without the fancy presentation of boxes and felt book covers.
I’m very happy with how my book turned out. The quality of the printing was superb. The book looked much larger than the 74 page count would suggest. The price is expensive though so that limits the utility of the book. For the right type of book project I would recommend the Saal Digital Professional Line Photo Books. The ideal projects in my opinion would be wedding books, portfolio books and travel albums.
I received a $150 voucher from the book publisher in exchange for sharing my thoughts here in this review.
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