Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Product Review: A Photo Book from Saal Digital

Sign of the Times photo book work in progress
Work in progress on my photo book's creation

I'm usually blind to internet adverts, so I was quite surprised when Saal Digital's offer of a £40 voucher towards a photobook (via my newbie Instagram account) managed to filter through.

You may remember my ABC of Chippenham, which I made using Blurb's software a few years ago. I've wanted to do something similar with my Sign of the Times photography blog for a while, so the offer was timely.

It's not an automatic voucher; I had to apply for one, and as you can see from the above picture I was successful. Once Saal's application software is downloaded, you have two weeks in which to create your book and redeem your voucher at the checkout.

This short timeframe wasn't a problem as I managed to create the book I wanted over a couple of intensive days. However, I did spend quite a lot of time reviewing, shortlisting and sourcing the photos, plus sorting them into broad categories beforehand.This reduced the time needed within the application considerably.

My shortlist came to 400 photos (out of 850), so I decided to spend some extra to produce the book I really wanted. I chose the A4 landscape option as most of my photos are in that format and it also gave me slightly more space to play with for the price.

Initial photo book options
The photo book options presented at the start
Once the software is downloaded and the product and format selected, you are presented with some overall options. I chose a glossy cover (as it says a matte cover doesn't work well with dark pictures) and matte pages.

Don't worry about the number of pages option (like I was) as it's easy to add or delete pages later. However, it's good to be aware of what implications those decisions have on cost and you can see this on the screen throughout the book's creation.

Photo book layout options
Layout options
Next comes the mind boggling layout options selection. I would have liked more help at this point as it was difficult to know whether the simple or all-rounders layouts would be best for my book. I plumped for the all-rounder one, then found later on it was easy to add in page templates from the other layouts as and when needed.

I see another reviewer opted to use external software they're more familiar with to design and layout the book they wanted. As long as that software can export a pdf version, then that's no problem.

Page layout screen
Most of the page layout screen
This is the main working screen. Depending on the layout option and number of pages chosen, the pages are pre-loaded with a variety of page templates, with more available to select under the Design heading on the right.

To the left you'll see the application has loaded in the images I wanted to use, which I'd pre-sorted into sub folders. I went through each folder in turn and chose a page template or two appropriate for the number of images there. It's then a simple matter of dragging and dropping each image into the container(s) on each page. The application also tells you whether the selected image is of sufficient quality for the book's image size selected.

My major quibble at this point is I found it quite difficult to use the crop function to get the image looking exactly how I wanted it when using the touch pad on my laptop. It's probably assumed a mouse is used with this application.

I'd also like more online help - what's available is woeful, especially when compared to Blurb. Click on the help option at the top of the page and there's a one page introduction to the book creation process. Hovering over the highlighted text on this page shows the small amount of additional help isn't translated from German.

Overall I found the application easy to use once I'd got use to it. After a bit of juggling over the two days, I ended up with a 70 page layout I really liked using 225 images from my initial shortlist of 400. NB I only added a minimal amount of text as this application is really geared towards images.
Pdf preview
Part of the pdf preview document showing some of the different page templates chosen

I then quickly previewed my book using the pdf option as shown above. I'd recommend doing this as reviewing online doesn't always pick things up. I spotted a few corrections needed from the problems I'd had - I managed to misalign some of my images rather than crop them.

Then it was time to upload my book ready for printing and pay for it. Note that upload time can be quite long; my 70 pages took 35 minutes and we have superfast broadband.

Delivery time was quick - I uploaded my book on Tuesday evening and it arrived on Saturday morning from Germany, with plenty of tracking messages along the way to tell me about printing, dispatch and postal progress.

The final result
The finished result - Skimble wanted to read it too
I'm thrilled with the result. Colour reproduction is excellent and didn't need any adjustment during the book's creation. The pages are thick and stiff - more like photographic paper - and they lay flat, so the pictures across two pages still look good. The thickness of the pages explains why this is an expensive option compared to others - like Blurb - on the market.

Note that the first and last pages are glued onto the cover, but the images still look good - as you can see with my red shoes. There's also an unobtrusive QR code on the back cover; you can pay to remove it if needed.
This is a good product for a physical memento of a special occasion or for professional photographers wanting to present their portfolio in a tangible way. Those looking to produce something that's more of a mixture of image and text beyond just captions, will probably need to look elsewhere.

This was a fun project to do and I've thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my photos from Sign of the Times.


  1. I've often wondered about doing something similar but then wonder whether it would be just something else that sat on a shelf.

    1. I look at my ABC of Chippenham quite a lot Sue, especially to see what's changed in the town since I put it together. I think there's something about the whole process of creating the book which means I like to look at the result. I've found the same so far with this one too :)


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