I recently purchased a Large Photobook 42cm x 28cm from Saal Digital Printing (@saaldigitaluk on Facebook) and was asked if I would write an independent review of their product. So here it is!
To save time for those that don’t wish to read the details, and just want an overview I have put the scores to the right and detailed review below (scroll down). In summary I was very pleased with the product, it’s quality and value and have decided that I will try a few more of their products and if they all come out as good as this one then I am going to change my book printing provider to Saal Digital going forward.
So overall I’m going to give them 4 out of 5.
There are still definite areas for improvement as well as features that are lacking that I’m used to from my current print house but I think you could say that about most places. For those who are interested in the detail then more detail can be found below.
The product I bought was a 42 x 28 Photobook, hard cover (wood look slate) photo glossy pages.
Design & Software
I run on Apple Macs in my studio, and have used a number of different pieces of software over time to create wedding albums. Varying from online/web based through to creating my own using Adobe InDesign templates. So I can say this with confidence, that the software was very intuitive to use. Everything was very logical and easy to setup with an obvious workflow.
The software window comprised of one main window with a the preview of the book pages, with 4 side panels surrounding; Top, Left, Middle and Right. The left being where you locate your images to use, across the top were the tools for editing, the bottom was the index of all your pages, and the right panel being adjustments to the book itself, the templates and backgrounds. Very easy to pick up and work with.
I dropped a point from their score only for a couple of minor issues/features that I would like to see addressed in the software. One of the minor issues was to do with the function that displays whether you have used one of your images already in the book; this was a little buggy and sometimes showed that an image hadn’t when it had. The bug disappears once you click on the album page with that image, and suddenly the check mark appears – minor but gives a small panic as you reopen your project to print and think you’ve missed a vital image out. Another small issue was, unless all your images are located in one folder you have to flick between folders for images to appear in the drag and drop view. It would be nice to be able to select which folders contained the images you wished to use and the drag and drop showed images from all the folders – again minor but would make it that little bit smoother to use.
A feature I would like to see, is the ability to use masks over the images. For example, gradients to help blend one image to another, this is especially a nice effect for page background images where you wish to fade out the image across a double page to a white background.
That being said, the software is sound, easy to use, and does the job well.
I have to admit this is where I got a little frustrated with the overall process. I entered all my details into the ordering page without any issues or warnings of problems. However, whilst entering in my voucher code it would quickly pop up “verifying” and then disappear with no voucher applied or notification as to why it hadn’t. Trying to resolve this took ages! 1 week of emails back and forth – see my Support section below.
I found out the problem and resolved it myself in the end, and it had nothing to do with the voucher code being incorrect, it was actually a difference field altogether earlier in the form. The VAT registration number entered was not in the correct format they were expecting. There was no validation or error message indicating this – nor hint/tip to show you when entering. The voucher button obviously checks all the details entered not jsut the voucher code and that’s why it bombed out. It wasn’t until I thought after three new voucher codes given to me, that I gave up trying and thought I’ll just buy it as it is that I realised the problem. As the BUY button then threw up the error on the VAT field, albeit simply saying not valid – the number I had entered was correct. The format requires a two character country code at the beginning i.e. GB XXXXXXXXX
Once this was sorted, my voucher applied with no issues, and the ordering was painless. Only other thing to mention was I couldn’t use my AMEX card, and so had to pay with my AMEX via PayPal – not a real biggy but another two more steps to complete the process.
Value for Money
I think the overall results, process and timeline is superb value for your money. I’ve tried a lot of different print houses and online print stores performing comparisons against the exact same image and there’s a huge variance in quality – it’s true that you get what you pay for. Probably to joe bloggs on teh street most wouldn’t notice or maybe even care, but to a photographer the end result is everything and needs to be as close to the original image as possible. You can spend a lot of money on high end books too and they still get the colours and contrasts, brightness all wrong. Saal seem to have this just right! For what I pay with my usual supplier for an A4 sized book, I have got a book much larger AND it came with a presentation box.
My only issue, and I deducted a point for it, was there was no option to create duplicate identical books of either the same size or smaller with any level of discount. You would simply have to re-order the same book at same price, and to create a smaller book you would have to redesign the book for the smaller size. So if I had to order duplicates for parents, grandparents of the bride then the overall price would be much higher than my current supplier.
Note to Saal – would be great to order mini versions of the book, A6 kind of size, simple paperback versions 😉
I have to say, the quality of this book is SUPERB!
As soon as I opened the book I was really pleased. I’ve never been 100% happy with the colours, the contrast, the brightness of the prints I’ve received in the past but Saal have definitely hit the mark on this one. Even on a couple of images where there was already heavy contrast on my B&W shots, I was super pleased with. Fantastic.
Even the look and feel of the whole book is superb, from the front cover ( I chose a hardback with slate effect) which had solid feel with great texture, to the inner pages (my choice was glossy) which were immaculate with a decent weight to them and lay flat allowing my images to spread all the way across without any annoying seams. Even the inner pages to the covers were great with only a hint of the underlying ridges – normally these are very prominent.
I went for the additional gift box, which really makes the package, with a nice silk strap inside to make gaining access to the book much easier. All of which was perfectly put together and felt expensive. The writing printed on the front, back and spine was great quality too considering it was on heavy textured material.
Very nice, and for this factor alone I will be using Saal again going forward. For all the little niggles I had along the way, the final product is spot on!
So this is the one area that I think Saal are letting themselves down on. Its great to have a superb product but your reputation can be ruined through bad customer experience. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t that anyone was rude, or didn’t help it was the slowness and not properly answered questions that became frustrating. For me as a first time customer I would have preferred the ability to talk direct either online chat or phone line as I had lots of queries and also had the issue around voucher codes not working. My only option was to email or fill their online form in – both of which resulted in back and forth emails that went on for days and didn’t really address my concerns/issues/questions at all. In fact one email where I asked about duplicate books, the response I was “fill in the online form for a personal quote” – which was just going to send an email again! Would have been so much easier to have an online chat system or better still a phone number.
It wouldn’t stop me using Saal, but very annoying to go through a trial and error process to figure things out, and would put a lot of people off I think. Definite room for improvement here.