In October, I was invited to create a book printed by Saal Digital for review. I didn't have anything prepared for a book, so my first efforts were spent in deciding what to include in a book, selecting photos, sorting them, and arranging them in a way that made sense for a book. I spent some time doing some cleanup, but not as much as I would have for a productional product because of the limited time frame.
After selecting the photos, the next task was to arrange them in preparation for printing. Saal Digital has software to download to assist with the layout and organization of the photos and text. The software is quite capable, but it is not as intuitive as it could be.
Note: project files are saved in
~/Library/Application Support/SaalDesignSoftware/Local Store/projects
folder on a Mac. My system is currently dual boot (Catalina and Mojave). When I started the book project I was using Lightroom 6, which is incompatible (sort of) with Catalina. So I initially installed Saal Design Software on Mojave. In November, I signed up for Lightroom CC, so I'm primarily using Catalina now. To migrate project files over from one OS to the other, it seems simply copying the project folder works. The software also has project import and export functions which I could have used, but that would have required switching to Mojave and back to Catalina. By doing the copy, I was able to stay in Catalina. Note that once the book is ordered, there is an additional folder, orderedProjects beside the projects folder.
When I say the software is not intuitive, what I'm referring to is that things are not where I expect them to be. Most software, for example, has a menu bar at the top, with things like File, Edit, etc. Not so with Saal Design Software. Instead, you have to learn where all the panels are, and where the various tools are in each panel.
One of the panels is an Image sources panel. The way I worked this project was to add a batch of photos and lay them out, then add another batch of photos. Unfortunately, the Image sources panel doesn't automatically refresh when files are added. There is a refresh icon that you can click to refresh, but it refreshes the entire contents of the panel, which can take some time. Similarly, if an image turns out to need editing, saving a new copy to the Image sources area is not sufficient to refresh the project. You have to drag the image from the Image sources area over to where it's used in the project. Apparently, that's because the software keeps its own copy of all the sources in the above mentioned ~/Library/ folder.
The software provides a number of predefined layouts. You can use those, or you can create your own. Layouts you create can be added to the list of available layouts. The software has tools to align and size images. I found that there is a potential issue with images that abut each other. The software rounds sizes and locations to the nearest 1/100", apparently. This seems to sometimes cause thin white lines between images that were intended to abut. I didn't submit my project this way. Instead, for layouts with abutting images, I increased the size of the images by 0.01" without changing the position so that they barely overlap. This seemed to result in an acceptable solution. I reported this issue to the company, and they were responsive, so there may be a software fix in the future. Here is an example of what I mean. The weevil pictures are laid out to abut each other. Adjusting them to barely overlap avoided the issue, and there is no visible overlap.
The page layout shows a thin red line in the layout software, where the edge of the paper is. This is useful if you have full bleed designs, so you get an idea where the image will be cut off. I found the position of the indicated line to be very accurate, when I compare the printed product to the image displayed in the software. A good feature of the software is that if you lay out components too close to that red line, i.e., too close to the edge of the paper, and the components are not full bleed, the software gives a warning and gives an opportunity to correct these situations before the project is committed.
Very useful is the PDF preview feature. There is a setting to enable (default) or disable addition of a watermark on the PDF file. For internal use, there's no reason to have a watermark, so I disabled it for a more accurate image of what the result of the print would be. The resulting PDF file seems very close to the final product. Colors are accurate, and the layout is accurately reflected in the PDF file. However, one thing I didn't do but should have: I did not print a sample page on paper. I very much recommend doing this, printing to the size of a book page, especially if you use text. I wound up using a larger font size for most of the book than I should have because I was viewing the preview PDF at a smaller size than the final print size. Make sure to view your preview or a print sample at actual size in order to determine things like font sizes. The software has a preview function, but the scale is not accurate: 100% in the preview screen does not display the page at the size it will be printed. On my computer, 183% is close to the size of the final product.
My project was for an 8x12 photo book using matte photo paper (Fuji Crystal Archive paper) with a leatherette cover. There is an option to include a title on the cover, but I didn't see it before placing my order. There is an option to use a photo cover, but after reading another review, they said that the cover picture scratched easily when shelving the book, so I opted not to have a photo cover. I plan to add a cover title by using a foil tool to lay down a metallic layer displaying the title. I'll probably do it with gold foil, which will contrast nicely with the black leatherette.
The printed book has arrived. It's a lay-flat design, but I found it doesn't really lie flat. Here, the book is opened to the first page. Since the inside cover is glued to the cover, it lies flat, but the opposite page lifts up a bit.
If you open the book to a page, one page or the other sticks up a bit. It's possible that with use, this will resolve itself, and I haven't made any effort to exercise the book. The binding is nicely done. The leatherette has a nice feel to it. Since there is no design on the outside of the book, you can't tell which side is up. That's a problem I'll fix with the foiling. On opening the book, the first thing I notice is how thick the page glued to the cover is. I contacted support to find out more information about that aspect of the binding. The inside cover is used for images. I was told that the same stock used in the rest of the book is used for the inside cover. It's no thicker than any of the other pages. However, that does not seem to be the case. Here is a closeup of the spine, where the thickness of the pages is clearly visible.
The left side of this image shows the inside cover page. The top layer is the printed paper. Below that, there are apparently two layers of a different material. This three layer sandwich is glued to the cover. If I get an explanation from support for this design, I will update the review. In the mean time, this sandwich results in the inside cover feeling like it's a couple of pages that need to be opened.
Maybe the extra thickness helps to hide the lumpiness that would result from the edge of the leatherette folded over the edge of the cover, under the inside cover page. In any case, this may take some getting used to but shouldn't be an issue.
Here you see the inside cover angled so that the lumpiness I referred to catches the light. It's not really noticeable, but it would be more noticeable if those extra two layers were not there. Another option for binding would be to have the extra two layers stop short of the edge of the leatherette. I think that would be a better solution, and the best thickness of material would match the thickness of the leatherette.
I didn't have any two page full bleed layouts. This was as close as I got. Full bleed on two pages with a couple of extra shots with drop shadows. Speaking of which, I like the rendering of the drop shadows. There are some options for that, but I think I used the default settings.
Single page full bleed images can run up to the center of the book. The transition of one image to the other matches the crease in the page very well. I did not find any errors in registration.
There are a number of tools to handle text. I didn't experiment much with different fonts, but there is a whole suite of fonts available. I did experiment with text layout. Text is arranged in text boxes. Images are arranged in image boxes. These boxes can be opaque or transparent. Here, I've made the text boxes transparent so that a full bleed image shows as the background.
The text or image boxes have various properties. For example, you can set borders with square or round corners. You can add drop shadows, as I previously mentioned. You can overlap the boxes and adjust which one is in front. In the above image, boxes overlap, but the text boxes on top are transparent. I did not use any layouts with overlapping images, but that is possible.
Here I tried a couple of different layouts to fill the pages with a grid of images. On the left, I used black borders with image boxes abutted together. On the right, no borders with image boxes equally spaced.
One final note about the binding. Ideally, the folded edges of the pages should all align. There is a bit of misalignment that may affect the way the pages lie flat or not. There's also a spot of glue at the left, which can probably easily be cleaned off. This misalignment is not really noticeable when using the book.
Throughout the process of creating the book, I had occasional questions. I emailed support with my questions, and I generally got an informative reply within a few minutes of my query. The support was excellent.