While I was looking for a printing house to print a portfolio photo book, I stumbled on Saal Digital which is a German print house that offers high quality prints and photo books. I've never tried Saal Digital before and having tried a different bunch of other print houses, I decided to give Saal Digital a try. I printed 130 pages 12x8.5 photo book from the professional line.

Design

There are different choices of formats, surface finish, page thickness, and even a gift box that wraps your book. I chose the Professional Line photobook with the black leather cover surface and went for the glossy finish.

Saal Digital offers layout design software for both Mac OS and Windows where you can customize your book. This is the tool that I used to design, upload, and order my book. You can design your book with other software and upload it for printing as a PDF.

I found the software to be very easy to use. You start out by designing the cover of the book including the back and the spine. Then you start adding pages where you can either choose a layout from existing presets or design your own (and save it if you want).

As for the paper itself, Saal Digital uses Fuji Crystal Archive paper. For each page, two papers will be glued back to back with a thickness of about 0.36mm per page. I personally love this paper and use it in my darkroom printing since it's widely available in sheets. It has beautiful color rendering with deep blacks and beautiful highlights.

As for color management, Saal Digital provides ICC color profiles that you can download and load into your image editing software to get a feeling of how the printed photos would look like. I found that the profile rendering stays very close to the exported sRGB JPEGs and the final print. You would get an accurate representation if your monitor is calibrated.

Another aspect that I liked is what Saal Digital calls "Layflat Binding" where you can print panorama on two pages and they would look (hopefully) flat. I've tried this with full two pages layout and over one page layout and they do look flat, however, one concern is to have a white line (eventually) in the binding area, but only time can tell.

Print Quality

It all comes down to print quality when I want to pick which print house to print my photos. Sure, easy tooling and process is a plus but the main factor is how good these prints look and how good the book overall look. Personally, I was impressed with Saal's final book and I'll break it down for you.

As for the cover, the leather cover felt premium and not cheap. It has a non-noticeable nice smell. The binding of the book looks sturdy and shouldn't fall apart with careful use (only time will tell though). The spine looks fine and sturdy. You can print on the first page glued to the front and back cover if you choose to do so.

The pages themselves feel thick since they are two prints glued back to back together. The glossy finish obviously has a reflection to it (but which glossy paper that doesn't) and there's very minimal to no texture. Since it's resin-coated paper, it may feel plasticy to some people.

The color rendering stayed very true to the original photos. I increased the exposure a bit (probably +1/3 stop) for some photos in post-processing while exporting photos used in this book. The prints look and feel very close to what I see on the screen and print personally on an Inkjet printer. Looking at the print above for an example, the highlights are intact and not pure white or blown away, there are some tones there. Shadows are not lost too, the subtle different tones are still rendered as I wanted which was quite surprising to me.

Looking at the image below, it shows very subtle details in shadow areas (which may not be visible on a screen) like the dark trees area below the mountain in the center and some rock formations in this mountain also.

You still get excellent deep blacks, like the following image shows where the sky looks black (which may not look so on a screen). The contrast of this print looks amazing, the white clouds on top of the mountains meet the dark black sky with zero color banding issues. This may be due to the continuous tone of RA-4 printing with this paper vs Inkjet printing for example.

Deep shadows and subtle tones rendering looks amazing in color photographs too. Like the deep shadows below the dead tree and the blacks in the background mountains, while keeping the color rendering of the dark sky and the milky way true.

Summary

All in all, I was very pleased with the quality of the book and prints. The Professional Line Photobook product did indeed feel professional and premium. The color rendering is very good with truly deep blacks, subtle shadow, and highlight tones that really impress.

The one thing that I felt missing is offering other types of paper for books, as Fuji Crystal Archive glossy has high gloss and even the matt version has a bit of sheen to it, it may not suit all photos and people, especially if you're looking for something with texture. For me, I love the Crystal Archive paper and use it personally. 

Another thing to note is that I capped the max number of pages allowed at 130 pages. The software wouldn't let me add more pages after that. This restriction may exist to ensure "Layflat Binding" would work.

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