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Exploring book-making options with Saal Digital

I am currently exploring options of turning a selection of the images I made in London during the lockdown into a book.

One thing I wanted to try out is a way to make a so-called lay-flat book. The majority of the images in the Lockdown London series is in landscape format, and when these photos are printed across two pages, a portion of the image will inevitable be 'lost' in the gutter (ie the centre) of the spread. I have some amazing photobooks where the one thing that has always bugged me was the fact that some photographs were printed in this way. That's especially true for large-sized mass-market books with a simple perfect binding that's just using glue. It's less of an issue with higher-end photobooks where the block of the book is sewn together with thread.

George Georgiou's new book Americans Parade is a notable exception. This book is lay-flat, which means you can open it up at any page and it will lie open completely flat, with only a thin crease visible in the centre of the spread. Books like this are rare as they are very costly to produce.

But for a one-off, or a very small edition, it's possible to make such a book using one of a number of online services. One of them, Saal Digital, were kind enough to give me the opportunity to try out their services by giving me a voucher for one of their 'professional line' books.

I've made a 62-page portrait format book, with a white linen-like material for the cover, and a special matt paper stock for the inside pages. Such a book will set you back around £120 if ordering just a single copy. So it's not exactly cheap. But the books are apparently hand-made and they really do look pretty spectacular.

I didn't use any of the book-making software that Saal provide, but designed the layout in InDesign. The template for this I downloaded from the Saal website.

I am really happy with the print quality and colour accuracy. I have a calibrated monitor and the photos in the book come very close to matching the colours I see on screen. The dynamic range of the images is well preserved with details still visible in the very dark areas.

The lay-flat binding is amazing and is perfect for running the images very large over the full spread.

I would have liked to use the same typeface for the title on the cover that's used throughout the book, but for some reason there is only a limited option of fonts available to choose from. However, Saal offer an alternative option for the cover, where the linen material is combined with an photograph covered by a sheet of perspex. Sounds amazing, but it didn't seem the right thing for my book.

The one thing I struggled with was the structure of Saal's website. I found it difficult to navigate and track down all the information regarding the actual features for a particular kind of book. The templates and ICC profiles that are needed to ensure colour accuracy were also hard to locate and made the process on deciding the best option for this particular project somehow frustrating. I also only learned about the limited print and font options for the linen cover when I uploaded the artwork onto Saal's server, using their web interface.

All in all, though, the book feels very premium the print quality really is very good. It's a great way to showcase the project. But it's obviously a very expensive option for a bigger print run.



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