Here is my first photo book battle! Zno vs Saal Digital - both are professional lay-flat photo book albums. I chose these two books companies, because they are quite close in price, quality and functionality.
I bumped into them on an Instagram advertisement, where as a new customer, I was eligible for a FREE product to give their products and services a try. The "Free Trial" page does not exist anymore though. The free photo book offer was a $50 discount for a 8x8 in Lay-flat Flush Mount Album, so at the end I only payed $12.00 for the shipping. Theme for this book was my recent trip to Southern America to discover what Patagonia has to offer.
Zno (formerly known as Artisan State) is a USA company, however, my photo book was shipped from China.
Creating an Album
It's an online software (website based Flash editor) that gives you limited options for creativity. It's quite basic, but give more than enough options to design decent photo book. It works well and it's quite intuitive, with lot's of page design choices. There are plenty of layouts and they are easily customisable within limits.
Text editing options are very basic, especially for the spine where you can only have text that is centred, change the font size, font family and the colour.
The book is really sturdy, as you would expect from hard cover book, and feels very luxurious and expensive. The pages are bound in sheets and stuck together with a black paper in between, which gives it really superior look. With Lay-flat you can get nice double page layouts. The book is attached to the cover by a beautiful black, thick double spread sheet. Colour reproduction I think is close to perfect, which is very rare in photo books. The binding is the best I've yet experienced, it has a black fabric on the inside of the spine which makes it look more elegant.
- There is no bar-code or logo anywhere on the book, which is great, as most other companies charge for it to be removed
- They specialise in flush mount books, but they also sell various other photo products
- It feels luxurious, superb binding
- Max number of pages is 100
- Ships from Shanghai, that makes shipment bit longer
- Very limited editor
I have ordered Photobook XT (extra thick) in 28 x 28 cm format, spreads in matte, 10 pages, glossy finished unpadded cover, and without the ugly bar-code (for additional £5 you can get it removed). Theme for this book was my recent trip to Farne Islands to photograph Puffins. I went with 10 pages only as I wanted test the quality. Having got £25 voucher from some Instagram advertisement, I only payed £24,90 altogether. Package was shipped with DHL courier from Germany and arrived in in just four days.
For transparency, I have received £25 photo book review voucher from Saal Digital to my design, but I am not being paid to promote them. They were looking for photographers to receive a photo book in return for an honest review on the product.
The colour reproduction is solid (I didn’t attempt to soft-proof this book, and just worked with sRGB JPG images that I previously exported on my calibrated screen) the colours have depth and all details.
Creating an Album
The software was easy to use in general, but I didn’t feel I had the time to warrant going into detail regarding too many of its good and bad points. Having put this book together in about an hour, I didn't check all the options that the software provides. Before you submit your order, software double checks if you filled all the text boxes, added all images, and checks for empty pages.
You can save your book along the way and come back to it at another point, you can also save as PDF to allow proofing. You can also install Saal ICC colour profile to get a better idea of how your images will look when printed.
The book is bound flat - that was the main reason for getting it - which means that you can print a panoramic image spanning an entire spread without a line cutting through the printed photo. This makes a nice experience when turning pages.
Quite nice feature is the fact the rear of the front and back cover allows for printing on paper that is identical to the rest of the book, and is bonded seamlessly to each rear side, creating the first and last page of the book.
- Production, shipping from Germany to United Kingdom took just 8 days
- Nice and sharp images, well controlled ink flow
- Padded cover makes the book look more premium
- The quality and build quality overall is pretty high standard
- You have to pay £5 extra to remove the bar-code from the back of your album
- They ask for a review in return for that £25 voucher which might produce some inadequate reviews - if I wanted to review something when it's good quality, I'd do this without being asked to do so.
While the prices are quite close, in my opinion Zno photo books are the ones I will be ordering in future. There is no real difference in the photo paper quality, but Zno books have thicker pages with black paper in between which looks more professional, and the prices are cheaper than Saal's Digital photo books. Saal's Digital software is way better than the website Flash builder from Zno, but in both cases you could use Photoshop or Indesign to design all your spreads and upload them back as images.
It's worth mentioning that Zno "spams" my mailbox from time to time with some nice offers, this again convinces me more to use them over the Saal Digital.