A few weeks ago I responded to a facebook sponsored ad asking for photographers to apply for a £50 voucher with SAAL digital printers. This was in exchange for an unbiased opinion, feedback and possibly a review. I half expected to be contacted by an African Prince looking to share his gold reserves with me, but two days later I’d been emailed a reply with a voucher code that didn’t require a Rumpelstiltskin level of sacrifice.
The site itself is easy to navigate, sleek and simple in its presentation, which is great as I can’t stand websites with more gumphf than product and awkwardly placed buttons that go round in circles.
I had applied for a specific wall print voucher so headed straight for the “Wall Decor” section. It was pleasantly not overfilled with endless options, styles and layouts that lead to an inevitable ‘Analysis Paralysis’.
After some reading into the differences in finishes offered we opted for a “Gallery Print, Printed straight onto Acrylic and backed with Alu-Dibbond Panel” neither of us had any idea what it meant, but the product photos looked good and I had some photographs in mind that needed good saturation finishes.
Next came the bit I didn’t expect, but thoroughly loved. I downloaded the SAAL design software and found it to be a really helpful tool! I’ve used one once before with a different company and found it a cumbersome, glitch ridden process that took up more time than I’d initially planned on. The SAAL tool gives all the same options seen on the website, and then takes you over to its Design Board for finalising your project layout. It links straight into your chosen computer folder and has a dedicated panel featuring thumbnail previews of your photographs. There are simple to use margin settings with snap grids and a really handy preview button that strips back all the distractions and let me see the photograph in a more organised and clear manner. There’s some options for clip arts, backgrounds with gradients, solid backgrounds etc. I personally don’t have a use for them, but if you wanted to add little extra touches to photo books and other products then these are probably really handy.
Afterwards it’s simply a case of dragging and dropping image(s) into place, the on-screen layout already has the bleed lines put in and a red warning bar comes up if you go over them and don’t consider them properly, which I hadn't! Compared to the company we used to print our cards recently this upload tool is not only practically superior but a much less ‘risk of human error’ way going about what can be a mind numbing process.
Click “add to basket” in the bottom corner, you get one final look at the photographic print without any distractions. This saved me because I found a rogue ‘dust bunny’ at the vital moment and had a chance to correct it before a costly error. There's a final check about the mounting options and your off!
I ordered late in the day Thursday and it came first thing Tuesday (it was a bank holiday weekend and in all honesty I wouldn’t have minded anyway). Safely packaged in a sturdy large cardboard sleeve surrounded in that thin sheet polystyrene that Lexi (me) like to use as gymnastic ribbon, think more drunk ‘Dumbo’ than Alex Buesnel.
The metallic wall hanging point on the back is actually a really great idea, as a grooved rectangle it makes it easy to hang and I’d imagine at larger sizes would be quite reassuring given the weight of sheet acrylic.
I’m also pleased to see they've properly rounded the edges, of the hanging so it’s not likely to cut skin, as someone with a blood phobia things like that are always well received .
I have a gripe! The outer edge finish to acrylic could be a bit nicer, whether this is because it's a 'freebie or not I can't say, but as you can see there are what appears to be cut marks to what is otherwise a flawless piece of presentation, for the price I'd like to see either a smoother finish or some sort of bevel edging, a little picky maybe, but I have to be honest or it's a bias review and not worth the time in writing it.
I have just touched on the price and of course it's as you'd expect, SAAL aren’t cheap. A glossy 30x20cm photographic print in at £52.90 including VAT and Postage, the ease of design and purchase coupled with a high quality product was never going to be cheap, but I felt a little uneasy with the price, especially as that's my personal cost price, I'd need a mark up on top and I worry it's becoming a bit too much to ask for in a happy customer.
Whether that says more about my personality, my self confidence is more a sat on whoopee cushion than a high flying weather balloon, I don’t know, it'd depend largely on your business model and target audience I guess. A high end restaurant might not think anything of the price, where a quaint village pub would likely spill your ‘Rattler’ while laughing at the price of a photograph.
It is worth noting that sizing is in centimetres, this is probably not a big deal to many, but I have become annoyingly accustomed to inches (“oohhh matron”) and so took a while to pick a size. It’s not really something to put me off using them, but there's nothing worse than being disappointed by the number of inches on offer…..alright I’ll stop now(!)
So most importantly, how well has it printed?
Superbly! The colour representation from the photograph in my head is amazing, better than I expected actually. The representation between what I had on screen is also accurate, I’m a chronic ‘pixel peeper’ when it comes to my photographs so I know them fairly intimately and it’s spot on. It’s very sharp, my camera is a megapixel beast and is prone to accentuating flaws, that being said the final image is clean and the detail is the sort I like and aim for.
All in all I’d more than happily use SAAL again for my photography prints, books, cards etc as the quality and ease of use/ordering is great and only superseded by the end product which to me looks sleek and fabulous, but where and how to market them would have to be carefully considered.