Photo books are a great way to create family heirlooms, whether a collection of family photos or a wedding album. Photo books are also a great way to create a professional-looking portfolio, or to commemorate the trip of a lifetime. There are many great reasons to make photo books, and thankfully lots of great options for making a book that fits your personal style.
I recently tried Saal Digital’s tremendous “One Minute Photo Book” system and was impressed by the ease of the process and the quality of the results. Spoiler alert: it did take longer than 60 seconds, but only because I spent time fine tuning the layout to give my favorite photos prominence in the design. (The initial layout looked great and would’ve worked fine, and actually took less than a minute!) The variety in sizes, covers and paper stocks is impressive, so whether you’re making a high-end wedding album, an artist’s portfolio or a fun scrapbook, there’s something for everyone. In about an hour I created a book filled with special photos of my family. Based on what I learned along the way, here are ten tips for creating a great photo book.
1. Plan the Theme
Start by determining the theme of your book. It’s easy enough, after all: what’s the book about? Are you making a wedding gift for a friend, or perhaps organizing grandma’s family photos into a commemorative album? Maybe you’re a traveler documenting a trip to Paris or a budding professional building a portfolio. Whatever your direction for the book, keep it focused and stick to the theme. In the end you will be happier with a book that has a clear message and limited scope.
2. Choose the Photos
With the theme in mind it’s time to choose which photos you’d like to include. At this point it’s good to start giving some thought to the size of the book, the number of pages, and the nature of the layout. Full page photos, double-page spreads, or multiple pictures per page? This will help you determine how many photos you want to include or, conversely, how many pages your book will need to be. Saal Digital can print a book as small as just 26 pages starting at $35.99, or up to 160 pages. Ultimately 25-50 photos is a great place to start in an effort to keep a concise theme, showcase only the best photos and fill out the story you’re trying to tell.
3. Organize the Photos
Editors call it “sequencing.” It’s the process of determining which photos should be grouped and how they should flow. Consider which photos work well together for color and content purposes, which work better facing left or facing right, and which might require multiple images on a page for maximum impact. In my case I knew I had a chronological series, but with some flexibility to move them around as needed for a thematic fit. Much of this can be done offline and with simple file name changes, but you can also sort and reorganize the photos once you’ve uploaded them into Saal Digital’s photo book web system, or even once the pages have been laid out. Those planning to make multiple books might consider downloading Saal Design software for laptops and desktops, or the Saal Digital App for smartphones and tablets. But I was content to use the Saal Digital online store.
4. Pick the Format and Cover
With Saal Digital’s system, the next step is to determine the construction of the book. Start by choosing the type, size and orientation of the book. Do you want a hardcover book or soft? Do you want a large 16.5×11-inch horizontal book like the one I chose, or perhaps a smaller square or vertical format?
Next is the book cover. Here you can choose between a glossy or matte photo cover or leatherette, cork, linen, or even wood-look finishes. Covers can be personalized with photos and text and clipart. Soft padding can be added to all cover options. This is a 3mm soft layer that adds a touch of class, perfect for making wedding albums and family photo books feel extra special.
Is the book a gift, or a valuable keepsake such as a wedding album or future family heirloom? Consider adding a premium gift box for top tier protection and presentation. Faux leather and natural linen finishes really add to the feel of the package, and boxes can even be customized with text, graphics and pictures.
5. Choose the Pages
Next it’s time to choose the construction of the interior pages. The nice thing is, all of Saal Digital’s photo books have lay-flat binding and full page, true-photo printing that all but eliminates the gutter and offers premium print quality. These are photo books in which each page is actually a photographic print! Inside page options include Fujifilm Crystal Archive glossy photo paper (best for vibrant color and surface sheen), matte photo paper (which minimizes reflections and fingerprints), and a silk photo paper that’s soft and natural and looks especially great for portraits and wedding photos.
A regular photo book has a thick page to start, because it is actually two printed photo pages glued together. But if your book has fewer pages, or if you simply want to add heft to the book, consider the XT photo book option for thicker pages. Saal Digital adds a cardboard substrate between the pages for a more substantial feel.
After choosing all of the materials for the construction of the book, click Design to move on to the next phase.
6. Choose a Book Design
For some of us perfectionist types it can be difficult to give up control to automated systems, but I was eager to let the One Minute Photo Book option automatically determine the layout based on the quantity and proportions of my photographs. (If you’d rather upload a PDF book design, you can do that too. Or simply choose the Auto Layout option for even more design control.) Though based on how much flexibility I had with the One Minute Photo Book layout, I can’t imagine how much more control one might need.
I wanted a classic, clean, text and graphics-free design so I chose one of the basic layout options at the top (small margins) but for those who want other design elements, extensive text or a scrapbook feel, Saal Digital provides dozens of templates for its One Minute Photo Books.
7. Consider Adding Text
Are you telling a literal story with your photos? If so, adding captions to some or all of the photos could help the book have the right impact. You can choose a layout option that offers plenty of space for text, or customize with captions later. Even if captions aren’t necessary, you might consider headlines, text-based graphics and clipart to help give your book a casual scrapbook feel. These options can be baked in at the template level, or modified later simply by clicking on the pages within the layout.
8. Upload Photos and Determine Page Count
Uploading photos is a process familiar to anyone who has ever posted an image online. Once the image files are fully uploaded, move on to choose the page count of the book. Saal Digital will look at the quantity of photos and their proportions to automatically suggest an appropriate page count. But you can, as I did, dial down the page count and the smart design features will adjust the layout accordingly.
One nice feature about Saal Digital’s ordering system is that you can see the price of your book update immediately as you change features. When you increase or decrease page count (either here or in later steps), or when you chose the book construction elements in a previous step, the price is displayed every step of the way so you can make informed decisions and eliminate surprises. It’s a practical, user-friendly approach.
Once the page count and price were right, I clicked Select and moved along to the layout.
9. Fine Tune the Design
This might be the penultimate step, but it’s likely the one on which you’ll spend the most time. Saal Digital’s One Minute Photo Book made an automatic layout that looked great. I love the way it assigned multiple photos to a single page (in order to fit a higher quantity of photos onto a lower number of pages) and the way the book was laid out overall. But what no program can know without your input is which photos are your favorites. So I spent a few minutes swapping out the book’s cover image, making the first full-page photo another of my favorites, and then strategically repositioning photos (which is done simply through dragging and dropping) so that favorites would take places of prominence and certain pairs would reside together on a two-page spread. The process for doing this is so simple and intuitive, there’s hardly anything to explain. Click and drag to move spreads around, or click on a picture within the layout to change its cropping, size, or even swap it for a different image. All of this is easy to learn on the fly in no time flat.
The right-side Layouts panel shows different design options, which you can change for the two-page spread you’re looking at simply by clicking a new layout. The icons do a good job of explaining what you’ll get, but you can also use drop-down menus at the top of the window to select, say, only layouts that offer four photos per page.
10. Check and Double Check
Once I have my favorite photos exactly where I want them, and the page layouts all just so, I don’t hurry off and click Add to Cart just yet. First I take a look at the Project panel on the left side of the window, which shows a checkmark by the images included in my book. In the process of laying out the book I decided a handful of images simply didn’t make the cut, so they no longer show checkmarks. But do all of my favorites show that they’re being used, or did I miss any?
Next I start at the beginning of the book and, one more time, go page by page to preview the book. Does it flow correctly, are images paired up nicely, and am I happy with the journey that my book’s viewers will have? If you want to really take your time, do what I do: finish the first draft, save it, and then sleep on it. Come back a day later to check your work with fresh eyes. You’ll have a better picture of how the book looks to those who didn’t spend time making it.
When you’re satisfied, click Add to Cart.
My order confirmed, Saal Digital emailed a link to check the progress of my book in production. I didn’t get a chance to use it, though, because a mere 36 hours after ordering I received notice that it was ready to ship. Soon my book arrived and had the wow factor I hoped. I was blown away not only by the impressive size of a 16.5×11-inch book, but also the quality of the fit and finish. It really is a thing of beauty.
One hour from start to finish, including the time it took to choose my materials, learn the system, upload photos and tailor the design. What a simple, intuitive system for turning digital photos into an impressive, printed keepsake.
To learn more about Saal Digital and order your own photo book, visit saal-digital.com.