For the most part, I have total control over my client's experience with me. I know and understand every aspect because that's my livelihood and passion. I research my equipment, control my backups, work from calibrated monitors and meticulously set up how I deliver images to my clients. However, I've always been in the dark about one aspect of the process, wedding albums.
I control the design process, and my clients choose their cover and personalize it to suit them. But who builds it? How does it all work? Until I looked into it, I didn't even know where the factory was. And so, my curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to explain to my clients why I order my albums from a particular manufacturer over any other. I had a goal to be passionate about the materials used and be able to say that I have been there, watching them wrapping covers and stamping names into the leather.
And so, I had a plan. First, I would need to become a secret agent. A spy, just like James Bond. I could hide in a shipment of leather and glues to sneak into the factory. I'd make myself invisible. This way, I'd be able to soak up the juicy secrets that the wedding album world has been hiding.
But then, I reached out to the lovely folks at Folio Albums in the UK and asked if I could take a look around. Less exciting, I know!
Why Folio Albums
It made sense to visit the manufacturer that I use. Folio always appeals to me as an album manufacturer for its simple values. They're by no means the most prominent manufacturer; they don't churn out thousands of albums daily. They are known within the industry for their quality and service. As a wedding photographer, this aligns perfectly with my business.
I was still wondering what to expect, which was the point of doing this. The most considerable probability, I thought, was a businessman in a suit with his feet up in an office. There would be some grumpy minions around him who hate their job. Machines in an equally depressing workshop would make the albums. They would churn out the books industrial-style. I'm a wedding photographer. I've worked alone for many years and imagined this is how all big businesses operate.
Many years ago, I worked at a photography studio with a printing lab. The giant wet-processing machine sat in the middle of the room. Unfortunately, a chemical smell also filled the room, so I was ready for an amplified version of that smell.
The Main Man
My morning began (after a full English breakfast, obviously) on a modern industrial estate in Yorkshire, England. Already a far cry from the workshop I expected. I had pictured a tired brick building, a throwback to the British industrial revolution.
A friendly chap called Stewart greeted me at the door. I knew from a glance around the website that he is the CEO and founder of the business. How could this be? He wasn't a grumpy man in a suit. Instead, he's an ex-wedding photographer who dreams of making our life easier. My drab expectations faded, and I figured I was in for a pleasant morning.
Green Credentials and Impact
Before we even stepped foot into the factory and offices, We sat over a coffee, and the conversation quickly swayed toward Folio's core values. Stewart passionately dives into the impact of his business on the planet and the environment.
Green credentials might seem less interesting to some, as we all want to see albums being crafted and printed. However, this part of the conversation is at the heart of what separates Folio from other manufacturers.
Out of respect for Stewart, who holds this value very close to his heart, I must express this passion on his behalf. I hope I do him justice. He is, and as a result, Folio Albums is committed to producing hand-crafted products in an environmentally friendly way. They used eco-friendly materials, papers, packaging, and suppliers from their beginning. I will dive deeper into this later, but they also print exclusively with inkjet, which means no chemical stench!
Almost 10 years ago, they moved into new premises. This move allowed them to push even further towards their eco goals, using LED lighting and an eco-friendly energy supplier, among other things.
Through the years following, they further developed processes and manufacturing techniques to reduce waste as much as possible and with plastic-free packaging. They have even doubled their workshop space for storage, meaning more significant shipments from suppliers, which equals a smaller carbon footprint.
This hard work led to becoming a member of Carbon Neutral Britain, something Stewart is very proud to tell me. This membership means that any carbon emissions they can't avoid are offset by contributing to reforestation and woodland management projects.
I could write an entire article about Folio's commitment to the environment, but we must move on with my tour. However, their website gives much more information than I can echo.
I'll touch on this quickly, as we all want to get to the nitty-gritty. Stewart introduced me to his small team of happy office staff. Together, they are responsible for the customer-facing sides of the business, including marketing and customer care.
We had a good chat about their systems when an order is received. I've never had an issue with an album ordered from them, and now, I can see why! When an order arrives, files get checked, and if anything doesn't look right, it will be confirmed with the photographer. This all happens before the order gets sent for manufacturing.
We head into another room, of which Stewart seems particularly proud. It's filled with sample albums and fancy camera tech. Right up my street! This is a newer room for the company, installed during the pandemic. They use it for multiple purposes, one being video conferences with photographers. Here, I enjoyed looking through some sample albums. Although I'm aware of how beautiful their products are, it was nice to see creations by some other photographers.
Where the Magic Happens: Printing!
We head downstairs to the main workshop. You know, where all of the secrets are! I'd primed myself for the smells, the loud machines, grubby workers. Finally, the door opens and... quiet. Excuse me, where's the hustle and bustle?
The workshop is calm, collected, and controlled. It's well-lit and clean, almost clinical. It's explained that the lighting and the climate are managed and monitored very closely.
Stewart introduced me to Chris, who is working on a print job. This is where things become very different from most commercial photography printers.
All of Folio's products use inkjet printers. Yes, like the one you have attached to your computer, which you last used eight years ago. But at the same time, nothing like that. They work with a collection of large-format Epson printers with a range of high-end papers. Again, Stewart is very proud that they were one of the first European manufacturers working this way exclusively. They work directly with Epson to push the technology. The images speak for themselves, and the prints' colours, sharpness, quality, and feel are sublime.
This all feels like a much more modern approach. The old-school chemical-process printers are a dying breed in the fine-art world, which is also great for the planet.
The Magic Continues
As we walked through the factory, I discovered the various processes that make Folio unique. Some are top-secret, even to the wonderful Fstoppers readers!
Everything in here feels so premium. No corners are cut, and the emphasis is always on the quality of the end product. We discussed some of the materials, too. For example, carefully selected leather comes from Europe as a surplus product from the food industry, which is nice to hear.
Something else struck me. It's all so crafty. The big "album machines" don't exist; instead, a group of skilled workers hand-assemble beautiful books. Yes, some machines and tools help out, but the pages are carefully glued, and the card and leather are measured and cut by hand.
Naturally, everything is bespoke, so this is the best way to work. However, there is something oddly satisfying about watching the books come together, too. It's a fascinating mix of traditional craft techniques and modern technology.
We wandered around the personalization area. Again, some machinery helps the process, but each album is individually processed. I particularly love that customers can use real gold and palladium lettering on their albums.
The packaging area was as I'd expected. Boxes stacked high, some machines for wrapping. One thing to note is that Folio now uses plastic-free packaging for all their orders. They're consistently striving to be green.
This entire visit was an incredibly positive experience for me. After working exclusively in the wedding industry for six years (dipping my toe in the water for a few years before that), I've ordered more wedding albums than I remember. But I had no idea where they were born. So now I've been there and watched the processes. The people are friendly and happy, and it's all made by hand, with love.
I had a couple more questions for Stewart. Firstly, I know many Fstoppers readers are based in the US or elsewhere overseas. However, he assured me that his international customer base is growing and urges anybody in the States or elsewhere to check them out. I'd second that, too!
Lastly, I asked him about his biggest challenge. It turns out the thing that keeps him awake at night is education. He wants photographers worldwide to understand the printed product's significance and pass that passion on to their clients. To be able to sell beautiful products to their clients to increase their profit.
He has been doing this through Folio's website and has a free online course in marketing albums without the cheesy sales tactics. I'd urge anybody who sells albums as part of their business to check that out.
And so, this article has turned into a "praise Folio" piece, which was not my intention. If I'd had a boring time in a grubby factory with a grumpy man, you guys would be the first to hear about it.
Instead, I came away educated about the craftsmanship that goes into every album I order, and I desire to push albums to my clients even more than I already do. Thanks, Folio and Stewart!