For the most part, I have total control over my clients’ experiences with me. I know and understand every aspect because that is my livelihood and my passion. I research my gear, check my backups, work with calibrated monitors and meticulously set up how I deliver images to my clients. However, one aspect of the process that has always left me in the dark is the wedding albums.
I control the design process and my clients choose and personalize their cover to their liking. But who builds it? How does it all work? Until I looked into this, I didn’t even know where the factory was. And so my curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to explain to my customers why I order my albums from a certain manufacturer before anyone else. My goal was to get excited about the materials used and to be able to say I was there, watching them wrap cases and stamp names on the leather.
And so I had a plan. First I would have to become a secret agent. A spy like James Bond. I could hide in a shipment of leather and glue to sneak into the factory. I would make myself invisible. That way I could soak up the juicy mysteries that the world of wedding albums hides.
But then I reached out to the lovely folks at Folio Albums in the UK and asked if I could look around. Less exciting, I know!
Why folio albums
It made sense to visit the manufacturer I use. As a plate manufacturer, Folio keeps appealing to me because of its simple values. They are by no means the most prominent manufacturer; They don’t produce thousands of albums every day. They are well known in the industry for their quality and service. As a wedding photographer, this fits my business perfectly.
I still wondered what to expect, what was the point of it. The highest probability, I thought, was a businessman in a suit with his feet up in an office. There would be some grumpy servants around him who hated their jobs. Machines in an equally depressing workshop would make the albums. They would produce the books in an industrial style. I’m a wedding photographer. I worked alone for many years and imagined that all big companies work like this.
Many years ago I worked in a photo studio with a printing shop. The huge wet processing machine stood 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.
My morning started (after a full English breakfast of course) in a modern industrial estate in Yorkshire, England. Far from the workshop I expected. I had imagined a run-down brick building, reminiscent of the British Industrial Revolution.
A friendly guy named Stewart greeted me at the door. From looking at the website, I knew he was the CEO and founder of the company. How could that be? He wasn’t a grumpy man in a suit. Instead, he’s a former wedding photographer who dreams of making our lives easier. My monotonous expectations faded and I figured I had a pleasant morning ahead of me.
Green Credentials and Effects
Before even entering the factory and offices, we sat down for coffee and the conversation quickly turned to Folio’s core values. Stewart is passionate about the impact of his business on the planet and the environment.
Ecological credentials may seem less interesting to some as we all want to see albums being made 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 dear, I must express this passion on his behalf. I hope I do him justice. It is, and Folio Albums is therefore committed to making handmade products in an eco-friendly way. They used eco-friendly materials, papers, packaging and suppliers from the start. I’ll go into more detail on that later, but they also only print with inkjet, so there’s no chemical stench!
They moved to new premises almost 10 years ago. This move allowed them to push their environmental goals even further, including the addition of LED lighting and an eco-friendly energy supplier.
In the years that followed, they continued to develop processes and manufacturing techniques to reduce waste as much as possible and use plastic-free packaging. They’ve even doubled their workshop space for storage, which means significantly more shipments from suppliers, which equates to a smaller carbon footprint.
That hard work resulted in becoming a member of Carbon Neutral Britain, something Stewart is very proud to share with me. This membership means that any CO2 emissions they cannot avoid are offset by contributing to reforestation and forest management projects.
I could write an entire article about Folio’s commitment to the environment, but we have to get on with my tour. However, your website offers much more information than I can repeat.
I’ll address that quickly as we all want to get down to business. Stewart introduced me to his small team of happy office workers. Together they are responsible for the customer-facing side of the business, including marketing and customer care.
We had a good chat about their systems when an order comes in. I’ve never had a problem with an album I’ve ordered from them and now I understand why! When an order arrives the files are checked and if something is wrong this is confirmed with the photographer. This all happens before the order is sent for manufacture.
We go to another room that Stewart seems to be particularly proud of. It is full of example albums and fancy camera technology. Right on my street! This is a newer space for the company, set up during the pandemic. They use it for multiple purposes, including video conferencing with photographers. Here I enjoyed looking through some sample albums. While I know how beautiful their products are, it was nice to see some of the other photographers’ creations.
Where the magic happens: printing!
We go down to the main workshop. You know where all the secrets are! I had adjusted to the smells, the noisy machines, dingy workers. Finally the door opens and … silence. Excuse me, where’s the hustle and bustle?
The workshop is calm, collected and controlled. It’s well lit and clean, almost clinical. It is explained that the lighting and the climate are very precisely controlled and monitored.
Stewart introduced me to Chris who is working on a print job. This is where things are very different from most commercial photo printers.
All of Folio’s products use inkjet printers. Yes, like the one you plugged into your computer that 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 to work exclusively in this way. They work directly with Epson to advance the technology. The images speak for themselves and the colours, sharpness, quality and feel of the prints are great.
It all feels like a much more modern approach. Old-school chemical printers are a dying breed in the fine arts world, which is also good for the planet.
The magic goes on
As we walked through the factory, I discovered the different processes that make Folio unique. Some are top secret, even for the wonderful Fstoppers readers!
Everything here feels so high quality. No savings are made and the quality of the end product is always in the foreground. We also discussed some materials. For example, carefully selected leather comes from Europe as a surplus product from the food industry, which is nice to hear.
I noticed something else. It’s all so smart. The big “album machines” don’t exist; Instead, a group of skilled workers assemble beautiful books by hand. Yes, some machines and tools will help, but the sides are carefully glued, and the card and leather are measured and cut by hand.
Of course, everything is bespoke, so this is the best way to work. However, it’s also oddly satisfying to see the books come together. It is a fascinating blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern technology.
We wandered through the personalization section. Again, some machines help with the process, but each album is handled individually. I especially love that customers can add real gold and palladium lettering to their albums.
The packaging area was as I expected. Boxes piled high, some machines for packing. One thing to note is that Folio is now using plastic-free packaging for all orders. They consistently strive to be green.
This entire visit was an incredibly positive experience for me. After working exclusively in the wedding industry for six years (prior to that, I dipped my toe in the water for a number of years), I’ve ordered more wedding albums than I can remember. But I had no idea where they were born. So now I was there and observed the processes. The people are friendly and cheerful and it’s all made by hand, with love.
I have a few more questions for Stewart. First, I know that many Fstoppers readers are based in the US or elsewhere overseas. However, he assured me that his international client base is growing and urges anyone in the States or elsewhere to check it out. I would also agree!
Finally, I asked him about his biggest challenge. It turns out the thing that keeps him up at night is education. He wants photographers around the world to understand the importance of print and pass that passion on to their clients. Being able to sell beautiful products to their customers to increase their profits.
He did this through Folio’s website and has a free online course on album marketing without the cheesy sales tactics. I would strongly advise anyone who sells albums as part of their business to check this out.
And so this article has become a “Praise Folio,” which was not my intention. If I’d had a boring time in a dingy factory with a grumpy man, you’d be the first to know.
Instead, I’ve been educated on the craftsmanship that goes into every album I order, and I want to offer my customers even more albums than I already do. Thank you Folio and Stewart!