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 user 2004-04-07 at 10:30:00 am Views: 100
  • #7149

     A Win-Win Contradiction for Digital Image Processing

    “We can make photo printing fun!” “No, people hate printing pictures, the mini-lab is the future.”

    Earlier this month the Photo Marketing Association International held its major exposition and conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. I.T. Strategies Consulting Partner Marco Boer attended and offers the following highlights of significance to digital print providers.

    The mood at the show was basically upbeat and there was for the first time a sense of acceptance that silver halide is in decline. Plummeting digital camera pricing is fueling breathtaking growth. Complexity is holding back many users, which the industry is working to address by building automatic editing into the camera, printer and the PC print driver, closing the whole image capture to printing loop. However, most users don’t buy all the components together, and there are not yet standards that allow for automatic editing and simplification with a multi-vendor/model mix.

    This in part accounts for strong growth of digital capability for photo minilabs and the rise of self service or semi-self service kiosks. Print technologies currently include silver halide/laser, thermal transfer/dye sub, and inkjet. Good mark-up economics for the retailer drives growth as well as avoiding environmentally unfriendly chemicals. Laser photo-writers remain an important bridge for the transition from analog to digital technology.

    Among the significant new developments at PMA:

    Canon introduced the high-end i9900 inkjet printer that adds red and green to the normal six colors which they claim improves the color gamut, but which Marco feels may be overkill. Their new imagePROGRAF W6200 24-inch wide format printer offers pigment inks and high speed with the six print heads totaling over 7,000 nozzles.

    To break through the fears holding back many camera users, Epson hopes their tiny PictureMate portable “personal photo lab” will catch on as a fashion statement. Pricing is expected to be a bit under $200, with the ink/media combo-pack good for 100 prints priced at $29. Also of note, they showed two projection TV’s with the power to freeze and print live TV images, print from digital camera media, and project digital photos so viewing can be a social experience.

    Fuji demonstrated enhanced photo minilab offerings, and Polaroid introduced an impressive self-service kiosk for digital printmaking. Using Polaroid’s patented version of dye transfer technology, the kiosk offers a speed breakthrough at 2-seconds per 4×6-inch, high gloss, virtually indestructible print. There seem to be problems ramping up production, but Marco hopes this impressive product will fly and help Polaroid get back on its feet as a power in the imaging world.

    Giant Kodak also needs a boost and hopes their new G3 Picture Maker film processing station upgrade will help. Claiming over 50,000 users worldwide, they expect half will upgrade. Also demonstrated was their GP3 FPS billed as the world’s first self-service kiosk for developing 35mm film. It is a dry system that lets the user edit and make prints and gives him/her digital images on a CD instead of negatives. A problem could be that film development, self-editing, and print time can mount up, and that the system is pretty expensive. Other Kodak innovations were COLORLAST™ media for inkjet prints said to be good for 100 years under normal display conditions and wireless service for camera phone users.

    Noritsu featured their dDP-411, Epson-based “dry printer,” which is relatively slow, but produces high quality prints and avoids chemicals for environmentally sensitive sites. HP vowed to become a major digital camera player, introducing new cameras and two photo printers for creative professionals. They also announced a cooperative digital photo standards effort with Canon and Epson. ENCAD showed the new Novajet 1000 WF printer and announced a radical gamble: reducing the price of its inks. Among the flatbed innovations, the Sericol Spyder represents both a price breakthrough and a technology breakthrough that lets you get glossy prints with UV-curable inks.

    Summing up, Marco says we are early on the product development cycle in this industry; that it will accelerate over the next 3 years so that more and more people will actually find editing and printing their digital images part of the fun of photography.